Tail Spelled Backwards

There's something that I've never done on here, and that something is to share my whole story.

I don't talk a lot about my private life. It's because I've been ashamed. For the past few years, I have been hiding. I have been trying to do life alone.

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But before I get into it, I want to share an experience I had in therapy years ago, in college. I'd struggled with anxiety and panic ever since around age 8, when I'd wake up in the middle of the night shaking, feeling as if I needed to throw up.

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The experience I had in therapy was part of an exercise. It went like this: I stood at the beginning of a long runner rug, and imagined in front of me all the amazing experiences and things that I wanted in my life. Behind me, I was asked to imagine my ancestors, generations and generations of them, smiling down at me, encouraging me, loving me. And with that love, I was asked to step forward into my future.

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This exercise was life-changing for me. It shifte my k please o look up know mekod something in me. I'd never felt so confident in myself. I went back to college that  quarter a new person. I came out of my shell, started exploring my world more confidently, and even finally had my first kiss (yup, at age 20). I went to my first college party. Eventually, I decided to apply to study abroad in France.

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Feeling the support of my ancestors during that exercise was everything. Growing up, I always felt I had to handle everything ok….. My m alone. Being raised in an emotionally stifling environment and one where the only strong emotion I experienced from others was anger, I learned it wasn't safe to express myself. It wasn’t safe to have negative emotions, to feel sad, to feel afraid, to ask for help. To have needs. To be less than perfect.

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In high school, I had a friend who was severely depressed. I'd been trying to help her, trying to make her feel better because I'd always learned I had to take care of others at my expense, but after she threatened to kill herself, I decided I had to distance myself from her. The school administration found out, she was sent to a psychiatric hospital, and I finally told my parents what had been happening. They told me that I should have talked to them sooner. They placed the burden on me. My father reminded me that my grandfather had tried to kill himself once (it was the first time I'd learned of this), that suicide happened all the time, and that my fear wasn't warranted.

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At another moment in high school, my uncle strangled my cousin (his daughter) in my bedroom when he didn't agree with her college choices. I ran to my mother for help and when it was clear my cousin was okay, my mother gave my uncle a figurative slap on the wrist, and that was it. He continued to live with us.

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These experiences, and I'm sure hundreds more, taught me that the world wasn't safe. That the people who were supposed to have my my best interests at heart, did not. So when I was asked to imagine my ancestors supporting me, it was a game changer. I felt safe to go out, to be me. It was a different world.

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I didn't fully understand the extent to which my upbringing affected me until about 5 years ago. I had quit my hectic office job about a year prior and was still struggling with a feeling of anxiety and emptiness that had taken root ever since the end of college, when I'd left official studenthood. I felt lost. Disoriented. Everything was fine on paper. But I wasn't happy.

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I searched and searched and searched and one day, sitting on my squeaky futon as I read my umpteenth article on anxiety, it hit me. There was a line in the article that anxiety is a sign that something is missing. And as fuckin' corny as it sounds, I was missing love. I had never felt true acceptance.

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It was at this same time that I'd decided to move back home; money was running low and I'd been having trouble finding a new job. I started examining my childhood, asking for boundaries, and confronting my parents. Intense arguments and shouting matches - screaming matches even - followed. I started to see the structure of the manipulation I'd experienced my entire life, as if emerging from a fog. When asked to try harder to understand THEM, I packed up my car in a rage, including my art, and drove aimlessly around the state, hopping from Airbnb to Airbnb. At one point, in a cafe San Luis Obispo, after a beautiful but lonely drive down the California coast during which not another soul knew where I was, I started blending my abstract photography, and my unique digital abstract style was born.
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As much as I loved traveling, I decided it would be wise (practical? smart? "the responsible thing to do"?) to settle somewhere and build a new life. Looking for somewhere different but not too distant, I settled on Boise, Idaho. After a quick trip by plane to see if I'd like it (I did - such an adorable small city), I readied myself for the 10 hour drive there from the Bay Area. I'd be facing my fear of long road trips alone and breaking it up with a night in Reno, arriving the next day.
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The roads through the high deserts of Nevada, Oregon and Idaho are some of the loneliest in the country. One of them is actually called "The Loneliest Road in America." I thought a lot about what would happen if I got into an accident, or had a medical emergency, because, just like my travels through California, no one knew where I was. And while I didn't drive the official lonely road, the one I did drive couldn't have been very different. Straightaways for miles, literal tumbleweeds, and not a human structure to be seen. It took me a couple of years of distance from that drive to realize that maybe my internal loneliness was being played out externally.
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When I got to Boise, I shifted into auto-pilot. My days centered around settling back into the 9-5 lifestyle. I went to Macy's to find interview outfits (and got a knit business dress for the first time - I was proud of myself for that). I polished up my resume and contacted a recruiter. I went to the grocery store intermittently, I went for runs, I went to the park. I tried to meet people at meetups. During a photography meetup I created an image that I'd later use in my abstract piece, "Braid," one of my favorites. I also taught others my abstract photography technique, which brought me great joy to teach - a whisper I ignored. Generally, I still felt empty. I couldn't connect or relate with the people around me. I was recreating the exact life that I'd lived post-college for three years in California as I worked a hectic office job, the same life that had sent me soul searching in the first place.

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My one-month sublease in Boise was ending, and I knew I didn't want to stay, but I wasn't sure where to go. After having a conversation with myself and a glance at my bank account, I made a last-minute decision to go to Paris. I'd taken 7 years of French in middle and high school. I'd always loved French architecture, its Gothic cathedrals especially. I decided that I would create a photo essay about these majestic cathedrals’ roles in society through time. And for good measure, to legitimize my trip perhaps, I decided I would enroll in a course to become certified to teach English as a Second Language, with my ultimate goal being to remain in France to teach.

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Over the course of a few days, I booked my flights (Boise to Phoenix to LA to Moscow to Paris), found accommodation, donated my car, and put my things in storage. I'd circle back one day, eventually.

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Being on the plane to Paris was one of the best feelings I'd experienced in a long time. I remember thinking that I didn't care if the plane crashed, because I was on my path. I was going towards what it was I most loved. There was nothing else I'd rather be doing. When I arrived at sunset, the city was bathed in a beautiful pink light. Though exhausted from over 30 hours of travel.

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I traveled in and around Paris to put together my photo essay. Notre Dame, Chartres, Saint-Denis. I popped my head into the Sorbonne building where undergraduates took art history classes. I told people, in French, about my photo essay idea, which turned into a thesis topic for a master's degree in art history. They were excited about it. I got into a rhythm. Metro rides past the Eiffel Tower, grocery shopping for stinky cheese, language exchange nights at adorable tiny bars. I liked the person I was becoming. My French was improving and I felt more and more fluent in Paris, a city I'd written off as overrated.

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During one visit to Notre Dame, I was moved to write my first ever poem. I titled it "Enter in to expand beyond," and it goes like this:

The stillness
The push and the pull
The air and the stone

The wide open enclosed space

The wide open

And closed

space.

The comfort and safety
Of the stone forest

Weight-bearing
Worry-lifting

The arches stretch over you
Grounded.

Stories in the windows,
The eyes,
As it goes.

Enter in

To expand

beyond.


But without an official work visa, I couldn't legally work, and I had to start making money again. Working under the table was an option, but one I didn't like. After my three-week ESL program was over, I decided I would go back to the States, but somewhere new. I chose Boston. I'd never spent an extended period of time on the East Coast, and Boston seemed lovely and European and different than the Western United States I was used to.

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It was lonely, still, but I slowly climbed my way up the living-in-one-place ladder. I started in a youth hostel, then a temporary sublet, then a longer one, then a longer one. I found English teaching jobs, one time frantically quitting one just a week in to take a better paying one that would help me afford rent. I think the director of that first job hated me. Winter hit, and it was Boston’s snowiest in recorded history. I enjoyed it, because this Californian wanted to experience a snowy winter. But it also heaped on a feeling of isolation. Sidewalks were reduced to tiny paths, transportation briefly shut down. I was overworked and underpaid and when sitting in a park and enjoying the outdoors wasn't an option because of bitter cold, downtime became increasingly at-home in front of YouTube.

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And still, no matter where I was, I always held this sense of shame, of separation. That I was going through life alone. I had no friends, and no contact with my family. I felt that everyone around me probably had someone, and I didn't. I was ashamed to let people know me because I was afraid they would think there was something wrong with me for being by myself.

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My favorite moments in Boston were when I'd dance to entertain people while tearing event tickets at the art museum where I volunteered. I also loved having free, anytime access to beautiful works of art by Magritte (my all-time favorite) and Monet and Picasso.

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I'd been carrying an idea around with me, one that came to me during one of my solo afternoons out in the city. One day, after months of hemming and hawing and fear, I decided I would do it. I grabbed my camera, took the train downtown, and recorded video of myself dancing while taking photos. The results were motion filled and kinetic, and I blended them up into a single piece I titled "Sail." Dancing without abandon while passersby did double takes was the most free I'd felt in a very long time. Maybe even ever.

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After nine months in Boston, I was asked if I wanted to renew my lease on my apartment. It was an okay apartment, located close to the train, but I didn't feel like I wanted to lock myself in to another year, so I decided I'd move on. I found a cheap one-way plane ticket to Colombia, and booked it, although not in that order.

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By this point I'd created a body of work of photography and art, and I decided I would officially start my business while in Colombia.

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In Medellin, I took Spanish classes, explored the city, but again, mostly kept to myself. I didn’t have a plan for my business, but I loved the idea of traveling full-time somehow. I opened up my shop. To crickets. But I opened it. Looking back, had I been sharing all along, my life would likely be different now. I vlogged once and enjoyed it, but didn't stick with it. “Who would be interested in my life? I have no direction, I'm close to broke - who cares?”

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When my money ran low and my business was not making money, I decided to return to where I'd started in California. “It wasn't that bad,” I thought.

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But when I walked through the doors of my parents’ house, my body let me know I’d made a mistake. I'd changed so much in my time away, and our differences became harder to bear.

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It was November when I returned from Colombia. I couldn't tell you most of what happened in the year that followed. I took a temporary jobs here and there. I worked briefly in a bookstore as a seasonal associate over the holidays, but when it came time to decide if I wanted to continue after the holidays or not, I chose not. I wanted to focus on my art business.

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And I did, but sales were slow. I still didn't have a plan. Making one felt overwhelming. I spent most of my time at the house worrying about money and how I would ever move out and start living my own life again. My days consisted of Instagram, YouTube, eating, making art and feeling like nothing I did would ever work again.

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The following May, just as I was about to go back to work at the local drugstore, a commission came through to create 5 large pieces of art for a large digital advertising agency. I was stunned. THIS was what I knew I could do. But I almost didn't take it. I worried about being seen as "selling out." I struggled with selling my art for money, even though that was what I had set out to do.

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I remember seeing my therapist at this time and telling her about my commission. She pointed out that it had taken me almost our entire session to bring it up, only after we'd talked about the other issues I'd been having.

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Just over a year after returning from Colombia, I decided to continue traveling, this time with the help of my credit cards, telling myself that I would establish a business that sustained me as I traveled and that it was better than living in a toxic environment. The commission I'd completed gave me confidence that if I could find another project even the fraction of that one, I would be okay. My credit was good - I knew I could afford for it to take a temporary hit.

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And so I went, going from Airbnb to Airbnb (the company later invited me to a special event because of my frequent patronage) all around the Pacific Northwest. From Portland to Seattle to Vancouver to Victoria to Vancouver to Portland to Eugene to Portland to Astoria to Portland. Winter greeted me with a WHACK as it had in Boston, and I experienced Portland under virtually a foot of snow, an almost unheard of amount for the rainy city. I also got to experience my first ice storm, which was SUPER cool dude. But also scary. Because of the winter storm I also got to experience a frozen Multnomah Falls (a waterfall about 45 minutes outside the city), which remains one of the most majestic sights I've ever witnessed. Mostly, I spent my three months in the Pacific Northwest painting and creating, but still isolating.

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I shared my work on Instagram and my followers jumped up by 4,000 to 7,000. But sales were few and far between, and finally, on the very last of my money, in a panic, I booked a bus ticket back to my childhood home. It was excruciating. When I got off the bus, I briefly entertained the thought of going to a homeless shelter over going back "home." I felt that I had colossally failed. I felt that returning, once more, to a place I knew was harmful to my mental health, was unforgivable.

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What followed were two years of unprecedented creativity, but also unprecedented pain. Creating was who I was, and I could never stop, no matter my circumstances. I created hundreds and hundreds of new pieces during this time, and sent work off to Sweden, Chicago, the UK, Texas, Florida and Utah, among others.

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But the painful reality was that I was not making a living, and the money I did make was not nearly enough to pay down my credit cards debts or even simply build my bank account back up.

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I was living at my parents' house, making sporadic cash, and still feeling like the only way out was to make my business WORK. MAKE. IT. WORK. MAKE. IT. WORK!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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The other painful reality was that I had opportunities. Really amazing ones. But I turned many of them down. They weren't this or that enough, they didn't "feel right," but really, I was afraid that if people worked with me, they would find me out. That I'd disappoint them. That they'd find out how horrible I was. And it was visceral. There's impostor syndrome, and then there's my impostor syndrome.

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If I said yes to a project, I felt exposed. I felt scared. I felt tense, anxious, dizzy. I wondered why good things felt so bad. Maybe it's because they were bad, at least according the frozen, terrified part of me. And so I stayed away from good things, even if that meant I suffered. At least it was comfortable.
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Many times, I decided to give up on art, or at least to let go of the outcome. And every time, a sense of relief, then a massive headache. Did this mean that I was finally relaxing? I was never sure. All I knew was that deciding to go for it with increased intensity, to do all the things right THIS time, would make the headache go away. And so I continued. Full-on intensity, full-on burnout. And begin again. MAKE. IT. WORK. You got yourself in this mess, Liat. Get yourself the fuck out.

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During one of the many times I decided I'd give up on art, I heard a voice telling me, "Liat, you're needed elsewhere." Immediately, tears. Another time, I had a thought, "what if what I can offer is myself, my story?" I was inspired for several minutes, but promptly crawled back into my shell of doing things how I'd always done them. Pushing, straining, suffering, hiding. Making and posting art was easy. Letting myself be seen was not.

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At the same time, I was navigating a strained relationship with my parents, trying to maintain boundaries and take up space in a place I'd learned I deserved none, beating myself even more daily for feeling so stuck and helpless. Demanding more and more perfection of myself and my business the more control I felt that I lost. Allowing more boundaries to be crossed and feeling like I had no choice if I wanted to keep the peace.

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I want to take a second to talk about food. When I returned from the Pacific Northwest, it was a point of pride for me that I kept a bag of my own food in the refrigerator. I may have been living at home, but at least I was buying my own food. I liked having my own things (as any alive human does), and being responsible for my own food felt like a healthy boundary.

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This did not go over well with my mother. I was told that it would be "nicer" and more "family-like" if I shared my food. And cooked it for the household. To me, this felt like a rejection of my boundaries, of my right to have my own things and my own space. I felt that there was a resentment of my food independence.

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As time went on and money started to feel more and more difficult (every time I thought about getting a job, I felt deeply depressed, angry and resentful), and I continued to run myself into the ground trying to create a living through my art business, food became a point of control.

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At a certain point I'd stopped insisting on eating my own food, and would allow myself to eat whatever food was in the fridge. Every night, my mother would offer me the food she'd brought from work. Sometimes I declined it, but eventually, when what I could afford (if anything) was not as good as what was offered to me, I stopped declining. It was just too easy.

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And so I started to depend on it. I started to expect it. I hated that I did. I knew exactly what was happening: that I was slowly losing myself, but it was hard to stop. I felt like I was addicted to a drug, trapped in a shame spiral that made it hard for me to break the cycle. Eat parents' food, hate myself, give up, eat parents' food.

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One day, profoundly angry with myself, I decided that I would no longer eat my parents' food. I also happened to have no money in my account, so I had to find some that day. It was a point of pride. I tried for a few hours, but when I came up with nothing and was hungry, I went in the fridge and broke my promise to myself.

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I felt horrid. I had failed. Again. I heard a voice telling me, "Liat, throw it up. That's the only way you're going to feel better." I resisted initially, but the voice was too strong. I went to the bathroom, stuck my finger down my throat, and gagged. Nothing came up, but I remember thinking that after a few retches, that things felt "right" again.

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This cycle continued. And worsened. When I'd fail at providing for myself, when I gave up and ate my parents' food, when I failed at any sort of goal or regimen I set for myself. I would have to right it with punishment. I would have to retch away the "wrongness." This from the person with a fear of vomiting. Forgiving myself was not acceptable. Forgiving myself was accepting my failures and allowing myself to repeat the same mistakes, and that was not acceptable. Things were getting worse and worse and I felt I had to stop the slide with extreme measures.

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I wondered if I had developed an eating disorder. According to Google, I hadn't. My gagging was not about physical appearance or weight control. But it hurt, and when I saw my bloodshot eyes in the mirror after each "righting," I felt profoundly hopeless.

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Eventually, I came up with a game. I wanted to see if I could eat for free. I decided I would go around to restaurants and ask them if, just because I'd asked, they would be willing to give anything away for free. Some said no, some were willing to give away small items, and some set me up with entire meals. I was pleased with myself and my creativity, but knew I couldn't ask for things for free forever.

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Eventually, even in my "game," I felt I had to raise the stakes. Next, I challenged myself to ask strangers to buy me food to help me with my "eating for free" challenge. I told people what I was doing, and they obliged. They were even impressed, entertained. My experiment made them light up. I was never begging for food, never phrasing my questions as a victim. I wanted to make sure that what I was doing had value for others too, and that I was giving them an opportunity to participate in something out of the ordinary.

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It wasn't lost on me how fearless I was in asking for help from strangers, and wondered how I could apply that to making money. The game was fun and exciting, but I still had crushing debt to pay and even when I managed to succeed at my "no money" experiments, my maladaptive perfectionism was in the shadows, ready to bite.

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One time, after returning from traveling 50 miles to San Francisco entirely on the help of strangers, I decided I would take the next step. I would walk out the door with only the clothes on my back, no money, no phone, and see how far I could get. And one morning, I did. The goal was to leave my parents' house and somehow start a new life this way.

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I remember feeling exceedingly calm that morning. I first walked to the supermarket and found a perfectly good + new pair of exercise pants in the back in a junk pile. My first item of luggage. I asked for a small paper bag from the supermarket bakery, and put the pants inside. My suitcase. Minutes later I came across a perfectly wrapped (except for one tiny hole) energy bar on the ground in front of the neighboring drugstore. It was expired, but I decided I'd still give it a shot. I opened it up and nibbled on it. It tasted fine. Breakfast.

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Later I found another perfectly wrapped bar on the side of the road. I told a gym employee what I was doing, and he helped me buy some essentials from the nearby dollar store: toothbrushes, toothpaste, deodorant, a new pair of socks.

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Eventually I made my way to Whole Foods, and asked a stranger if he would be willing to buy me lunch. He was inspired by what I was doing, and agreed. He was about to check out and I didn't want to delay him, so I did my best to quickly fill up my folding paper box with a salad, and I probably ended up taking a little less than I wanted for fear of taking too much of his time. I had done it wrong. I hadn't let myself take up the space or time I knew that I should. For that I decided that I didn't deserve to eat the salad.

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But I was hungry. And I wanted to eat the salad. So I took a few bites, and felt even worse. The only way to right this was to throw up. So I closed up the box, found a nearby hotel bathroom, and stuck my finger down my throat. I gave the rest of the salad to a homeless woman.

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Twenty minutes later, I found myself in another hotel bathroom with my finger down my throat again, and retched, and retched, and retched. I didn't feel that I had retched enough in the first bathroom. I remember feeling that I wanted "it" out. The bad feelings. The worthlessness, the horridness, the wrongness. Eventually, my body had had enough. It would no longer gag, and when I stuck my finger down my throat, my tongue reflexively pushed it back out.

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I went to sit in the hotel lobby, debating what to do next. I had decided earlier in the day that my goal was to go to LA, and I needed to find someone to buy me a bus ticket. I'd sleep on the ride overnight.

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A man approached and asked if the nearby computers were working. We struck up a conversation and I found out he was leaving to LA that night, and would be willing to give me a ride. When he found out I had no phone on me, he offered to give me the brand new one he was about to pick up. It felt like too much. I declined.

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We got to talking and he invited me up to his room for pizza, and said that he would also order me anything I wanted from the hotel restaurant. I eventually also found out he was sobering up from a night of partying and cocaine. I was taken aback, but appreciated his honesty.

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I was still debating whether I wanted to accept a ride from him. He also offered to buy me a ticket for the bus, but I was hesitant to say yes. I was unsure about his intentions, and if it would be safe.

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At one point, he got a call. A woman was coming up to his room, apparently a hook-up of some sort. He asked me to hide in the bathroom so that she wouldn't get the wrong idea. I declined. It felt off. Despite his insistence that I stay and his apologies for making me feel uncomfortable, I left.

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After failing to find anyone to buy my bus ticket that night (I ended up going back to Whole Foods and striking up a conversation with a nice man who said he had floor space I could sleep on, which I ultimately declined), I ended up hiding out in an unused, unlit area of the hotel lobby until I got kicked out. I found my way to another hotel and hid out in the powder room in a fancy conference hall bathroom until morning, munching on a bag of string beans someone had dropped near Whole Foods to curb my hunger.

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The next day, I was exhausted. After some more half hearted attempts to go about the day without money, I hopped a bus and returned to my parents' house.

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At this point I'd been fighting suicidal thoughts for a couple months. When I awoke from my not-really-sleep that morning in the conference hall powder room, I remember saying to myself, "well, this is it. Time to end it."

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A couple days later, I found myself handcuffed in the back of a police car, headed to emergency psychiatric care after a welfare check. I spent two days there.

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Not all my travel experiments were bad. On a sunny but chilly day in February, I walked to the supermarket to get a sandwich. I'd been in a bad place, feeling more stressed than ever, I decided that I would start to flow love and appreciation out into the world to feel better. As I walked back, I had an idea. I wanted to eat my sandwich in the park. I didn't want to wait for the bus and I wanted to bypass the 20-minute walk it would take to get there.

“Well, what if I can ask someone to drive me?” I thought to myself.

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At first I resisted the idea and started walking to the park. But then I turned back. I wanted to try. I positioned myself at the crosswalk, waiting for my opportunity to ask someone in a stopped car if they'd be willing to give me a quick ride down the street to the park. A few red lights later, a man pulled up in his car. We exchanged eye contact. “This is my chance,” I thought to myself. I walked up to his window and waved. I used my judgement - he seemed honest. I told him what I was doing and he quickly obliged. I hopped in. He told me that he'd been eyeing my bag, which said “Colombia” on it, because he'd spent time there, too. We exchanged our travel experiences, and a minute later, he dropped me off at the park.

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Feeling excited and proud of myself, I decided I'd take it a step further. There was a father with his two pre-teen daughters having a picnic nearby, and decided to go over and see if I could join them. I hesitated at first, afraid, then I asked. They happily agreed.

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The father had brought a ukelele with him, and he played as we ate. Then, a friend arrived with another ukelele. They asked if I wanted to sing along. I did. They were so welcoming, so inviting, so loving. I hadn't felt so accepted in a long time. I so badly wanted to ask if they'd be willing to host me, but I was scared to intrude or ask too much. So I returned and felt more and more tense the closer I got.

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The number of times I went out without money and then returned, disheartened, must be in the teens. At one point, months after my psychiatric hold, I ended up at a homeless shelter when Couchsurfing didn't work out, and when the Uber driver I randomly asked if I could stay with decided he wasn't comfortable hosting me, though he'd originally agreed. I understood.

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To be honest, the shelter wasn't as horrible as I'd expected, but it still wasn't the type of experience I was after.

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Many times after that, I considered buying a sleeping bag and just becoming homeless. I only felt okay when I was out of my parents' house. But I'd ask myself, "what is the point of that, Liat? What are you trying to accomplish? What's your goal?" I didn't have an answer. I just wanted to be free.

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When I was a child, I used to look out the car window and search for places I could potentially hide if I ever needed to escape. I'd imagine hiding out behind dumpsters in parking lots, behind bushes in parks, and under freeway overpasses. I imagined feeling free there, feeling safe. It even felt fun. It wasn't until the past couple years that I realized how strange this was. That a child who feels safe does not daydream about hiding out alone behind dumpsters.

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Throughout all of my attempts to leave and start a new life, and starting when I fell a certain amount of payments behind on my credit card bills, I started to feel a heaviness in my body.

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Whenever I stood up, I felt as though someone was pushing me into the ground. My entire body was tensing. I'd felt this heaviness before, and been able to relax through sheer willpower and pumping my mind full of positivity and energy. This heavy feeling was a sign of extreme stress, and is also part of what pushed me towards no longer wanting to live.

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The heaviness and tension, coupled with the loss of appetite that accompanied it, began to affect my body and physical health. I started gaining weight very rapidly (apparently not eating regularly can cause your body to hoard fat), my periods stopped, and I began to grow more facial hair. I recognized all these symptoms also as PCOS, polycystic ovary syndrome, which can be brought on by stress. I went from a size medium, to currently, a size XL, sometimes 2XL. I haven't weighed myself in months. My heavy feeling has turned to actual, physical weight.

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I've always been proud of my athleticism, that I pick up new sports easily, that I have a good eye for tactics. I think reading an athletic play is like reading a painting, studying its composition, understanding how all its elements dance and move together, and feeling where and how the next stroke, kick or pass should be. I remember feeling proud intercepting a pass in a school soccer game because I predicted the play. Another time, I saved the play in a volleyball game with a diving dig. In school, I also played basketball, softball and ran track. I've done kickboxing and taught myself how to ride a bike with no hands (while wearing shorts - good thing I never fell!). I have amazing hand-eye coordination, thank you very much. And now when I look at myself in the mirror and see my new body shape, I feel sad, I feel angry, I feel helpless. It feels nightmarish.

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My stress is literally, physically tearing me apart. Because of my rapid weight gain, I've developed new stretch marks around my belly, my thighs, my hips, my arms and my breasts. The stretch marks are red. They scream. When I look at them, I see anger. I see violence. The rapid change in my body feels violent, as if someone has stolen my body from me and given me a foreign one, overnight.

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At the time of this writing, I still battle with all of these symptoms, and I know I will not feel normal until I am in better financial standing. But how do I get there, I ask myself, when walking and being is a chore. I battle wooziness and headaches daily from not eating enough. I only feel relief from heaviness, and sometimes hunger, when laying down. I can no longer will my way to lightness. Sometimes I still feel like I might gag and even vomit (though inadvertently) from stress. Just from my body giving up.

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A little over a month ago, I decided to hire a coach who specialized in trauma. I was done doing this alone. At first, I was hesitant. But one afternoon, when I was in the grocery store shopping for food with money from my retirement account, the only money I was able to easily find, and feeling like I was carrying the regular 100 pounds on my shoulders, I started thinking that this was not right. Of course I knew I didn't like it, but I'd always told myself that if I just tried harder, I could fix it. But something was wrong. I was not supposed to be living my life this way, in chaos, in isolation. And I knew I had to do something differently.

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My coach helped me realize how intensely hard I was being on myself, and reminded me that I was not required to do things any one way. She reminded me that I was awesome and deserved kindness. For the first time in a long time, I was able to talk to someone who listened. She also told me that my self-sabotage was one of the most profound she'd ever witnessed.

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I've been told this multiple times in my life. That I'm the most __________ someone had ever seen. That they had never seen someone so ____________ before. Most powerful manifester. Most profound self-sabotager. In high school, when I had pains in my shins during soccer games and no one could figure out why, I felt like the most mysterious hurt-er. I've sometimes felt like I live in a different world.

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I don't know why I demand so colossally much of myself. I think there is a part of me that is in so much pain that she doesn't want to exist. A form of covert self-harm.

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But I have an inkling. A maybe. It's a memory that I have from early childhood that I have never spoken out loud to anyone, or at least anyone who actually knew me (there was that time I glossed over it during my psychiatric hold to a nurse I'd just met). Somehow, throughout my hours and hours of therapy, it never came up. It's a memory that I would forget about for years. I would be driving, remember about it, wonder if it was significant, then forget again.

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This past month, during a session with my coach, I could not bring myself to say the words. I wanted so badly to release them, but I couldn't. There is something there, and that is how I know. And I know that I can't heal alone. I know I can't continue to do life alone.

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In my darkest, most heart-shattering moments of pain, I cry. I wail. I drop into the same image: me as a child, in a dark, grey, lifeless room. My mother is there, with her back towards me. Child-me is crying, wailing, screaming, sobbing, reaching out to her, but my mother remains unaffected, her back turned to me, arms crossed. I know that nothing I can do or say will ever make her turn around. And so I know it's me who has to turn around. And go.

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Just over two weeks ago, with clarity gleaned with the help of my coach, and with the last of the money I took out of retirement, I boarded a plane to Chicago. Chicago was a place that I always thought would be a great place to live - it's more affordable than LA, San Francisco, or New York, it has a lot of culture, and it doesn't require a car. It's also home to a lot of comedy and improv. I love being silly.

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Even though my physical symptoms persisted, I felt much more confident. I felt much more easy. My period even came back the day after I asked the Universe for an unexpected miracle. I started sleeping more than 5 hours a night for the first time in months. In Chicago I knew I would have the physical and emotional space to start sharing my story in earnest, which I've done, without fearing that I would be told my feelings were wrong. And that would be the difference, I knew, between this move and my other travels. I would finally be letting people know me. And I would be working to build a life, not only escape.

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The first week was great. I freaked out on the first day, but in general I took it easy on myself, taking the time to encourage myself, and I began to set intentions to heal myself and my finances. I applied to jobs, opened up a new online shop. I even set myself a schedule. This was and still is huge.

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Never before in my life have I allowed myself space to be exactly how I am, to give myself credit for what is going right over wrong. It feels amazing to stop the self-hate, and just be. And when I do, I feel the next step materialize, and I feel easy and natural in going towards it.

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After about a week in Chicago, my time with my coach was up. I was scared that without the structure of having someone to check in with everyday, I would fall back into old habits.

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To be honest, I have. In a way. But what I have NOT done is hide away. What I have NOT done is stop writing and sharing my story. And that, for someone who has hidden herself away for the past 5 years, is a RADICAL change.

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At more than one point during these past few weeks in Chicago, I had this realization: it's not my fault. Sobs followed, the kind that shake your whole body. Sure, it is up to me to change. But it is not my fault. I know there is loads of work to be done to heal, and writing has already been therapeutic.

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Here in Chicago, my goal was to make a certain amount of money every week, and work my way up to subletting an apartment. This, I have not done. Despite my best intentions, I am physically and mentally exhausted. And I need more support. In fact, I'm on my last few dollars. I'm not even sure exactly where I'll be sleeping tonight.

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I didn't know if I wanted to share that last part. But here's the truth: if I don't, I let the shame win. I know that at the very least, if I share, maybe a few people will be inspired to walk alongside me. And then I can more easily move into solutions.

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When I woke up yesterday, stressed, scared out of my mind, I declared that I was done trying to do everything myself. And that's the blessing and lesson of our pain. A fucking brutal lesson, sometimes.

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Remember that ancestor exercise? Well, shit. Nothing has changed. Feeling supported is number one. Even if that support comes from only within. But I think it's easier if it also comes from without.

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I remember being in college many years ago, talking on the phone with my mother about my anxiety and depression. I remember breaking down and telling her "I can't do it alone." I remember her initial response: silence. As though she was stunned. As though I had just said something radical. That silence felt vast. It felt like rejection. And I felt even more alone. My goal is not to villainize my family members, but to illustrate the environment that was my reality, and that I'm not longer willing to accept.

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I'm in talks with an art studio back in the Bay Area to be their in-house digital artist. It's an AMAZING opportunity.

But if I'm being brutally honest, as I come to the conclusion (for now) of this piece, I don't know if digital art is truly my path anymore. I love it, but maybe I'm meant for something different. Maybe that voice telling me that I'm needed elsewhere, that sharing my story is the best way I can be of service, is right. Writing has felt so much easier, closer to the heart. And I have always wanted to speak. Actually, that's not true. As I started setting boundaries and finding myself again, I realized I wanted to speak.

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This morning, an email came in that asked this: "Can we overcome the consequences of our worst choices? Can our creative work thrive not in spite of, but because of, our hardest, most painful experiences?" (Thanks, Marie Forleo.)

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And so as I release my story this morning from my hostel dorm room, blessed with a raging sore throat kindly dusted on by the Contrast Fairy of the Universe to top it all off, having no idea what the day will hold, I have to believe that the answer is yes. 'Cause it already has. You're reading it. And even though "thank you" doesn't even begin to scratch the surface of the gratitude I feel if you've made it to the end of my (condensed) story: I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart. And I love you.

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