An open letter to my 35th year on Earth

Dear 35,

Sorry I didn’t get you this letter last night. You don’t deserve being put in a corner after all you’ve done for me! But, as you well know, my life currently belongs to the dissertation gods… so I’ll have to keep it short and sweet this year. All my writing reserves must be fully devoted to dissertating.

Let’s cut to the chase: you did not come to play! We started our 8,760-hour long rendezvous rapping to the tune of Cardi B. I should have know right then that you were going to make it your job to turn me into a full blown boss lady. You took all the puzzle pieces I had been collecting over the years, sat me down, grabbed me by the face, looked me straight in the eye and told me to stop f*cking around. GET. IT. DONE.

Of course, it wasn’t smooth sailing. You didn’t come to play, but you also didn’t give me a second to figure out what was happening. You just put me in the batting cage – without a helmet, mind you – and told me to start hitting ‘em out of the park. So, yeah, it took a second. And therapy. Lots of therapy and journaling in my multiple notebooks (each of which has a purpose, thankyouverymuch). Oh, and can we get a shoutout to this year’s true MVP, my little blue pill, for keeping me centered through all the madness? Because, you know, #destigmatizementalhealth

But it all got done. All of it. Conferencing? Check. Papers? Check. Defense date? Check. Hug a koala? 🐨 DOUBLE CHECK. Job hunting… Check 😉

So, needless to say, it was hard to see you go last night. But, you will be fondly remembered as the one who got me to finally start reaping rewards after so many years of hard work. And rapping to Cardi Bardi. Now looking forward to what 36 will bring… the beginning of the rest of my life, so they say. And also the return of my social life and waistline – there are only so many chocolate croissants a girl can eat before #forevergordita becomes more than just a “motto.”

But first, let’s get this dissertation done and defended. 💪🏼

xoxo,
Yona

An open letter to my 34th year on Earth

Dear 34, 

I didn’t think I would be writing one of these again… But, it appears to have worked well last year, so I’m making it a thing.

First things first: you, my dear friend, have been a pleasant surprise. After the clusterfuck that was 33, I wasn’t expecting much. Still, I leapt into your arms with pizzazz at midnight 365 days ago, and I must say, you didn’t disappoint! You caught me, dealt with my foul mood, and told me to stop whining. Then, you proceeded to give me 12 months of what I’m calling “reward season”.

For every door closed during the year-long period of “persistent heartburn” that was 33, you told me to work harder, put on another (snazzier) outfit and knock again. Reapply, revise, resubmit, rethink, readjust… and, would you look at that: it worked every time! Hell, it sent me to Oxford this summer, which I will rank as one of the best experiences of my life. 

On that vein, you’ve also brought some fantastic humans into my life… people I have zero intention of letting go, because they make me smile from ear to ear and add immense value to my world. 

Truth be told, it hasn’t all been smooth sailing. At times it has felt like you put me in overdrive: I’ve literally been on 29 planes this year. Da fuk. And, dissertating is no joke – a very lonely task that has put my anxiety on overdrive. Yet, every project I embarked in has been full of personal growth. Teaching may have been ridiculously time-consuming, but simultaneously kick-ass and über rewarding. Plus, we never gave up on raising funds and working hard for Barranquitas. Now we’re seeing the direct impact these efforts are having on people’s lives, which is more than I ever dreamed. 

But I think the best part has been a new-found sense of confidence. Instead of sulking, you’ve inspired me to listen to my inner self and do whatever the hell I want.  The writing spurt that started with 33 has continued – I finally started blogging about random things that pop into my head, which has interestingly been a great way to decompress and remind myself that putting yourself out there may be scary, but vulnerability is good.

Oh, and the bangs are here to stay. Rockin’ highlights now. Who knows – maybe I’ll go full blonde with 35. It makes sense, if I plan on still being an annoying ray of sunshine.

So, 34, thank you! You will be fondly remembered. Tonight at midnight, I will take your lessons with me as I embark on a 8,760-hour long rendezvous with Mr. 35. Hopefully, he isn’t a distracting fella… as I DO have to write a dissertation, and all.

Besitos.

-Yona 

The beauty of connecting

Relationships. They can make us, and they can break us. I find this is particularly true during phases of uncertainty and personal growth. These phases tend to bring self-doubt, internal monologues that challenge you at your core, and just general growing pains. So, the relationships you choose to foster during these moments are pivotal.

I have recently been experiencing one of these moments of change. It’s been exactly two months since I was last able to sit down, decompress, reassess, and write about life – mainly due to a hectic teaching and traveling schedule. Yet, in the midst of all of this, I have attempted to be present and deliberate in my choices. One of these has been to focus on the people currently in my life that complement my journey and push me to think bigger, be better, and smile brighter.

I have always loved to engage with others. Connecting fills me with immense joy (which is probably why I am most content when teaching and sharing stories). The ability to use the right words to express ideas – and to listen to how others interpret their world – is a beautiful part of being alive. Yet, the older I get, the more I realize it’s hard to find the right people at the right time to share the randomness of life. As my favorite movie quote says, “I guess when you’re young, you just believe there’ll be many people with whom you’ll connect with. Later in life, you realize it only happens a few times.” (Thanks, Celine.)

“I guess when you’re young, you just believe there’ll be many people with whom you’ll connect with. Later in life, you realize it only happens a few times.” Celine, Before Sunset

Continue reading “The beauty of connecting”

Tuning out the noise

My mind is a very noisy place.

To say that my brain runs on overdrive is an understatement. I have a very inquisitive mind. I love to ask questions, learn new information, and come up with novel ideas. But that also means I like to overthink, overplan, and overanalyze. This has only amplified this past year, with multiple facets of life competing for my attention. Needless to say, it feels quite crammed and loud up there.

This recent increase in neuronal commotion has had me wondering why I need to constantly feed my brain with information, and perhaps find a way to turn down the volume. Through some introspection, I think I have managed to pinpoint the culprit: everything has to make sense to me. When I see a problem or a situation that is left hanging, my innate response is to find a solution. I mean, if you solve the problem, the problem is gone, right? And it doesn’t matter if it’s my own conundrum, or if it’s someone else who can’t quite figure out what is happening in their life. My mind creates a conceptual framework and goes full-blown autopilot: find the root cause and fix it.

But, you can’t ways do that in life. Life is incredibly messy. Things never roll-out according to plan, situations arise all at once, and certain chapters end in no clear ending at all. Yet, when you constantly want to fix things, life and its mishaps have the ability to create an environment of havoc and cognitive dissonance… which feeds into your anxiety and makes it harder to let go and let it be. 

Meditating and mindfulness have given me a way to manage these urges. I’m starting to become comfortable in the discomfort of things left unsaid, undone, and unfinished. I am able to remove myself, albeit slowly or hesitantly, from situations that seem to end in an ellipsis. But, most importantly, I’m learning to step away from what I cannot solve without a sense of unfulfillment. 

img_6273Getting into the mindfulness habit has been a slow process. At first, I couldn’t focus or fully relax. As soon as I would close my eyes, a million thoughts would flood into my head. I could see my to-do lists growing, and hear my “what-ifs” getting louder. Instead of a calm ocean, it felt like being in the middle of a storm. But, after a few days of consistency, it all began to die down. I’m finally able to find a focal point (mainly my breath) and just… be.

Yes, my mind still wanders, but I am learning how to quickly identify my fleeting thoughts and come back to a place of peace. I also realized I need to meditate more than once a day, so I’ve started incorporating a morning and evening routine. This has been a great way to start the day with gratitude and culminate in calmness.

Obviously, I haven’t achieved this on my own. As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve been exploring several apps and have landed on three I love: Headspace, Buddhify and Meditation Studio. All three offer a plethora of guided meditations. I’ve been starting my day with Meditation Studio, wrapping it up with Headspace, and using Buddhify in between (they have a great tailored meditation color wheel). I’ve also been tuning in to a great podcast by Meditation Studio: Untangle. Absolutely worth checking out.

I’m still struggling to fully let things go and beat the urge to fix what is out of my control, but my mind is definitely less crammed and slowly quieting down. My modus operandi is shifting from “go big or go home” to “just breathe.” I’m looking forward to incorporating new ways to increase that clarity. In the meantime, “just breathe” is good enough for me.

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Writer’s Block…

Inspiration, where art thou hiding?

Guys… I’m suffering from a severe case of writers block right about now. It could be that I am anxious about what the next few months hold, since I’ll be away from home working on my dissertation. It might also be that my current schedule has been making it hard to find the time to write. Or, let’s be honest: it may just be plain ol’ laziness.

It’s not that I don’t have things to write about… I guess I’ve just been lacking a little inspiration to get it all expressed in written form. I normally listen to podcasts that get me excited about certain topics (here and here are two of my favorites). I also like to read articles and essays that discuss growth and self-discovery – especially when they are written by people who have found it within themselves to share their views on life and all its intricacies. And, there’s my favorite movie of all time, Before Sunset, which always reminds me of the complexities of love, of living, and of sharing your deepest thoughts with people who bring out meaningful conversations. *Maybe I should write about that someday… 

But, like I said, I’ve hit a wall. I’m looking for some inspiration… and I’d love to hear what others have done to find it! Are there any books or pieces you’ve read recently that have inspired you? Any movies that have made you think about our fragility – or our resilience – as humans? Any podcasts or music worth listening to that give you a distinct perspective? Even better, is there anything you would like to read about here?

In the meantime, I’ll be watching Celine and Jesse wander the streets of Paris, talking about everything and nothing all at once… 💕

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Escritos en Facebook sobre María

Cuando aún no tenía las hagallas para empezar un blog, escribí varias veces sobre mis sentimientos después del huracán María en mi Facebook. Aquí hay algunos de esos escritos, para quien los quiera leer.

Y María added 13 new photos.
October 15, 2017 ·

Estoy a unas cortas horas de montarme en un avión, después de pasar 10 días en mi islita, mi terruño, mi corazón… tratando de aportar un pequeño granito de arena y de aliviarle a unos pocos sus días y sus noches calurosas, aunque sea por solo unos días… Jamás pensé que me iba a doler tanto tener que regresar a mi vida cotidiana. Jamás pensé tener que iba a llegar con cuatro maletas llenas de cositas que tomamos por dadas para repartir entre familia, amigos y desconocidos necesitados, mientras regreso con solo una llena de ropa sucia (y con la mitad limpia porque mami me la quiso lavar a mano). Jamás pensé que me iba a sentir tan culpable por montarme en un avión.

Pero tampoco pensé que esta tormenta me daría la oportunidad de fortalecer relaciones que ya tenía, y de crear nuevas amistades que te llenan el corazón de sonrisas. Nunca imaginé ver tantas sonrisas en medio de tanta necesidad, y de sentir el calor humano del puertorriqueño de maneras tan indescriptibles. Ayudar se siente bien, pero ayudar a los suyos es otra cosa. Gracias a quienes me prestaron su cama, su bañera, pero más que todo, su compañía. Gracias a quienes compartieron un rato conmigo para darnos unos palos juntos, y hablar y llorar y darnos abrazos de los ricos. Y a quienes les pude traer cositas – ya sea para uso personal, para sus abuelos, suegros, ahijados, primos, familiares, vecinos – espero que la estufita sirva, que el abaniquito dé un poco de fresco, que la linterna alumbre lo suficiente, que las baterías duren.

El alma se siente completamente destrozada cuando tienes que partir en contra de tu voluntad. Por mí, me quedó aquí, bañándome a cubito en casa o yendo a casa de alguien con agua fría… me quedo acostándome en un cuarto sin abanico y dejando que me coman viva los mosquitos. Me quedo cogiendo sol en un Puerto Rico desconocido, sin la sombra de los árboles, ni la brisa entre sus ramas. Hay tanto más que quisiera hacer, tantos besos y abrazos más que me faltan por repartir… Se les quiere y sepan que tan pronto las responsabilidades de la vida diaria me lo permitan, estoy de vuelta. Porque, no importa lo que digan, esto nos dió bien duro a todos… y va pa’ largo.


Y María
November 16, 2017 ·

Hoy me levanté con muchas ganas de llorar. De llorar porque, aunque han pasado casi 60 días desde que un huracán destrozó a mi patria, peor aún son los casi 60 días de caos creados por la ineptitud de un gobierno que ha terminado de joder lo que María comenzó.

Me bebo las lágrimas, porque cada día que pasa, siento más dolor, porque cuando la gente a quien quiero me habla y escribe, puedo palpar la tristeza amarga y el coraje profundo escondidos en sus palabras… Son una tristeza y un coraje que yo no puedo reparar, por más que trate.

Lloro de la rabia de no poder darle un abrazo a las personas que significan tanto para mí – de abrazarlos y apretarlos hasta que nos duela y nos cansemos y nos bebamos las lágrimas juntos. De dejarles saber cuánto los amo y cuánto deseo poder estar ahí todos los días para que se desahoguen.

Lloro porque no puedo quitarme este sentimiento de culpa de tener luz y agua y todo lo “normal” desde lejos. De poder cargar el celular sin problemas, de prender el televisor cuando llego a casa, de echar la ropa a lavar, de seguir con la vida “cotidiana”… que no es tan cotidiana ya, porque cada día me levanto para ver qué más puedo hacer hoy para ayudar desde tan fucking lejos.

Se me salen las lágrimas solas del coraje que me da el no poder resolver este desmadre. Cómo quisiera poder arreglar todo, de un cantazo. Botar a todos esos políticos de mierda que lo único que hacen es empeorar las cosas y quitarle la esperanza, la empatía y el deseo de echar pa’lante al pueblo. Porque ellos son los que se han encargado de hacerle sentir a la gente que no hay luz al final del puto túnel.

Lloro porque me duele el pecho de aguantar todo esto por dentro. De querer ser fuerte para los demás. De tener que responder de la misma forma cada vez que me preguntan “how’s Puerto Rico?” o “how was your trip?” De sentirme culpable por sentirme así, pues quién soy yo para quejarme? Pero esto también nos afecta a los que estamos lejos. El estrés y la maldita ansiedad nos están consumiendo.

Así que hoy me voy a dar el lujo de llorar y sacármelo de adentro, porque mañana tengo que seguir. Esto no lo van a arreglar por nosotros, y hay mucho que hacer.


Y María
December 4, 2017

Day 75 today post-María. Seventy-five.

Seventy-five days where millions of people still have to light a candle or purchase batteries to light up their flashlights, because they still don’t have power. When you don’t have power, you can’t wash your clothes, keep food refrigerated, cook if you have an electric stovetop, use the microwave, sit on the couch to catch up on news, rely on traffic lights, store temperature-sensitive meds, or turn on the air conditioner when it’s over 90 degrees outside.

Seventy-five days where thousands lack reliable water. If you live in the mountains, and you get your water from the water company, you need power for pumps to push water up the mountain. So, if there is no power, there is no water. You can’t take a shower when it’s hot outside, you can’t flush your toilets, you can’t hand wash your clothes.

Seventy-five days where people literally feel like time stopped. You don’t know what day it is, because it’s the same crap over and over again. It’s like Groundhog Day – reliving the same story, but as each day passes, people around you become more frustrated and less empathetic. Driving takes three times longer than usual, and the constant buzzing of gas-powered generators is enough to drive anyone insane.

And I’m not even going to go into the mental health issues, because it’s too depressing. Suicide rates have skyrocketed, and the island wreaks of anxiety and depression. There seems to be no getting out of this dark rabbit hole.

Think of it this way: imagine the state of Rhode Island (a population of ~1.1 million) still didn’t have power or water, and couldn’t drive to adjacent states. People would be losing their SHIT. The difference is that, instead of 1.1 million, there are 3.4 million people suffering the consequences of corruption and poor leadership – both in the island and here.

So, if you can find it in you, reach out to your reps. This has to change. And, if you are looking for a more tangible way to help, donate money or supplies. You can start by visiting Puerto Rico Rising-Maryland for ideas on how to assist.

Y a los que están en la isla, les mando un abrazo. Acá, seguimos trabajando por ustedes.


Y María

December 18, 2017 ·

I just got an email regarding six souls lost in Vieques due to the lack of power, gas and doctors in the island. This sickens my heart.

Please, don’t forget to help people in Puerto Rico. This is inhumane. Call. Write. Donate. Volunteer.


Y María
December 20, 2017 ·

On my way home, exactly three months after María. I woke up wanting to write, but am finding myself without the right words… so I’ll just say this:

Three months and counting. Hundreds of thousands are still without power. Or water.

It’s easy to feel like you are drowning, but try to focus on doing good. As I recently told a dear friend, I choose to believe things will work out in the end. It won’t ever be the same, but I hope it will be better.

In the meantime, keep going. And keep doing.


Y María added 29 photos and 3 videos. 
January 6 ·

Ayer fue uno de los días más lindos que he tenido después del 20 de septiembre. Por medio de Puerto Rico Stands, pudimos llevar a cabo un evento increíble para la comunidad del Sector Maná en Barranquitas. Un evento lleno de amor, alegría y sonrisas genuinas.

Gracias a todos quienes lo hicieron posible: a Crearconsalud por auspiciar el almuerzo y dar talleres tan necesitados de salud mental; a los miembros de #ElFamilión por su liderazgo y coordinación de tantas partes del evento; a Anna, Adalberto y Danny por ayudar en el evento; a mis colegas de PR Stands; y en especial a Sarita, por ser mi mano derecha y mi motivación para lograr que esto fuese más que una idea.

El huracán llegó y nos cambió, pero no para mal, sino para bien. Mañana me regreso al frío con una sonrisa de oreja a oreja y el pecho hinchao.

Y si quieres seguir ayudando, seguimos recaudando donaciones. Me avisan!


Y María

February 20 at 8:46am ·

Breaking my FB detox to remind you that today marks five months since María hit Puerto Rico… Yes, my family has been 154 days without power (new light posts just started being installed two days ago). So, yes, there is still a lot to be done.

Check out Puerto Rico Stands for ways to help.


Y María

February 28 at 8:13pm ·

Llegó la luz a Cambute! 🙌🏼😭

161 days… 23 weeks… 5 months… However you wanna count it, my family finally has power! Elation doesn’t even begin to describe it!