Bloganuary Prompt: What Makes Me Strong

This is one of those prompts that feels so important that I can’t seem to find the words to respond honestly. At first, I started writing about specific things that give me strength but it felt like a BuzzFeed list. These are tough to narrow down, but I like the challenge.

One of the first moments I felt truly strong was when I was about 13 or 14 years old. I walked into a lawyer’s office and gave them my statement that I no longer wanted my biological dad to have custody or any ties to me. I wanted to be free of him and the suffering our relationship had caused me since I was born.

After years of mandated abusive phone calls, arguments, and the guilt I carried for him, I was able to make a choice for my wellbeing. It was the first time I had ever braved something so immense that affected other lives as well. It was a lesson in doing what is needed for you, sticking up for yourself. Something that would continue to be a challenge for me moving forward.

Any time I’ve been able to accomplish something outside of my comfort zone and see it through to completion is a moment I feel strong. When I started sharing my vulnerabilities with others through my blog or my art. When I started talking about my mental health online or when I started trying to be comfortable in my body. Oh no, I’m starting to list things off. See? It’s hard.

The things that make me strong all have one characteristic in common: self-assurance. When I listen to my inner voice and I trust in my ability to decide what’s right, I always feel stronger for it. As young women, it can feel like everything from the warped beauty standards of the time to toxic male authority figures and countless other setbacks work in tandem to silence that voice. I believe every single time you acknowledge what is right for you and you’re brave enough to take inspired action, that is the true essence of strength.

#bloganuary #bloganuary2022 #dailyprompt

Bloganuary Prompt: Let Go

What is your favorite quote and why?

“There’s beauty in the breakdown.”

From the time I was about ten years old, Imogen Heap’s lyrics have taken life’s most difficult concepts and translated them in a way that makes sense. The quote above is from an electronic group called Frou Frou, and I listened to every song in their “Details” album until they became a core part of my story.

I didn’t give it much thought when I was a kid, but that line from the song “Let Go” kept creeping up on me over the years and developed more meaning as life became more nuanced, more difficult to process. When my grandfather died and my family seemed to be falling apart, everything had gone cold. I couldn’t make sense of the excessive suffering and I stopped looking for silver linings.

It wasn’t until I started abstract painting that I discovered my passion for duality and the realization that there was magic to be found in the contrasts of life. I was in my final year of college, heartbroken, and releasing pent-up pain on canvas with colors and textures that orchestrated those feelings like a symphony. I saw my pain reflected back to me as something beautiful. That’s when those lyrics really hit home.

I’m still relentlessly searching for my “calling” or whatever. I know it’s a cringey and narcissistic concept to many that we each have a reason to be here, but I think it gives us a reason to brainstorm what we can do to make the world a better place. When I think of this quote, I’m reminded of my mission. A pursuit to help people find comfort in the ebb and flow of a complex human life.

What if we could find beauty when things go cold? What would happen if more people found beauty in their breakdowns? Maybe nothing. Maybe we could save lives. All I know is that I could’ve used this insight when I was shutting down.

So I’d like to thank “Let Go” for gifting me this simple yet profound concept. I see it manifest in every facet of existence. I feel it in my hormonal imbalance, in moments when life juxtaposes in ways that leave me breathless, and I relish every lesson it teaches me. I also try to make these contrasts beautiful in the ways I know how, by turning them into some kind of self-reflection. And I invite you to do the same. Just as Imogen Heap has and countless artists before her.

#bloganuary #bloganuary2022 #dailyprompt

This Is What Happens When You Choose You

If you’ve ever felt like your life’s on autopilot or you can’t remember the last time you asked yourself what you want, this one’s for you.

Life moves fast. We get on the train and go from one stop to the next. We rarely ever stop to ask ourselves where we’re going or if our choices are actually our own.

I can pinpoint the moment this began in my own life to junior year when the pressure to pick the right college and a career path started piling on. Can anyone actually believe they expected 17- and 18-year-olds to know jack shit about their futures? Regardless, you follow the rules. You pick a major, a college and ride the wave. Eventually, it’s your senior year and now it’s time to find that dream job. Maybe you’re about 21 and you find the perfect fit right out of college. Maybe like the vast majority of us, your degree and university don’t help you find a job when you need it most. Meanwhile, your student debt looms over every passing day. By the time you do find a job, you’ve already given up on trying to reach for something that makes you happy or that at the very least challenges you intellectually and creatively — you’re desperate. You take what you can get. This is when you give up.

In my own experience, I bounced from one unfulfilling position to the next. It’s hard to believe you have any other choice as adult expenses and responsibilities accumulate. It’s all too easy to get sucked into the cycle even after you read all of the self-help blogs about traveling abroad and following your passions. Not all of us make enough money to eat, pray, love. Not everyone has the support to make their dreams come true at that time, and it starts to feel like the system is rigged against you.

Eventually, you reach a point where maybe you’re in your mid-twenties and you’re burned out and deeply unfulfilled. You don’t have any real reason for it because, hey, you have a job! You did everything right. You can afford all of the basic comforts of an “easy” life and you’re given the weekends to invest in your hobbies and the things you love. Why are you so depressed?

Let’s consider “The Great Resignation,” a name used to describe the millions of workers quitting their jobs after the COVID pandemic. Think about why this cultural shift is happening now. During the pandemic, all of us were affected differently. What we had in common was a collective introspection that forced us to rethink what actually mattered. When the stakes are this high, people remember what they want to live for. Turns out 40- to 60-hour weeks in an office doing something you’re not passionate about and having two days for yourself didn’t make the cut. It’s no wonder people started craving more.

The good news is that millions of people are using this shift as an opportunity to prioritize themselves for the first time in their lives. Whether it has to do with their relationships, work environment or location, people are shedding what no longer serves them and taking a leap of faith to find what does. For me, this meant saving enough money until I felt like I could take a break. I needed time to reassess what I actually wanted, time I didn’t have before. I asked myself questions I hadn’t been asked since I was a kid. What do I love to do? How do I want to spend my days? What actually matters to me?

It’s not easy to make this jump, and I wouldn’t have been able to do it if I didn’t work my fair share of unfulfilling jobs. While I no longer lean on my family for financial support, I do have a wonderful partner who’s been looking out for me during this shift as well. I fully recognize my privilege and the ways that I’m also putting myself at risk. Now that I’m taking this “work break,” my money is slowly draining. I can’t lie, though, I’m also the happiest I’ve been in a long time. With this new freedom, I started meditating again, working out, reading, writing for myself and prioritizing my artwork. I’ve started selling my paintings again and developed a new business plan for my Etsy shop. I’m working every day, but I’m doing it for myself and for the things I love. I forgot what that felt like. Actually, I’m not sure I’ve ever experienced that feeling in my adult life so far. I’m not sure many of us ever do.

Choosing you in whatever way that manifests in your own life is scary, but it’s incredible too. I wish I could give every single person the same opportunity to stop the clock and make their own choices again, find ways to make that possible because I know how impossible it can feel. If you’re reading this, I hope you’re able to start making a plan that works for you. I hope you’re doing it in small ways every day, and I hope the tugging in your heart that craves more never fades away.

How to Make The Law of Attraction *Really* Work

If you’re spiritually-minded like me, you might already be well-versed in the Law of Attraction. You might envision the life of your dreams or even little things you want and hope that they materialize as if conjured from a Harry Potter Accio spell. You might also know that the process doesn’t work as instantaneously as a summoning charm. If you had told me this when I was thirteen and watching The Secret for the first time, I would’ve been crushed. I thought manifestation was just saying abracadabra in your head and the universe would hand you the life of your dreams. Not quite.

It took years for me to come to terms with this. I was on a loop of wishing for things and getting upset when they would manifest in other people’s lives instead. I’d carry that negativity around and resent people for finding their happiness. I didn’t realize that walking through life on a jealous autopilot was blocking life from presenting its magic to me. I think most of us don’t realize we’re doing this, but it’s possible to find your way out of this pattern once you find your own version of a manifestation routine that works. And, trust me, it can still be just as enchanting.

Here’s what I’ve discovered that really works:

1. Limit Social Media Intake

“Intake” is the keyword here. Instead of labeling social media as simply bad or good, we have to consider all of the benefits it provides and find our balance. For me, it’s about indulging in a healthy dose of scrolling through other peoples’ lives for inspo and using social media for your own creative expression/benefit. Instead of spending hours on YouTube or Instagram absorbing how amazing someone else’s life is, you can devote more time to sharing what makes you happy and what you’re creating. That way, you start to become the person you look up to.

When you’ve put yourself out there, try not to cling to the phone to see how everyone’s reacting. Spending hours obsessing over likes and reactions can be just as toxic as going on a binge of someone else’s life. Try to take a step back after you’ve posted and give yourself a little separation. Ride the high of sharing yourself creatively and indulge in that feeling — that self-love and inspiration is exactly the kind of headspace you want to be in to create more of the life you want.

2. Create a Vision Board

This is my favorite part of the process. It’s when you get to pick and choose images of your dream life — you take in all the things you love most and sit with those inspiration butterflies stirring in your stomach. The universe loves when you feel this surge of excitement because it’s how spirit (or whatever you prefer to call it) picks up on your manifestation signals.

The best thing about a vision board is that it can look however you want it to look. You can build it on Pinterest, print and glue pictures in a journal or copy and paste your favorite images into a Word doc (the latter option is what I recently opted for). It doesn’t have to be aesthetic goals. Remember, it’s for you. I’ve organized my vision board into the sections of goals I’m currently working on (i.e. future home surroundings, my dream art studio, health & fitness and career). Once I’ve found the images that inspire me most, I place them in front of me so I get those tingles and then I journal about whatever comes to mind. I write about the life I’m manifesting as though I already have it. When it starts to actually feel real to me is when the energy in the room shifts. That’s when I feel like the magic is working.

3. Meditate

I know what you’re thinking. You’ve read countless self-help articles and you’re sick of people telling you to meditate. I understand because I’ve been there. I’ve scrolled through post after post feeling once again like I’m being force-fed the same tips from every guru out there. The problem isn’t that you’re being told to meditate, it’s that you’re not being told how unique this process is to everyone. You don’t have to meditate every day to reap the benefits, although it’s amazing if you can. Your relationship with meditation doesn’t have to look like anyone else’s (see my previous blog post about how a meditation routine can even look like taking a long bath).

When it comes to manifestation, I find that setting aside time during your week for even just one meditation practice where you focus on your purpose or the things you’re wanting works wonders. Just last week, I found a guided meditation on YouTube about finding your way. I went into it wanting some answers about what to do next. Five minutes in and suddenly my spirit guide is urging me to pay attention to birds and symbolic synchronicities in my life. I start seeing birds flying everywhere, hearing their chirps and birdsongs. I get this overwhelming feeling within the meditation that I need to be free and I sit with that feeling for the rest of the day. Later that week I get asked to paint a commissioned abstract painting for a coworker and I’m offered the opportunity to work remotely sometimes so I can travel more to see my family (they live out of the country). The wildest part? The theme for my coworker’s abstract painting is centered around her mother’s garden and the three birds that have a deep spiritual significance to her family. I nearly spit my coffee.

4. Soak in the Present Moment

Lastly and most importantly, living in a state of gratitude for every little detail of your day attracts more of the positivity you seek. If you convince yourself to wake up excited about even the most mundane aspects of your routine, you send signals to the universe that life is good and the universe rewards you for it.

I used to think I had to reserve all of my creative, positive energy for the part of my day when I clocked out of work and finally had time for the things I truly loved. I didn’t realize how much of the day I was throwing away, how beautiful my lunch break walks were, how amazing and fortunate I was to eat a hearty breakfast and so on.

When life is moving at 100 miles per hour, it can be hard to take a second to just be. I struggle with this so much and feel like there’s always something to do, something I want to achieve. Just remembering to take a deep breath and allowing yourself to be overcome with gratitude that you’re alive in this moment has all the power to shift your reality.

I hope you enjoyed this blog post and that some of these tips help attract more magic into your life! Let me know if you have your own manifestation tips so we can keep spreading the joy. Much love to you all!

A Realistic Self-Care Routine For When You’re Down

I haven’t blogged or uploaded a YouTube video in quite some time. My excuse? Me time.

Our bodies have a knack for telling us when to slow down or speed up — it’s usually a good idea to listen. I go through phases where I can’t be stopped and feel guilty if I’m not being productive or creatively stimulated every day. Other times, I can’t seem to find the energy to do anything at all. In the past, those less productive times would result in a lot of binge-watching someone else’s life on YouTube or consuming media until the guilt made me feel lightheaded. These days, there’s a mix of that (let’s be honest with ourselves) and a few other key nurturing additions that have helped me find peace when I don’t feel like checking off to-do lists.

So, if you’re looking for some *realistic* advice on how to prioritize a little self-care AND get that guilt-free satisfaction of downtime well spent, here’s my take on it:

1. Take a long bath:

This one’s pretty standard, but it requires a few magical touches. When I’m feeling particularly depressed and sloth-like, sometimes the only energy I can muster is the energy to drag myself into a bathtub. I’ll light my favorite candles so the space matches my moodiness and play a relaxing Spotify playlist or mystical ambiance on YouTube that transports me into a different world.

Even just playing nature sounds starts sending tingles down my spine and makes me feel like everything’s going to be okay. If you know what sounds or smells make you feel safe and comforted, fill your bathroom with them. If you don’t have a bathtub, a long shower does the trick too. The key is to slow down your thoughts and be present.

This is your time to be still and vulnerable. Sometimes that can be uncomfortable, but sitting through that discomfort even as pestering thoughts arise is part of the magic. If you’ve been struggling to meditate, I find that this process is a great first step.

2. Move Your Body with Humility

I am not going to tell you to work out because, honestly, fuck that. You’ve heard it before. I’ve heard it before. That’s a personal commitment that you can choose when it feels right. Plus, everyone’s different and fitness doesn’t come in a one-size-fits-all package. What I will recommend is movement — any will do. Something as simple as taking a quick stroll outside and breathing in the fresh air works wonders when you’re anxiety’s running rampant. Just the sound of birds chirping fills my soul with serotonin. And if you’re like me and work from home, getting up and using your legs is crucial. My back and sanity need it.

I also recommend dancing — and I don’t mean taking Zumba classes or learning choreography (although go off if that’s what does it for you) — I mean just finding random moments in the day to put on headphones and get down in whatever way feels good to you in that moment, even if you’re not a dancer. Sometimes I sway fluidly to a song that fills me with emotion, other times I twerk and pretend I’m a stripper. It’s all about assessing the vibe and not overthinking. THIS is dance therapy at its best. Trust me, once you get over feeling awkward and remember to go easy on yourself, you start to feel the divine catharsis and confidence course through your veins. The magic of this practice is that it teaches you to resign to the idea that you have to be good at everything or achieve certain goals to be active. Sometimes life really is as simple as moving around like a Wacky Waving Inflatable Tube Man. Isn’t that such a reassuring thought?

There’s something to be said for yoga as well, how accommodating it is for newbs and experts alike. It’s become a staple in my movement practice simply because it feels good and, if there’s anything you should take away from this, it’s to follow what QUEEN Yoga with Adriene on YouTube tells us: “Find what feels good.” But more on yoga another time.

3. Remember: Playtime is Not Reserved Only for Kids

I don’t know when and why adults started committing to the idea that we have to be so serious all the time, but I would guess that this probably has something to do with why we’re all so depressed. There’s just “never enough time in the day,” am I right? When we were young, nothing stood in the way or ever seemed more valuable than playtime. I think we were on to something then, which is why I deeply believe some of our greatest lessons can be learned from our childhood selves.

So what does playtime look like for a twentysomething with anxiety? It starts with a question: What did you love doing as a child that still fires you up today?

For me the answer would be pretending to be a witch, making art, daydreaming about life’s infinite possibilities, dancing in front of the mirror like I was a rockstar and spending endless hours outside.

Even on the busiest or lousiest of days, there are little ways I try to bring this same magic back into my world. Sometimes it’s as simple as journaling about my deepest manifestations and desires. I write journal entries about the life I want like I already have it, which combines the mystical and the pretend I knew so well as a kid. Other times, I light candles and do a little tarot or oracle reading for myself in the moonlight. This really makes me feel like the witch I wanted to be when I was ten. Just last weekend, my boyfriend and I had one too many drinks and filmed ourselves dancing like we were in a music video. I was immediately transported to all the times I used to do this with my best friend when I was a kid and it made me feel just as much like a rockstar now as it did back then.

The best part about all of this? All it takes is an hour or less of your time to do one small thing that makes you feel like you at your most raw and free.

4. Be Easy On Yourself

Don’t freak out when you still feel the urge to do absolutely nothing at all. Some days, even the easiest things like hopping into a bath or going for a walk feel impossible to do. Please don’t bully yourself for not achieving even your favorite tasks. The whole point of this easy approach to self-care is that it’s exactly that, easy. Easy on your mind and your heart, not another reason to stress yourself out. I hope you find comfort in your own version of this realistic self-care routine and that you find the little things in your own life that make every day an adventure.

What I’m Learning From My First Psychological Diagnosis

When my therapist confirmed that I have an anxiety disorder with depression lingering not far behind yesterday, I wasn’t surprised. Instead, I felt relieved OR was it more like validated? It was a mixture of both. It’s strange how visceral the rush of serotonin was that came over me in that moment. It felt like I wasn’t carrying the load on my own anymore. Oddly enough, it didn’t matter that I had already guessed what was wrong and that my therapist had only confirmed it — the fact that I was having an open conversation about it at all and that my concerns were valid…? Groundbreaking.

Since then, I’ve been thinking a lot about what a diagnosis means. Does it change anything? No. Does it magically fix the problem? Not at all. What it does is offer a point of reference, an outline to work off of so we can take the actionable steps needed to function with our diagnosis. It’s like adding another flavor to the rich, complex meal that is your life. If you’re anything like me and have to work a little harder to find order in your life, a diagnosis can help break through all the abstraction and confusion to give you something solid to hold onto. The irony is, it can actually help you feel like you’re not crazy at all.

Up until very recently, unfortunately, I thought I was defective. I thought everyone around me was moving through life normally and I was five steps behind. When I discovered that drinking made the symptoms go away, I leaned on that like it was medication. It was especially bad during my freshman year of college when I was pretending to be someone else and fear filled every room I was in. I was drinking constantly, numbing myself in social gatherings to present myself as fearless and crying myself to sleep every night. Eventually, I flunked out. The sad thing is everyone around me thought I was outgoing, happy and calm. Inside, I was working overtime to make it appear that way. Nobody knew. It was exhausting and I needed help.

I look back at this time in my life and if it hadn’t been for a hip injury that forced me to sit at home for months, I don’t know how I would’ve found my way. I so deeply wanted to be happy and stable that I did everything in my power to start over. I know now that I’m very fortunate to be able to say that, not everyone has the ability or the support to keep climbing. Although I developed healthier habits as time went on, the fear was always present. That’s where the diagnosis comes in.

There’s comfort in knowing that I’m not weak, off or incapable. Those were the labels I put on myself when I didn’t have an answer for why I was struggling to do seemingly normal things. Now, when my hearts starts pounding in my chest and it’s hard to breathe, I know why. When the weight of the world seems to press down on me, I know I’m not the only one that feels that way. Even when I fail to manage the symptoms — and I know I will sometimes — at least I won’t feel alone and broken. For a long time, I put off seeking help and addressing what I was feeling. It kept knocking on my door until it kicked the door down. Just last month I opened a bottle of wine at 9am to get through something that most people do every day, but that was making my whole body shake because it meant that people would have to really see me. While I feel ashamed and embarrassed sharing this, it’s worth it if my story helps someone out there who’s perfected the art of pretending everything’s fine. It’s okay if it isn’t.

If you’ve made it this far, thank you for reading. I hope you’re all doing well and intending to prioritize some much-needed self-care this year. Whether you’re planning on starting your mental health journey or channeling those buried feelings into art, I sincerely wish you the best along every step of the way.

Opening Up About My Mental Health

Let’s talk about anxiety!

We’ve all experienced it at one point or another. Maybe it was before you had to present something in front of a class or maybe it creeps into every conversation you have with someone. However constant or random it is in your life, it’s there all the same and it is the worst.

My relationship with anxiety is still very much a gray area in my life as I’ve only recently found a therapist and haven’t been properly diagnosed. I don’t have a professional’s stamp of approval that I’m an anxious person but trust me, when answering phone calls at your job makes your bowels contort and has you looking for any excuse to run to the bathroom so you can cry and breathe, you know something’s off. That’s been an ongoing pattern in my life since before I can remember.

I don’t understand my anxiety yet, but I’m looking forward to getting to know her as my therapy journey unfolds. She’s sort of like a very on and off again partner — sometimes we can’t help but fall back into our toxic patterns. In the past, that’s shown up as getting drunk before noon to head into my serving jobs — it’s how I would transform into my “calm, cool self,” into a version of me that didn’t shake in challenging situations where I was being watched. I convinced myself that handling stimuli like this was okay, that it was only temporary and that I just needed a push before finding my footing. Now I realize I was harming myself to appear like I was healthy.

Anxious feelings are a common thread in all of our lives, which is why many of us find unhealthy ways to cope with them. More often than not, people think “the anxiety label” is only for people who’ve been told they’re “sick” and need medication, when really there are millions of anxious people out there who don’t have the proper resources or privilege to even get diagnosed in the first place. They go their whole lives with that fear left unchecked and numb it the only way they know how…alone. And that, my friends, makes me so fucking sad.

Therapy and mental health education weren’t prioritized discussion topics in my upbringing, which I know is the case for many other families. In my Portuguese household (at the risk of speaking for a group of people and being misunderstood), I was taught to be resilient, to repress things and to carry on. Having a therapist or talking about seeking professional help just weren’t commonly on the menu, but Bacalhau was (gotta love a silver lining). Looking back, I know this wasn’t anyone’s fault, it’s just the pattern we knew best. Unfortunately, it’s the pattern most people know best.

While I didn’t have a point when I started writing this, I guess I just wanted to remind people that you never know what’s going on behind closed doors. Humans have an incredible knack for burying their shame, even if what they’re afraid of is nothing to be embarrassed about. I’m still very anxious (roll credits) about sharing my own mental health experiences. I would never have made it this far without the help of all the people who shared theirs so boldly. So, with that being said, I want to open up a nurturing space to talk about it, to remove the shame and to make getting help something worth being proud of.

If you got this far, let me know if you want more blog posts about topics like this. I’d love to go more in-depth about my own experiences, too. Please feel free to share your own with me in our judgment-free zone and know that you’re never alone, even when it feels like no one gets it.

Why I Finally Caved and Made a YouTube Channel

YouTube’s been a friend to me for years, through the growing pains of high school with beauty gurus and vloggers helping me feel seen and into adulthood with art and spiritual channels inspiring me to find my own voice. It’s been both a place to shut out my real life by getting lost in someone else’s and a deep well of information to use for my own benefit. For years, I watched other peoples’ content and couldn’t figure out why I was so hooked. It wasn’t just that I loved watching other people create and share their stories, it’s that I was being lured into overcoming my fears to do the same. I just didn’t know it yet. 

I can’t even tell you how many YouTube videos I recorded and edited on iMovie over the years, none of which ever saw the light of day. I even published two of them on my YouTube channel back in 2014, one was a “Get Ready with Me” and the other a “Get to Know Me.” I deleted both of them after about a week. The fear got to me again, and Lord knows I knew this routine well. I’d step out onto the stage for a quick high and then cower away after a few views, the familiar feelings of relief and shame flooding back. After many failed attempts, I eventually laid my budding YouTube curiosity to rest. It had been tucked away for years until one of the first nights I spent in LA in 2019. 

Most of my dreams are fairly abstract. You can make out the general themes they might be trying to convey but they seldom give me a clear answer or task. So, when a resounding voice in a dream said “buy a vlog camera and get over yourself,” I woke up in the middle of the night with a stir in my stomach that was unmistakable — I was being poked with a stick by the Universe and she had HAD ENOUGH of my whiny bullshit. 

I heard that message loud and clear this time around. Problem was, I didn’t know what content I had to offer on YouTube — but just like all things the Universe has up her gorgeous sleeves — there was a plan already in the works. All that time I had spent painting, writing and thinking about what to do instead of actually making videos turned into fuel for the videos. 

I wouldn’t go so far as to call myself a YouTuber yet (I’ve only made eight videos lol) but there was this moment after I finished exporting the “My Story” video that the initial stir from the dream turned into gratitude that actually had me looking up with my arms stretched out, tears streaming down my face repeating “thank you” and “I’m so grateful” at the abyss. I never do this. In that moment, I understood what I had studied so many times. I understood how you can only hide so often from the things that you’re being called to do, no matter how scary they might seem (and they’re always scary when it counts). I realized these stirrings of inspiration will work endlessly to find you because they want you to find your courage.

I don’t have many views, likes or subscribers, but I’m the happiest creatively I’ve ever been. I’m putting something out there! Doing it for those shallow reasons and wanting what other people had is what stopped me from doing in the first place. Now, when even one person tells me something I created or said inspired them, I think about the sixteen-year-old under her covers watching video after video, shrinking into darkness. I think about how that girl felt the stirring to try, but chose not to. I think about how I would give her a long hug and tell her that it’s okay to be afraid — it’s how you carry that fear on your back and show up anyway that matters.

“Ember” | Original Abstract 16×20″ Acrylic Painting by Mariana R. Cabral

Filling Your Own Cup: Persevering in Uncertain Times

Do you ever feel like you’re stuck because pieces of you are split up in different places?

Lately, I’ve been feeling like I’m in limbo. The feeling first started creeping in when I was living somewhere I was anxious to leave and I knew that better opportunities were waiting for me somewhere else. It’s like I was saving my creative energy for a new setting and until I was there, I’d keep coming up short creatively (or at least, that was my excuse). I thought paintings and blog posts would pour out of me the second I moved into this new apartment. But, I felt more uninspired than ever when I arrived at the “better” place.

I repeat this mistake a lot — making a change of scenery responsible for providing me clarity. In my experience, however, focus almost always comes from the inside out. It doesn’t appear out of thin air in a new place, as much as we might want or need it to. You have to go digging.

When you feel overwhelmed and you’ve been staring at that blank canvas or empty journal, ask yourself: what’s really slowing me down?

For me, the answer took a while to excavate but when I touched the nerve, it all came pouring out. I was grieving the fact that my family and I were separated by a greater distance than I had ever known. My parents had moved back to the Azores in July and I stayed behind in Los Angeles, which meant that we now led separate lives in different countries. It was a lot to take in and a little too much for me to acknowledge. You could say I felt those growing pains hard.

Things proved even more difficult with COVID-19. Whenever I thought I’d be able to see my family, new obstacles popped up threatening to separate us even longer. I’m certain many of you understand and I think we’re all missing someone or something more deeply than ever. You can almost feel the collective fear of time building in the atmosphere.

The point is, when I finally allowed myself to look at the source of my blockage, all of the reasons I was exactly where I was supposed to be revealed themselves too. All of the friendships, opportunities and moments my boyfriend and I had created in LA came up. It was this incredible life we had built even if it was separate from my roots — what a scary and beautiful thing.

What I learned through facing my blockage head on was that I had been making people and settings responsible for my ability to create, and that’s why I kept finding myself in the same spot. I was giving outside influences all of my power even when there was little I could do to change them. When I finally acknowledged the distance from my family objectively, I realized what I actually needed. I needed to fill my own cup.

Now I know that whenever I feel creatively stuck because my heart is in different places or lamenting something, I can always choose to find beauty in where I’m standing now. People, settings, and things will constantly change and I can still choose to show up for myself. In the past, I might’ve thought this way of thinking made you a selfish person. Now, I realize it’s the kind of thinking that can save your life.

My Big Fat Hollywood Move: In the Thick of It

I don’t know how long I had been complacent before I moved out here, but I do remember feeling like Dustin Hoffman in the opening scene of The Graduate — propelling lifelessly on a moving walkway into his future. I bounced from one non-stimulating experience to another and rotated between the same toxic behavioral patterns. I couldn’t own up to my fault in it.

In the early stages of living in LA, we faced everything from nearly running out of money to our first landlord shortening our lease out of nowhere. I spent endless hours applying for jobs, apartment-hunting, juggling job interviews, and handing my resume out to open hands while Rich held up the fort. Regardless of the effort being made on both sides, we didn’t have the sufficient combined income to find another place before getting kicked to the curb.

On paper, it seemed like LA might not be in the cards. Somehow though, we were fine. Even in that first shitty Koreatown apartment where all the neighborhood cats congregated for weekly orgies and cops drove by looking for drug deals to bust, we were hyped up on the promise of the next adventure.

We traversed the city’s urine-stained streets, checked off all the major tourist stops on our list, and made time for daily walks around our neighborhood where I’d press my fingers onto wild flowers and milk every sultry sunset as fuel to keep going. I’d devour my peanut butter and sliced banana toast on our rotting wooden balcony and manifest. The cross-shaped power line in front of me was my temple.

While LA might not have been the reason I started finding a way out of the muck, the urgency and mayhem of reconstructing a life without the proper arsenal gave me a purpose. It forced me so far out of my comfort zone, my survival instincts kicked in. It was the first step that led into a sprint until finally I was going somewhere of my choosing.

As I picked up momentum, I unraveled years of false information I’d been telling myself: I’m not talented. I’m always five steps behind. I don’t have what it takes. I’m just not good enough, at anything. I thought hiring managers could see the same deficiencies I felt about myself. Truthfully, with how abusive my self-criticism could get, it had become a self-fulfilling prophecy and I’m sure they could see it.

In LA, once the fear of running out of money kicked in, I realized the only way we could stay was if I fought the toxic inner monologue with discipline and will power like never before. I decided to prove myself wrong. I’d prove that even though I was hundreds of thousands of miles away from “home,” I could make it work.

Eventually, through braving a lot of discomfort, some of the things that used to scare me more than anything became routine — from public speaking all over town to finding my own health insurance and everything else I would’ve put off in the past, I was rewiring my brain to adapt to the changes I needed to make.

One morning, I sat on the balcony and asked the cross-shaped power line for a job and a new place to live. I left my intentions lingering in space and carried on with my interviews in spite of that conniving inner voice telling me I wasn’t going to make it. Soon enough, I landed a temp job at a start-up in Santa Monica and Rich and I met a couple looking to share an apartment in Culver City — just days before we were about to lose everything.

At this point, things began to align at lightning speed. The anxiety of making an income and finding a place to live replaced with a cushy job and apartment at precisely the right time. I went from wondering what would happen next to spending eight hours of my day minutes away from the Santa Monica Pier. I’d walk along the beach and take the train to our resort-style apartment complex every night in awe.

Fast forward six months and the temp contract in Santa Monica had ended. I fly back to Massachusetts for the holidays not knowing if I’ll have a job waiting for me in LA when I get back. About a week later, I land a full-time job as a copywriter in El Segundo just in time for the new year — fulfilling a dream to write for a living that I thought might never come true. I start devoting a huge chunk of my free time to making art and reading about spirituality, philosophy and health. I feel free.

Life since moving to LA hasn’t shifted all that drastically from the life I had in Boston in terms of opportunity. No matter how new the experience is, that thrill of novelty wears off and eventually you’re just left with yourself again. If I hadn’t taken the time to work on the things that were dragging me into that dark, stagnant black hole, no amount of moving or wishing things were different would’ve set me free.

I’m still fighting the urge to sink into that stagnant place every day. That might always be part of my story. However, I also know that when I commit to an action and apply the discipline to see it through, manifestations come to life and I get closer to my bliss.

The state of the world has shifted drastically since I first started writing this blog. In fact, it’s been stored in my drafts for months because I felt like I had nothing of value to say. Never good enough. Now, as we’re all battling social distancing and the inner demons that arise during stagnant times, I feel like this has its place — my homage to the inner peace that can derive from taking disciplined action toward your goals, even the smallest ones.

I hope this introspective time inspires you to keep finding what feels good in spite of any toxic inner voices trying to hold you back. I hope you start to remember what you’re capable of so you can manifest your dreams, and I wish for everyone a life of their own choosing.