The human brain is hardwired to detect meaningful patterns amongst seemingly disconnected sequences of events.  Our interpretation of those patterns influences the way we perceive and interact with our surroundings.  On one hand, the associations we form act as shortcuts that allow us to perform tasks more efficiently.  On the other hand, sometimes we can be too hasty in spotting a connection, which causes us to make sweeping generalizations or assumptions about people in a prejudiced and discriminatory way.  I’ve been guilty of passing judgment in situations where I might not have the full story, and if jumping to conclusions were cardio, I know plenty of jealous girlfriends you’d think were training to become decathletes.  In an effort to become less judgmental, lately I’ve been spending time reflecting upon unconscious patterns and biases I’ve formed that limit my scope of the world around me.

Whenever I set out to change one of my habits, I typically start to notice when other people exhibit the behavior as well.  For example, the other day I was sitting next to a woman who was scrolling through Facebook on her phone.  She scoffed at a picture someone posted of a salad and muttered, “Well from the looks of her, that’s not all she’s been eating.”  Now don’t get it twisted; I’m not opposed to roasting a narcissist who can’t make a friggin’ ice cube tray without documenting every step like they just won The Next Food Network Star, but this woman’s comment made me stop to think about how quickly she made an assumption about her friend’s eating habits based on her appearance.

Before I explain why I was troubled by her comment, I have a quick question for any readers who feel so inclined to make snide remarks about overweight people at the salad bar, the gym, or any other health-conscious environment: Do you also go to the pediatrician’s office to mock sick children?  Because that’s about how constructive and encouraging your statements are to someone who’s actively taking steps to improve their condition.  I also think it’s worth noting that there’s no way to look at a person and immediately be able to say why they’re overweight…or even what their health status is, for that matter.  Rather than defaulting to a generalization that associates all overweight people with being gluttonous, I used what I witnessed as an opportunity to consider some alternatives:

  • Does this person potentially eat well and exercise regularly, but have a food allergy, metabolic disorder, or chronic pain that makes weight management especially challenging?
  • Is it possible that the individual recently suffered a traumatic personal loss that’s caused their exercise regimen to take a back seat while they address their mental wellbeing?
  • Despite still being overweight, could this person have already lost a significant amount of weight, lowered their risk for chronic disease, and established a plan to shed the final pounds?
  • Could this person be taking any steroids or medications to treat a serious illness that have side effects of weight gain? If so, is it possible they’re just grateful to be waking up in the skin they’re in, cellulite and all?
  • Does the person live in an urban food desert without access to an affordable supermarket, forcing them to buy groceries at a convenience store or gas station without healthy options?
  • And lastly, is it possible that the person is genuinely just a slob who lacks the foresight, willpower, or conscientiousness to make more responsible personal choices?

My objective isn’t to ask people to second guess their intuition.  For instance, if you see a windowless van with a hand-written “FREE CANDY” sign parked across the street from an elementary school, go ahead and contact local authorities before you climb into the trunk expecting a basket of banana Laffy Taffy.  My objective is to bring more awareness to patterns, associations, and preconceived notions we carry in hopes that we can let go of the unfair ones and treat people we encounter with more compassion.  And in the meantime…maybe keep your salad pictures to yourself.

“I carry around the love I once gave you like a cup of coffee.”

I carry around the love I once gave you like a cup of coffee.

I take it with me everywhere I go, unable to put it down.

Though the cup is light and I am strong, its burden weighs heavily on me and becomes increasingly inconvenient to hold as time passes.

The same cup of coffee that once warmed my giving hands has now left them raw and exposed; too tender to accept the embrace of an outreached palm.

I keep my wounds covered so that one day they will heal, but even my protective clothing is stained by careless spills.  They wear me like a badge of your recklessness.

I move slowly and stand guarded, as anyone I bump into runs the risk of getting burned, too.

I can’t simply pass this coffee off to someone else to enjoy; this coffee was for you.

I can’t sip it until it’s gone, as even the slightest indulgence leaves me sputtering, incessantly choked by the bitterness of your betrayal.  The taste of deception lingers on my breath, drying my cracked lips with every shallow, exasperated gasp.

Some days the cup feels half-empty; other days half-full.  But every day that I hold onto you, the heavier your weight feels.

I carry around the love I once gave you like a cup of coffee.

And though the love that I carry is too extraordinary to be recycled…you, oh stale one, are entirely disposable.

So out with the rest of the trash you go.

A Message from the Heart

Each time I’ve tried to write about my father’s heart transplant, I’ve found myself spending more time tapping the backspace key than I’ve spent assembling coherent sentences.  As soon as I start to type something personal, it feels like I’m setting the scene for a melodrama on Telemundo.  If I try to say something less personal that I think could be useful for anyone who needs support coping with adversity, it comes across as a diluted and generic cliché.  In my father’s inspiring story, I struggle to find my voice as merely a supporting character, and I don’t know how to explain to an outsider how profoundly his journey impacted my life because I don’t want to take away from what he endured and make the experience about me.

So how do I begin to illustrate the engrossing, gnawing sense of urgency that swallowed the hollows of my stomach when I wondered whether it would be the day my father received a new heart, or if it would be the day he simply couldn’t fight anymore?

What’s the onomatopoeia to describe the sound of the eerie, unnerving silence that engulfed my family’s home every time the phone rang, praying in those moments that it was his fateful call about finding a match?

Is there a Latin derivative for the contradiction between desperately yearning to fast forward to a time when this nightmare was over, but simultaneously being so terrified by the uncertainty of the future that I wanted to press pause on our lives forever?

How do you spell the word that describes the unremitting resilience and emotional strength my father exuded, even as his physical strength deteriorated, after cyclically receiving disappointing news?  Can you use the word for “never once complained or assumed the role of a victim” in a sentence, please?

Who can tell me how to rationalize the crushing guilt I felt for waking up, going to work, sleeping in my own bed, and retaining some degree of normalcy while my mother so selflessly put her most basic needs aside to unconditionally support her husband in the hospital every single day?

How do I explain the process of trying to make peace with the fact that my family’s miracle came at the expense of another family’s tragedy?

But what I struggle with most is finding words to describe the overwhelming pride I have in my family for finding hope amidst such dire circumstances and becoming even stronger and more united.  And there’s unquestionably nothing in Webster’s dictionary to explain the ecstasy of once again hearing my father’s infectious, hearty laugh that I thought I had lost forever to the sound of weak coughs and EKG beeps.

Because my words have failed me and because a little blog entry only cheapens how I’d like to honor everyone affected by my dad’s heart transplant, please accept this tattoo as a symbol of the permanent mark it has left on my heart.  It’s not only a celebration of my father’s life, but also of his donor’s life, who became a life-saver at the tender age of eighteen.  It’s a thank you to my mother, whose unwavering strength became my source of strength during a very emotional year. And above all, it’s a constant reminder that embedded at the heart of every tragedy is a seed that stores the potential to grow something beautiful.



A special thank you to Dia Moeller, who created this beautiful custom tattoo that so perfectly captures what my words could not.

If you’d like to become a registered organ donor, you can do so here.

Developing Resiliency

In your lifetime, you will inevitably face adversity.  Sometimes you will have limited control over the cards you’ve been dealt, and sometimes you’ll be the joker who shuffled the deck.  In any event, even when the chips are down, developing resiliency will keep you ahead in the game.  Becoming a more positive, adaptable person isn’t about perfecting your poker face.  The strongest, most well-adjusted people don’t hide or deny their feelings.  On the contrary, people with resilient spirits experience hardship deeply and wholeheartedly…but they translate those experiences into wisdom they can use to push forward.

If you wrote a story about your life, would you play the hero or the victim?

It’s true that we don’t always have control over negative circumstances.  These situations are especially frustrating, as there’s not always an explicit lesson to be learned.  However, even though you can’t always be in control of your circumstances, you can always be in control of how you respond to them.  No one but you is responsible for your happiness or sadness.  Victims become whatever happens to them.  Heroes are what they choose to become.  Empower yourself by becoming the author of your life story.  Rather than trying to fix your past, which cannot be changed, use your experiences to build a brighter future.  Become the type of hero you would want to read about.

Adopt an attitude of gratitude.

It’s easy to get caught up in one aspect of your life that isn’t going well.  When this happens, look at your life like a pizza pie.  You wouldn’t eat flour, yeast, or salt by themselves.  But when you add them together and bake them into a crust, you create something truly delicious that’s equipped to receive boundless, desirable toppings.  Similarly, while there may be a component in your life that leaves a bitter taste in your mouth, life as a whole can still be great.  Take stock of all the ingredients in your life you’re grateful to have and remind yourself not to take them for granted.  Family, friends, good health, financial security, passions, and self-worth are all key ingredients in the recipe to a rich, satisfying life.

Believe that when life takes one thing away, it’s creating space for you to receive something bigger and better. 

The trade-off likely won’t be immediate, nor will it necessarily feel the same.  For example, material items, technology, and even jobs are relatively replaceable, but relationships and loved ones are not.  Being resilient doesn’t mean forcing yourself to try to fill that void; it means finding peace with today and having faith in tomorrow.  Generally speaking, good things happen to good people.  When bad things happen to good people, they view them as opportunities for growth and potential for better things to come.

And when all else fails, remember that tough times don’t last; tough people do.

Talking the Talk

I make a conscious effort not to wait until New Year’s Day to resolve to be a better version of myself.  To keep myself from getting stuck in a holding pattern, I consistently try to establish and reassess my short-term and long-term personal goals.  During my most recent bout of introspection, it occurred to me that in order to make progress toward becoming who I want to be, I need to kick some bad habits.  Admittedly, at the top of my list of annoying habits are being unnecessarily long-winded, spending too much time on the internet, and coming across as a know-it-all…so I can appreciate the slight level of irony to this post and plan to slay those beasts at a later date.  (Note to self: Add procrastination to the list.  And list making.)  For now, the habit I’m determined to break is negative self-talk, particularly surrounding body image.  So I settled upon aiming to eliminate three destructive little phrases from my vocabulary.  My hope is that in reading this, you might feel motivated to start thinking about less-than-constructive ways in which you speak about yourself, and in turn, perceive yourself.

  1. “I’m fat.” 

You are not fat.  You have fat.  In fact, you need fat to survive.  Fat provides you with an essential layer of protection and insulation from the outside world.  Know what else does that?  Your nose hair!  But you are not nose hair, either.  My point is that one physical attribute does not carry enough weight (no pun intended) to define who you are.  Regardless of how your weight status affects your quality of life; there is no value on any scale that delineates your value as a complex, irreplaceable human being who deserves love, respect, and support.

  1. “I feel fat.”  

Fat is a loose connective bodily tissue derived from adipocytes—it is not an emotion.  “Fat” is not something you experience in the way you experience joy, excitement, heartbreak, or disappointment.  Next time this utterance threatens to pass your lips, see if you can take a step back and finish the phrase with a genuine emotion rather than the word fat.  For example, instead of saying, “I feel fat”, you might say, “I feel discouraged that I gained weight this weekend” or, “I feel guilty for deviating from my healthy eating plan last night”.  Instead of negatively reinforcing your undesired outcome, you’re giving yourself the opportunity to address the cause of your feelings and consider resolutions to either change your behavior or change your thoughts surrounding the behavior to achieve your desired outcome.

  1. “Real women are/have…[insert cliché here].” 

Declarations like “real women have curves” are inherently exclusionary and suggest that your physical appearance defines your authenticity as a woman.  No matter how often I look in the mirror while flexing my pecs and chanting, “I must, I must, I must increase my bust!” my B-cup will never runneth over.  (FULL DISCLOSURE: I do this every hour on the hour.)  That doesn’t mean I don’t deserve to feel comfortable in my own skin, and it certainly doesn’t mean I’m not a real woman.  The legitimacy of a gal’s womanhood shouldn’t be classified by, “On a scale of Kermit the Frog to Kim Kardashian, how big is dat ass?”

Similarly, while I am a huge supporter of including women of all shapes, sizes, and ethnicities in media campaigns, I’m not crazy about the dichotomy that seems to have formed between “real” women and models.  This comparison is counterproductive because it perpetuates the concept that in order to empower one group of women, we must subsequently devalue another group.  Professional models are, well, professionals.  Imagine if we were as quick to compare ourselves to other types of professionals as we are to compare ourselves to models.  I wouldn’t be able to pass a construction zone without feeling deeply inadequate about my inability to erect a building…not to mention my inability to stop giggling at the word erect. (Or calk, for that matter, but I digress.)  Drawing parallels between people with completely different livelihoods and talents than yours sets you up for boundless disappointment in one form or another.  Furthermore, belittling someone else’s strengths in an attempt to play up your own says more about you than it does about the person you’re bashing.  At our core, we’re all real people, and we all have a fundamental desire to be reminded that what we have to offer is enough.

And you, my friend, are enough.