For some, life slows down after graduating college - searching for jobs, traveling, spending time with family and friends - all important things that were for so long bumped out of the schedule by class, studying, meetings, projects, etc. So, post-graduation is the time to let life fizzle out a bit, like pulling a sizzling hot burger off the grill and letting the cheese melt on top, letting the juices amp up their flavor.
For others, life speeds up after graduating college - adjusting to a new job, planning trips to visit family and friends, pulling together all the pieces of this intimidating 1,000,000-piece puzzle we call “adulting” - all also important things demanding time and energy. They just so happen to occur at the same flippin’ time. And for this one, I have yet to come up with a food analogy because, if you haven’t already guessed it, I most certainly do not have this figured out.
I don’t know where I thought I would be right now, five years ago. I didn’t know I would fall in love with San Luis Obispo, or that I would switch my major to nutrition, or that I would struggle more than ever with food and body image issues. I didn’t know that I would question who I am and what I believe, or that I would make Hungry Haley such a serious thing. I didn’t know, 18 years old, that I’d someday be 23 years old and feel so disconnected from me.
Gosh, I can’t think of a year that’s been harder than this one. I slid right into my 22nd year - mature and “sophisticated” enough to move on from the downtown bar scene the 21 year-olds love to the early evening happy hours 22 year-olds look forward to after work. At the time, I had just picked up the pieces of a broken Haley and glued them back together, stronger than ever. But then life shifted and tested the glue. My best friends moved out of SLO and my parents out of the state. My passion for baking woke me up at 4 AM and left me exhausted. My classes talked about how to become an RD and, though I feel confident that isn’t the path for me, I will admit I often felt judged and insufficient for choosing a different path than my peers.
Fatigue, stress, loneliness, and fear consumed much of my 22nd year. And I knew turning one year older wouldn’t win it all back, so I put in work. I’ve sought myself, the girl I was once and still vividly remember today, the girl I want more than anything to be again.
I saw more and more people pick up Brene Brown’s Braving the Wilderness, and read more and more rave reviews, so I picked up my own copy. I read and read, underlined, and starred and circled, and somehow Brene’s words made sense even though I couldn’t grasp an understanding of my own wilderness yet. In fact, I think I made it through the whole book before I grasped it.
And that brings me here. i braved my own wilderness without even knowing so.
My wilderness, I came to find out after a months-long trek through it, was this person I was becoming. I don’t know her and I don’t want to. She is not familiar to me because I had never heard of her, expected her arrival, or encountered her. And when I did - when I stood in front of the mirror and looked at her for a l o n g time - I knew she was someone I did not want to be.
I stepped back and looked at the big picture of everything that was going on around me and in my life. I apologized to myself for the hurtful things I whispered, and I promised to work on speaking kindly to myself. I pulled strength both from my core and from my cherished loved ones. And, believe me, I have put. in. work to be happy with who I am - after all, we don’t call it “walking in the park”. We call it “braving the wilderness” because it’s scary and unknown and vulnerable, but at the same time it’s a breath of fresh air and a beautiful green landscape and a prime opportunity to develop self-compassion and self-love.
By stepping back from the mirror and looking not externally but internally at myself, I found in my core the real me. I found Haley and I absolutely love her. She is not perfect, and she embraces her imperfections. She is beautiful, and she has beauty marks. She is strong, and she has moments of weakness. She is vulnerable, and she is courageous. She is independent, and she is able to love beyond imagination. She works her booty off - physically, mentally, emotionally - and she gets tired sometimes. She loves herself and she stays true to Haley.
Braving your wilderness is scary and uncomfortable. It is by no means easy, but by all means worth every step. It is something only you can do for you, but if you keep your loved ones close by, you won’t be alone at the end.