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Oh boy. Here we are. I’m currently writing this with just a few hours left of 2018.

To be honest, I had a hard time mustering up the motivation to write.  Partly because 2018 was so emotionally and physically exhausting, partly because it was filled with a lot of darkness, and partly because writing about it means that I have to relive some aspects of my year that are hard to talk about.

This isn’t a post where I tell you that about how I made a mind-blowing amount of money, that I got engaged to my best friend (still single as a pringle), or that I climbed Machu Picchu and discovered myself.  While no physical mountains were climbed this year, I arguably climbed the hardest personal mountain I’ve ever faced.  My successes this year aren’t going to be measured by material things or trophies sitting on a shelf. My successes stem from the lowest of lows and a transformation you can’t see on the outside.  My year was spent for the most part, being silent about my true struggles, and I’m finally in a place where I feel okay talking about it.

My greatest success this year is surviving the hardest year of my life thus far.

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Behind the social media curtain, I endured chronic illness—both mentally and physically. After 23 years of being on topical and oral steroids for eczema, I finally took the step to heal myself naturally and stopped taking steroids. This unleashed a condition called Topical Steroid Withdrawal or TSW. My skin felt like it was on fire, my face and body was covered in rashes, I itched 24/7, and I could barely look at myself in the mirror. My skin was so dry, covered in open wounds, and it was painful to move my body at times that even showering became excruciating. I lost the ability to exercise because sweating was too painful, and I started to lose my sense of self worth. Looking at myself was incredibly difficult as I felt so ugly…so unworthy…and so depressed about my skin.  I felt so hopeless and so lonely. Severe eczema and topical steroid withdrawal isn’t just dry skin or something you can fix on the outside.  It’s a full body condition with itching so bad it feels like it’s erupting from the inside. No one really knew the extent of how bad my eczema was because I always covered my body, but behind those pretty pictures you see on my feed, was a woman who was hurting. Physically and mentally.

(I will be writing a separate blog post on healing my eczema and how I’m holistically healing my body, but for now, I’ll spare the specifics of the details).

While my physical skin and body was in torment, mentally, I was in the darkest place I’ve ever been. For the first six months of 2018, I was still living in NYC and teaching at an extremely rigorous charter school.  While I was going through the thick of my physical symptoms, it was also the thick of winter, which is already a challenge in itself.  Even though I was in such physical pain every day, I still had to show up and be a teacher for 95+ students a day.  I did my best to put a smile on my face, but the reality was that the stress of being a teacher (a job where you are literally ON all day), PLUS going through topical steroid withdrawal, was the hardest thing I’ve ever experienced. All I wanted to do was hide and not be seen by the world, move back home, and heal in the comfort of my home.  I experienced depression and anxiety due to my physical condition. My anxiety stemmed from never knowing when a scratch attack would hit me and when it did, I couldn’t hide it. The sadness, the pain, and the loneliness felt unbearable at times. I contemplated quitting my job before the school year ended and moving home to prioritize my health…but I kept pushing myself to take it day by day because I couldn’t bear the thought of leaving my kids and school community mid-year. The first six months of 2018 felt like the slowest six months as I kept counting down the days until I could be back home in California and focus on my healing. And by the grace of God, the support of close friends and family…I somehow made it. I look back and truly thank God for getting me through the hardest months of my life.

And if you’ve been following my journey, you’ll know that I’m now back in California, starting a new chapter.  The last six months of moving back home has been a whirlwind of emotions.  Before my topical steroid withdrawal, I was a social go-getter who never said no. I took on many roles and responsibilities in my job (too much to my detriment) and was also such a giver personally to my relationships.  But becoming ill made me recognize that I had to be more selfish in my time, selfish in my energy, and put myself first beyond my job, beyond my friends, and beyond anything else.  Because if I’m not well physically or mentally, there’s no way I can pour from an empty cup and be there for anyone else. And so the last half of 2018 has been a quiet healing journey.  It’s been the time I needed to reset myself, focus on becoming a better me, and set myself up for a future that is free from skin disease and mental illness. I can finally say that a new leaf is turning over and I am hopeful for my future for the first time in a year.

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And now that I’m a year into my healing, I can say that all the energy I preserved and poured into myself is paying off.  My skin is healing and my depression and anxiety is lifting.  Waking up isn’t a dread anymore and I finally feel more of the zest for life I had before TSW.  The mountains and darkness I faced are lifting and I can finally see the light that I so desperately yearned for during the darkest hours of my illness.

Being the self-reflective person I am, this wouldn’t be a blog post unless I shared with you my greatest lessons learned from the most difficult year of my life so far.

1. It’s okay to not be okay. Don’t be afraid of sharing your truths with people you trust.

You’ve probably heard this before, but I never knew the meaning of this until I was the person who was not okay.  As someone who is seen as strong, independent, fiercely confident, it was so hard for me to come to terms with not being okay. Part of my depression stemmed from feeling like a failure…like I was weak…and feeling ashamed and guilty for not being able to be my best for my students, my friends and my family.  But I realized how strong people can’t be expected to be strong all the time.  When life rocks us, it’s okay for us to not be okay. Soak in it. Feel it. Lean in the discomfort. Moving through it is the only way. I got through the hardest months by opening up to a only a couple close friends and my family. I’m fortunate to have had a safe space to share my struggles with because it genuinely was the hardest thing I’ve had to endure.

2. You should never feel guilty for putting yourself first.

As a teacher, a natural caregiver (hello PISCES), and someone who deeply cares about others, I felt so guilty for putting myself first.  I felt guilty for saying no to extra responsibilities at work, for saying no to seeing friends, and for saying no to things I used to say “yes” to before.  But what chronic illness has taught me, is that it is okay for you prioritize your well-being before anything else.  In fact it’s necessary. You cannot pour from an empty cup. You cannot be your best for others when you are not your best for yourself.

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3. You will never regret investing in yourself.

Was putting myself first easy? Absolutely not.  It meant changing my lifestyle, my eating habits, my routine, and adopting a whole new mindset.  I spent so much of my time working on myself this year.  From meal prepping healthy vegan meals every day, to making celery juice, to meditating, to journaling, listening to podcasts, reading self-improvement books….I poured so much into myself.  I learned ways to cope with my anxiety. I learned how to work through my episodes of panic and depression through breathing, positive affirmations, and meditation. And while the journey has been anything but easy, I know that the work I’ve done is paying off. Not just because I see physical improvements in my skin, but because I know that the habits I’m building and positive mindsets I’m adopting are things I want for life. Not just now, but for the rest of my journey on this earth.

4. Your mindset plays a huge role in both your physical and mental health.

Who knew the mind played such an incredible tool in your physical health?  At the beginning of my journey,  I was gripped with fear, anxiety, sadness, and self-pity.  I couldn’t understand why this was my condition and why I had to go through this. I felt hopeless and so scared by the changes I saw in my body. But at some point, I knew I had to change my mindset. I knew that the rashes that erupted were signs of my healing because my body was working hard to expel the years of toxic waste in me. My body was working overtime to heal myself from the inside out. I had to turn my fears into acceptance.  That the condition of my skin wouldn’t be “normal” for a while and to accept it as is. So I began to find gratitude in what my body could do for me, not what it looked like. I began verbalizing positive affirmations daily to help rewire my brain. I am healing; I am strong; I am beautiful –it became my mantra. Shifting my mindset about my body, about my condition, and placing focus on the fact that I am alive and healing helped me get through my darkest moments.

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5. The valleys we experience in life give us the perspective to appreciate and value the highs.

As my healing began to shift around October of this year, I saw dramatic improvement on the skin on my face and arms. I no longer woke up to excruciatingly painful dry, itchy skin (still dry and itchy, just not as bad), and I could move through my days with less anxiety and worry.  I noticed a shift in the way I felt. I simply felt less heavy. It’s hard to describe, but I just felt that my depression was lifting. This feeling of lightness was something I hadn’t felt in about 10 months, which made me immediately draw a comparison to the way I used to feel.  It made me realize how this year of struggle and pain has truly gifted me the perspective to know what good days feel like. It gave me a greater gratitude for the things that I have. A deeper gratitude for each day that I am given.

6. Healing mental and chronic illness takes time, a whole lot of patience, and an unwavering belief in yourself. I am way stronger than I realized.

What keeps me going in this healing journey, is the unwavering belief that I can and will live a life unshackled by eczema, anxiety, and depression.  I have a vision of myself living freely and not gripped by anxiety.  This image of me is what I hold on to on dark days because I know that a better version of myself exists and I’m doing everything I can to find her.  But even 12 months into my journey, I’m still not 100%.  Chronic illness has taught me how to be patient with my body, to find gratitude in the little things, and that I am one strong woman. The personal transformation I’m undergoing is undoubtedly the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but also one of the most rewarding things I’ve done.  Because I now love myself enough to know that I am worthy of living a healthy life and I’m willing to do what it takes to get there.

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7. Don’t be afraid to follow your gut and make big changes in your life.

As I was going through my illness, I couldn’t help but feel that it was God or the universe screaming at me to get the heck out of NY. I was already feeling unhappy before–my job was super stressful, I was away from my family, and I didn’t feel like NYC was home. It was isolating in a lot of ways. And when my body came down with all these symptoms, I felt it was manifestation of my unhappiness. It was the rude awakening I needed to follow my gut–to move back to California and try something new career-wise. And so here I am living out my truest desires and I honestly can say that being back in California has been the biggest blessing for me. I know that this is where I’m supposed to be and I’m so excited about what the future holds.

8. Pain is temporary. This too shall pass.

One of the ways I held on during the lowest of lows, when I was sitting on the floor of my bedroom crying on the phone telling my mom or my best friend that I couldn’t do it anymore…was remembering the the phrase, “this too shall pass.” I remembered that this state of being isn’t going to be permanent.  That the pain and struggles I’m enduring now will pass. And no matter how long it takes, know that the journey to healing is happening.  That the pain you feel will, with each day, become more tolerable. And one day…it will be a distant memory. At least, that’s what I’m hanging onto.

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If you’re walking through darkness right now, I want you to know that better days are coming. The light is there and you must keep fighting. The journey of healing both mentally and physically is not easy. But the struggles you’re enduring are undoubtedly building and testing a strength that you didn’t know existed in you.  It took me 10-11 months to finally break through my depression and anxiety and feel more stable in my emotions. You will be so much stronger, wiser, and greater for the valleys you’re walking through. Keep believing and trusting in your journey. Because trust me, you are worthy of living the life you deserve and want for yourself.

In this very moment, I am grateful. I am grateful for my storms because the clouds are passing and the sun is just starting to peep through the clouds. I know that this new year is going to bring more blessings and breakthroughs in my own life. I’ve invested so much in myself and know that the journey is just unfolding for me. My motivation, my desire to craft a life that I love, and my passion for helping others is manifesting in new ways that I couldn’t see just half a year ago.  But with my move to California and this opportunity to start fresh, I’ve gained clarity on where I’m headed and where I want to be.  Big things are going to happen in 2019 and I can’t wait to share more with you and continue to grow a meaningful community here.

Thank you for being a part of my 2018 journey. This blog and IG community I’ve come to love was a big reason why I survived. You kept me going. Gave me motivation to show up in the world. To share my passion for fashion + sharing my truths. And I can’t wait to see where 2019 takes us. Cheers to an amazing year, sweet friends.

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P.S. Just like in these photos, I feel as though I am ready to BLOOM. This is a new season, an awakening, a chance to start fresh.  SO READY.

What I’m Wearing:

This entire outfit is restyled from last year! I loved mixing the chenille and velvet textures and the pops of pink are a super fun combo here. Here are some similar options:

I bought this amazing chenille sweater from Anthropologie on sale last year, but here are some similar options!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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