My Secret Struggle With Binge Eating

My Secret Struggle With Binge Eating

“Talk about the shit you don’t want to talk about.” That was one of the quotes that stuck with me from the Netflix documentary I Am Maris: Portrait of a Young Yogi, the story of a woman who overcomes an eating disorder and finds joy through yoga and sharing her stories online. I was struck by this concept of talking about the topics you don’t want to talk about. I have been pretty open on this blog, talking about some tough topics. But this one has been something I’ve been too scared to talk about until now. My main goal with my blog has always been to help other people not feel so alone with what they’re feeling, so if me talking about this subject can help just one person, it will be worth it.

I can track the start of my issues with binge eating back to 2014, when I was studying abroad in Spain. There were difficult things that happened during my time abroad which left me feeling lonely, sad, and angry. What I turned to in order to cope with my pain was food. I remember walking to the grocery store around the corner from my host family’s home and buying cookies and chips, which I would then hide in my closet or under my bed, to eat in secret when I was alone. My host mom cooked meals for us every day, and these were by no means small meals. Even when I left dinner feeling stuffed, I would go back to my room and eat from my secret stash. There were days when I felt so sad and alone, and eating gave me some kind of temporary comfort. I think this is when I developed a connection in my brain between sadness, stress, anxiety, and food. I began using food as a form of self-soothing, to try to cope with my emotions.

This habit never truly left over the past six years, but some periods of time have been worse than others. l continued into my senior year in college, when I was living with one of my best friends in a small two bedroom apartment. I would go to the store and buy groceries, including a lot of snacks (chips, crackers, cookies, chocolate, you name it). Like I did in Spain, I would hide them in my room and eat them alone while I studied or watched TV. Like in Spain, these binges often were tied to an emotional release. I’d notice myself craving junk food when I was stressed about an upcoming exam or my thesis project.

The summer and fall of 2015, after my senior year, the binging continued. I was still not acknowledging it or really aware it was an issue. I was in a long distance relationship, and I remember driving from Austin to Fort Worth to see my boyfriend, and eating on the drive. Sometimes I would start the drive determined not to snack, but at some point I would pull over at a gas station (even if I didn’t need gas) and buy candy and chips and a soda for the road. It sometimes felt like I literally couldn’t make that drive without snacks. Even if we had plans to eat dinner when I got there, I couldn’t help myself from snacking. I would arrive in Fort Worth with a stomach ache, feeling disgusting. My boyfriend had no idea.

2017 was one of the hardest years of my life, which caused the emotional eating to hit a new level. I went through a breakup, changing jobs, and my parents getting divorced all within a few months, and I didn’t know how to process or cope. Once again, I turned to food. I was living by myself, so it was extremely easy to get away with my bad habits. There was a little convenience store right down the street, and on days when I was feeling particularly sad or stressed, I would go to the store and buy a couple bags of chips and some candy, and I would eat all of it that night. Sometimes that’s all I would eat, but sometimes I would also go and get fast food, and then I would still eat a lot of the snacks afterwards.

Finally, slowly, over the past few years, I started to realize I had a problem.  I wanted to stop. But it was a vicious cycle. I would do really well and not binge for a week or two, but then one day, as if I wasn’t in control at all, I would find myself back at that store, hating myself even as I chose to buy the food. As I was binging I would say to myself, “This is the last time!” Just as an alcoholic swears this will be their last drink. Or I would convince myself I could buy snacks and control my eating, just as an alcoholic convinces themself they can have “just one drink.” Every time I was proven wrong.

One of the hardest parts of this complicated relationship with food is the negative self-talk that comes along with it. There is a voice in my head constantly telling me things like: “Nobody else has this problem. Everyone else has no trouble eating healthy and not overeating, why can’t you? If anyone knew this about you, they would see you differently. Everyone can see you’ve gained weight. You don’t look as good as you did a few years ago.”  On the other hand, there’s an equally negative voice trying to reassure me I don’t have a problem. “You don’t starve yourself. You don’t purge. You’re fine, stop being so dramatic. You’re at a healthy weight. Everyone indulges in junk food sometimes, what’s the big deal?”

I wish I could say I’m writing this as someone who has it all figured out, but I’m not. Though I’ve been doing much better lately, and the binges have become much less frequent, they still happen from time to time. I’m not writing this as someone who has completely healed or moved past it, but as someone who is ready to admit they have a problem, and commit to making a change, one day at a time.

I’m writing this in the hope that other people can relate. I feel a relief settling in me as I write this. It doesn’t need to be a secret anymore, I can choose to make a positive change in my life and move on. I’m writing this in the hopes that maybe it will help someone feel less alone. I’m also writing this to help myself. Maybe when it’s out in the open it won’t feel like such a dirty little secret, and I can finally move forward.

An Exciting New Chapter In My Life

An Exciting New Chapter In My Life

How this year has changed me

This pandemic has been challenging in so many ways. None of us were expecting this at the start of 2020. None of us could have predicted this is how our year would be going. I haven’t seen many of my friends in person since my birthday party in early March. I have spent way more time alone in my apartment than I normally would. On top of the everyday anxieties I already face as someone who struggles with anxiety, I have now added a global pandemic to the list of things tone anxious about. It’s fair to say this year caught us all by surprise, and not in a good way.

With that being said, this year has actually been incredible for me in so many ways. It feels weird writing that, and almost a bit selfish. I feel bad saying this year has brought me positive things, when it has brought so much fear and heartbreak to so many others. I’ve always been someone who is able to see the good in any situation; I consider myself to be an optimist, and I am proud of the way I’ve been able to pick myself up and keep going even after the hardest of situations. That is how I am viewing this year. Even though it was completely unexpected, and has brought so many negative things to so many people’s lives, I can’t help but see the positives as well.

For me, this year has brought me the space and time to really work on my self-love, self-care, and just focus on my own needs and passions in life. This year has brought so much clarity for me, I think in part because I haven’t had many of the distractions I used to have. Being forced to spend much of my time alone has been such a great learning experience for me, and has brought a major epiphany about what I want to do with my life, which I’m excited to share in this post!

I have always been someone who, at my core, is a helper and a caregiver. I want to help others, I want to make sure others feel safe, and I care deeply for how other people feel. This has been a blessing and a curse, as it has, in the past, caused me to be quite a people-pleaser and to become too caught up in the opinions and perceptions of others. That is something I’ve worked hard on changing this year. I’ve realized that my caring and selfless nature is a gift. It allows me to build strong and lasting friendships, and it allows me to take good care of the preschoolers I work with. It only becomes a problem when I start to neglect myself and my own needs. Like I said above, this pandemic has given me the opportunity to focus more on myself, and to reflect on the ways I have let me own needs and desires take a backseat in the past.

The new chapter in my life

This time of self-reflection has lead me to have an epiphany about how I want to use my gifts and skills of caring and selflessness to help others, while still helping myself. I’ve decided I want to become a Life Coach, more specifically, a Relationship/Intimacy Coach!

Back in March, I joined TikTok and started sharing my views on topics around relationships, intimacy, and female empowerment. I started hearing from a lot of women who really connected with the messages I was sending out, and who trusted me enough to share their stories and ask for advice. I found other creators who were talking about similar topics, and saw how they used their platforms to make a difference. I realized I wanted to do that too.

I found a woman on TikTok who was a Relationship/Sex coach, and I immediately connected with her videos, and messaged her to find out more about what she did. The idea of becoming a “life coach” was something that had always been in the back of my mind, and it seemed to follow me for a few years, like the universe was sprinkling in hints that this was the path I should take. To see a woman making the kind of videos I could connect with was so inspiring to me, and she told me she had trained and become certified through the Somatica Institute. I did a lot of research on Somatica, and was immediately intrigued. I decided to bite the bullet and sign up for their core training program! This training will run through November, and so far I am loving it. Not only is it a great way for me to get trained on becoming a Relationship Coach, but it is also an incredible personal growth opportunity. I’m learning so much about myself and how to have a happier and more fulfilling relationship in the future.

Once I joined the training program, everything started to click for me. I saw how I could use my passions and interest in topics around relationships and intimacy, to help women who are struggling in those areas. On my TikTok platform, as well as Instagram, and this blog post, I started opening up about my experience with sexual assault and I realized this was an area I could really connect with other women, and focus on helping women like me. My main goals with my coaching practice are to help women let go of the shame, fear, and low self-confidence that comes with being sexually assaulted. I also want to work with women who aren’t survivors, but who have those traits for other reasons. I’ve done so much work, and am continuing to do so much work through the Somatica program, around my own self-growth, and I am so passionate about helping other women live their best lives.

Putting in the work

Over the past few months I’ve worked hard to make this dream of becoming a coach, a reality. As you can see if you browse this site, I’ve updated what used to be strictly a blog site, to now be a website for both my blog and my work as a coach. I will continue to update it and add more details, but I’m loving how it looks so far! I also updated my personal brand on Instagram and TikTok. My username used to be shellyrayblog, and I realized this no longer fit or felt right with the direction I wanted to go in. This blog will always be at the heart of my creative projects, as it was the first thing I started back in 2014. But I wanted to come up with a new name that really embodied who I am now, and wasn’t tied only to a blog. My new name on Instagram and TikTok is….ShamelesslyShelly!

On top of this personal branding work, I’ve also been working hard to spread the word about this new career path, and start talking to women who might be interested in working with me, as well as planning out the types of programs I want to have. Right now I’m offering 1:1 coaching, as well as a group coaching program for sexual assault survivors. You can learn more about the group program on this page!

I’m really excited for this next chapter in my life. I’m feeling the best I’ve felt in a long time, and I can’t wait to see what the rest of this year will bring!

A Thank You Letter To myself

A Thank You Letter To myself

Dear Shelly,

Thank you so much for everything. I don’t show my appreciation for you enough, and I want to change that. This letter is a step towards acknowledging everything you’ve done, and everything I’m grateful for.

Thank you for always keeping creativity, writing, connection, and storytelling as a key focus and passion. Thank you for using your creative outlets as a way to not only connect with others, but connect with yourself on a deeper level as well.

Thank you for pushing past fears and stepping out of your comfort zone even when it felt impossible. So many amazing experiences have come from pushing yourself to do the thing you knew you wanted, even if it felt scary.

Thank you for having a caring, kind, giving heart and for always helping others and making an effort to understand how they feel and what they need. You sometimes see this trait as a negative, but it is one of your greatest strengths. It has allowed you to be a great caregiver for children, has allowed you to form strong, lasting friendships, and has allowed you to connect with new people on social media. So many people value your opinions and advice. You have helped so many people feel heard and feel less alone, and you will only continue to do so.

Thank you for remaining positive and optimistic even when everything felt like it was crumbling around you. Thank you for getting me through the dark times, always seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, and being able to daydream about a brighter future. Your ability to get back up after falling down has been such a lifesaver.

Thank you for being my best friend. My support system. The one person I know I’ll always have by my side, and will always be able to count on. I know I haven’t always shown it, and I can sometimes be incredibly critical and hard on you, but I always love you and see you for exactly who you are.

I love you. Thank you for everything.

– Shelly

Taking Back My Power: My Sexual Assault Story

Taking Back My Power: My Sexual Assault Story

I was 14 when a man broke into my family’s house. My friends and I were having a sleepover, and after hanging out in my backyard talking until late at night, we snuck back in to go to sleep, and I forgot to lock the door behind us. I was about to slip into sleep when I heard the back door open, footsteps walking in. I was sure of what I heard, but I didn’t understand it. It didn’t make sense to me. Who would be coming into our house? My body and mind froze. I couldn’t think or move. I lay there until I finally fell asleep. My dad woke us up a few hours later to tell us someone had broken in and robbed us. Before any other questions entered my head, the first thing I thought was: Is this all my fault? I forgot to lock the door. For months after that incident, I lay awake at night afraid it would happen again. I got up in the middle of the night to double, triple, quadruple check we’d locked all of our doors. To this day I have to double check my door is locked before I can fall asleep. Even when I’m positive I’ve already locked it, I sometimes lay awake in bed and then have to get up to go make sure it’s really locked.

Is this my fault? I forgot to lock the door.

I was 19 the first time I was sexually assaulted. I had always been a romantic, a believer in fairytales and love stories. I had only kissed a few people, and I wanted to be in love before I experienced anything else. That choice was taken from me. “Do you want to go further?” “No.” He disregarded that no and went further. And further. My body and mind froze. I froze and just laid there, as I had at fourteen. Even as I knew what was happening, I felt like I couldn’t stop it. I just hoped it would end quickly. I couldn’t understand what was happening. It didn’t make sense to me. So many questions flooded my mind. Why would he ignore the word no like that? Why would he do this to me? But one question floated to the forefront of my mind, clearer and louder than the rest: Is this my fault?

Why would he ignore the word no like that? Why would he do this to me?

I was 20 when the nightmare happened again. And again. The word no seemed to hold zero power and I felt my understanding of love and sex and intimacy slipping away. I told them no, I made sure to emphasize and explain and implore they listen to me. They looked me in the eyes and told me they understood, that they wouldn’t cross that line. That the person who did that to me in the past was an asshole. But then they did exactly the same thing. Why were they doing this to me? How do I get back what was taken from me? And again, that question rose to the surface louder and more defined than the rest: Is this my fault?

The word no seemed to hold zero power and I felt my understanding of love and sex and intimacy slipping away

I was 26 when I was groped walking to my car after work. I felt him following me, looked over my shoulder a few times, convinced myself I was imagining things. And then he grabbed me. I spent weeks, months, checking over my shoulder every day walking to my car to make sure I wasn’t being followed. I recounted the incident to the police, standing in my apartment. I reported it. I reported it for my 26-year-old self, for my 20-year-old self, for my 19-year-old self, even for my 14-year-old self. I reported for every version of me I had been, and every version of me I would be in the future. I reported for every other person out there, who has ever wondered, “Is this my fault?” For the first time in my life, that question hadn’t crossed my mind. After all these years, I was finally done letting them steal my power. I was finally done blaming myself. It was finally clear to me: none of it was ever my fault.

I reported it for my twenty six year old self, for my twenty-year-old self, for my nineteen-year-old self, even for my fourteen-year-old self. I reported for every version of me I had been, and every version of me I would be in the future. I reported for every other person out there, who has ever wondered, “Is this my fault?

My power and control were taken away from me during each of these moments. I’m finally taking it back the only way I know how. By talking about it. By reporting it. By standing up for myself. By sharing my story. I still don’t feel safe until I’ve double or triple checked my door is locked at night. I still have a hard time letting people get close to me, physically and emotionally. I still walk faster and clutch my keys in my hand like a weapon when I see a man walking near me on the street. I still wonder what someone’s intentions are, and if I can trust them, or feel safe with them, when we start to date. But what I don’t do anymore, what I refuse to do anymore, is blame myself. It wasn’t my fault. It was never my fault.

If you have experienced sexual assault or harassment or anything that made you feel violated or uncomfortable, I want you to know it was not your fault, and you’re not alone. Please feel free to reach out to me if you need to talk to someone.

The difference between ‘fitting in’ and ‘belonging’

The difference between ‘fitting in’ and ‘belonging’

I recently listened to Brene Brown’s audiobook Men, Women, and Worthiness and she touched on a subject that really struck a chord with me. She talked about the difference between fitting in and belonging, and clarified that you really cannot truly belong if you are trying to fit in. “The greatest barrier to belonging is fitting in.” The idea of fitting in is about assessing a situation or environment, and changing yourself to become who you think you need to be in order to be accepted. “Belonging, on the other hand, doesn’t require us to change who we are; it requires us to be who we are.”

At 27 years old, I feel I have finally reached a point in my life where I am belonging. I no longer strive (at least not as much as I used to) to fit in. I make my opinions and beliefs known to my friends, family, and social media audience. Though I’m always learning and growing and trying to be the best version of myself I can be, I am doing that in a way that first acknowledges that I am enough. I am not attempting to change parts of myself, but rather to get better acquainted with the parts of myself I have kept hidden for so many years.

“True belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.”

Brene brown

I started seeing a psychiatrist for the first time in December 2019, and in our first session he asked me a question that caught me off guard a bit. He asked me “When was the last time you really felt like yourself.” I hesitated for a few seconds, and then the honest answer bubbled to the top of my brain. This honest answer also answered another question: “When did you last truly feel like you were belonging rather than trying to fit in?” My answer? 8th grade.

In 8th grade, I was on the volleyball and basketball teams at my school. I had three best friends, and the four of us became inseparable over the course of that year. I was outspoken, silly, talkative, and a bit (or maybe a lot depending on who you ask) moody. I didn’t hold back. I was unapologetically me. I felt a sense of belonging from my group of friends, from the sports teams I was a part of, from the way I wasn’t trying to be someone I wasn’t.

8th grade besties before our school dance

Towards the end of 8th grade, something started to shift. Like I detailed in my blog post Finding My Voice, I started getting negative messages from my peers. That voice that has followed me through my teen and adult years started creeping in “you aren’t enough.” Or, perhaps, “you are too much.” I started to fear that my method of belonging was not the right move. That I needed to start fitting in. I had not yet heard the life-changing idea Brene Brown presents in her audiobook, that belonging is actually what we need to strive for, and trying to fit in will only hinder our ability to find belonging. I had reached that state of belonging without even trying in 8th grade, and the years that followed would set me back a few paces as I searched for answers in the world of fitting in.

The idea that middle school was the last time I felt like myself scared me at first. As I sat in that psychiatrist’s office, finding it hard to meet his gaze, I wondered if my answer was “typical”, if there was something wrong with me for saying I felt it had been about 13 years since I was truly myself. Of course, that was part of what brought me to his office in the first place. To see if medication might help me feel and act more like myself. I have felt more alive and more myself these past six months since I started on medication to help with my depression and anxiety. But I think something else has changed in these six months. I think something shifted inside me in that psychiatrist’s office when I realized I had been living in a state of inauthenticity, trying to fit in, trying to be someone I wasn’t. I realized I didn’t want to live that way anymore.

I made the decision (mostly sub-consciously) to start being more like Eight Grade Shelly. The Shelly I once thought I needed to fix, became the Shelly I admired, the Shelly I now strived to be more like. Eighth Grade Shelly was my new idol, my new muse. I was Eighth Grade Shelly’s newest, and greatest, fangirl. I’m smiling and tearing up as I write this, because I know that younger me would be proud. And she’d be so happy to know that someone thinks she’s perfect just the way she is. That she has achieved something, a sense of belonging, that many people spend most of their life trying to obtain. She has lessons I need to learn. She has the key to Present Day Shelly’s happier and more fulfilled life. Those voiced from her peers are the voices of people who do not yet understand that fitting in is detrimental. That being unique is cool. That standing up for what you believe in is important.

These past six months, something has shifted inside me. I’ve started being even more open on social media and this blog. I started a podcast called Vulnerable Views where we talked about, you guessed it, vulnerable topics such as dating and mental health. I’ve started being more honest with myself and others about what my true passions and goals are in life. I joined TikTok and post videos that are about as authentic as you can get. I’ve had people reach out to me to say my videos have helped them or inspired them or made them feel less alone. I really feel like I’ve found a sense of belonging on TikTok, where I’m applauded for being completely myself. I’ve found a sense of belonging in my friends and family, who allow me to be my imperfect self. I’ve finally come full circle back to being that outspoken, silly, talkative, and a bit (or maybe a lot) moody girl I was before. It feels good to belong.

I’d love to hear your experience and opinions on this topic. When was the last time you felt like yourself? Do you think you are belonging or just fitting in currently? Let me know your thoughts in the comments!

Opening Up About my Mental Health

Opening Up About my Mental Health

Starting when I was about five years old, I used to say to my mom, “I’m sad but I don’t know why.” Even as a child, I recognized the common response to “I feel sad” was “Why?” But what if I didn’t know why? What if that was just how I felt? I can still remember those times so clearly. That feeling of sadness welling up inside me, often seemingly out of nowhere with no real trigger, and the frustration I felt trying to figure out what was causing it. Most of the time, I couldn’t pinpoint any “reason” for my sadness. It was just there. Sometimes it would last for a long time, sometimes it would be gone within minutes. My mom tells me I went through a phase in first grade when I would cry and throw a tantrum every single day. She’d hold me until I regained control.

Some of my most vivid memories from elementary school are of feeling scared about things that, as an adult looking back, most other kids my age probably didn’t even worry about. I started wearing glasses when I was three years old, and I remember every time I would get a new pair of lenses, I would be so nervous the night before going back to school. I thought everyone would make fun of me or say they didn’t like my new glasses or say I looked weird. I remember feeling genuinely terrified to step into my classroom wearing my new glasses. And every time, as you can probably predict reading this, literally nobody noticed or cared. My close friends might notice, and say something like “I like your new glasses!” All my fears were for nothing. The same exact thing would happen when I got a haircut (normally a trim that my dad probably couldn’t even tell the difference after). I can still remember that feeling of panic I experienced every single time, and how I would convince myself that something bad was going to happen. Because I got new glasses or a new haircut.

Fast forward to my freshman year in college. I went through a period where I couldn’t drink alcohol (even just one drink) without ending the night hysterically crying for no apparent reason. Alas, the old “I’m sad but I don’t know why” and regular temper tantrums were back in full force! Aren’t I too old for these? At first I thought the alcohol was to blame, but that didn’t explain the times where I’d go from having a great time with my friends, to feeling irrationally annoyed, or unbearably sad, all while completely sober. Just like I remembered from childhood, these feelings of sadness didn’t appear to have any specific rhyme or reason, and they were often gone in the blink of an eye.

I finally decided to try therapy. The therapist helped me work through and talk about the main things I felt I was struggling with. I had trouble falling asleep at night because I had so much on my mind, I would lay awake worrying about future scenarios, and replaying past events in my head over and over again. Just like I had in elementary school, except instead of worrying about my new glasses or haircut, I was worrying about conversations I’d had or tests I’d taken. I also felt nervous in most social settings, and generally stayed quiet around people I didn’t know. I wanted to be able to put myself out there more, make more friends, and not be so afraid of what other people thought. By the end of my first couple of sessions, the therapist told me she felt I had moderate depression and anxiety, and that I would benefit from medication. The thought of medication scared me, and I decided against it. I didn’t think needed it. Sure, I probably had depression and anxiety, but so many people have it way worse! I had never thought about killing myself, I had never experienced a panic attack. To me this meant it was not bad enough to warrant medication.

After only one semester of therapy, I took a break from it for the rest of college. Partially because I genuinely felt like I was in a better mental place, and partially because it was expensive and I felt bad making my parents pay for it if I didn’t really “need” it. (Note: I’m planning to write a whole blog post about why I think everyone “needs” therapy, so stay tuned for that.) Looking back, I’m not sure that was the right decision. Though I was feeling much better emotionally, and my social anxiety and random crying had all but gone away, without therapy, I found my own ways to fight my demons. And most of them were not healthy or helpful to my healing. I started denying and pushing aside a lot of negative feelings and traumatic experiences I went through, putting them away in a box until I was ready to unpack them. It took me years, up until this past year to be exact, to even start to unpack some of it. I also started some coping mechanisms such as emotional eating, which I am still dealing with to this day. I’m planning to write a separate blog post that goes into that more in detail as well.

Fast forward to my post-grad life, starting about five years ago. I experienced a lot of change all at once: starting my first full-time job, moving out on my own for the first time, and navigating my first serious relationship (part of which was long-distance). Though by most accounts my life was going well, I was suddenly attacked by my old demons. I would get annoyed at my boyfriend for the smallest things, and the annoyance would often escalate into a fit of tears. Unlike my childhood, I could usually pinpoint “why” I felt upset, but the reason didn’t always make sense, and I often felt like my reaction did not line up with the situation. I had moments where I felt like that first grader again, lying on the floor crying, this time with my boyfriend comforting me instead of my mom. I felt totally out of control and at a loss for how to cope with these experiences, and when this pattern continued for several months without getting better, I decided it was time to give therapy another try.

I started seeing my therapist, the same therapist I still see to this day, in the spring of 2016. It’s hard to believe it’s been four years now! What started out as a need to process and try to “fix” the emotional behavior I was experiencing in my relationship, turned into a way to process the countless other aspects of my life, and the many changes I encountered. This therapist has been with me through changes with my jobs, relationship status, living situation, family dynamics, friendships, hobbies, interests. I’ve found it extremely helpful to talk through what I’m feeling and experiencing. There have been times where I wanted to quit therapy because I didn’t feel I needed it, just like I did in college, but I’ve stuck with it and instead of quitting outright, I’ve taken small steps to make changes. While I used to see my therapist once a week, I’ve now cut back to twice a month. Eventually I want to shift to once a month, and then maybe on an as-needed basis.

One thing that has become abundantly clear to me over the past few years, especially when looking back at my childhood and early adolescence at some of what I described in this post, is that my struggle with mental health has not been situational. My mental illnesses have been with me since birth. They’re as much a part of me as the color of my eyes and the freckles on my skin. Feeling sad for no reason and throwing tantrums were possibly the first signs of depression, and my fear and obsession with small changes like new glasses and haircuts was anxiety. Today, I still experience a lot of those same basic feelings and behaviors. There is no cure for them. Small things can feel astronomical to me. I worry about things I shouldn’t worry about. I feel irrationally annoyed and get moody with people I’m close to. I still have moments where I feel like a scared child and I don’t know how to cope. Just yesterday morning, I woke up feeling sad, and, you guessed it: I didn’t know why.

Realizing that my mental health has always been, and will always be, something I have to work on, has been oddly comforting to me. It also allowed me to take a major step in the process of getting myself the help I need: getting on medication. From the first time my first therapist suggested medication, I was terrified of the idea. Maybe it goes back to that fear of the unknown, or fear of change. But about six months ago, I finally found a psychiatrist and started on a Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor (SSRI), which helps me manage my depression and anxiety. It hasn’t been a quick fix or a cure-all. Nothing is. But the way I would describe it is a breath of fresh air. A weight lifted off my shoulders. Small changes every day that help me live my life a bit fuller. I’m no longer quite so bogged down by small changes and decisions. I find I can recognize and move past moments of sadness or fear a little easier. When I feel myself getting irritated with someone, I just let myself feel that and let it pass. The best feeling is when something happens and I react in a way that I know I never would have a few years ago.

I’m writing this post for five-year-old Shelly, throwing tantrums every day for no reason. For ten-year-old Shelly, worried everyone would make fun of her new glasses. For 19-year-old Shelly, ending a fun night with her friends by crying herself to sleep. For 23-year-old-Shelly, brave enough to give therapy a second chance. For 26-year-old Shelly, letting go of the fear and starting medication. And lastly, I’m writing this post for myself, right now, as I am, working on bettering myself and becoming the best version of me, while understanding that there was never anything that needed fixing. That I have always been whole exactly how I am. And that I was always, and will always be, worthy of love and of getting the help I need to feel the best I can feel.

If you’re struggling with a mental illness, or you’re unsure if you should start medication or start seeing a therapist, please feel free to leave me a comment, or reach out to me on Instagram @shellyrayblog! I want you to know whatever you are feeling, you are not alone. And you will get through it. ❤️

Finding my voice

Finding my voice

When I was in middle school, I internalized a message I felt I was receiving from peers: you’re too much. Too loud, too hyper, too goofy, too talkative, too whatever. I started to feel like people didn’t like me. Like maybe there was something wrong with my personality. Even though I had great friends and family who I knew loved me, I started letting the opinions of a few dictate how I felt about myself.

After eighth grade, I switched from my small private school to a large public school. I remember thinking it was my chance to start over, to have a clean slate. I only knew one person at my new school, so I thought I could “reinvent” myself and become the type of person people liked.

I went into 9th grade craving validation. I became shy, quiet, scared to say much or show much of my personality, in case people didn’t like what they saw. I just wanted to “fit in.” When I look back at that time, I feel sad because I realize I had this wall up, too scared to truly let people get to know me for fear they wouldn’t like me.

When I got to college, I started to come out of my shell a bit as the years went by. I was still scared to share my opinions or show too much of myself. I was a “yes person”, always agreeing to what others said or believed. I was still stuck on the idea of being liked, and those old criticisms from my middle school classmates still rattled around in my head.

Starting this blog my junior year during study abroad was my first real step in being vulnerable and truly being myself. My first post shared a personal story I had never shared before, and it was the first glimmer of the personal nature my blog has now. When I graduated from college, I wrote a post about my post-grad struggles, and received a lot of positive feedback from other people who were feeling the same way. That was my first taste of how sharing your story can positively impact others! I liked that feeling. Maybe sharing my opinions, and taking up space, wasn’t so bad! Maybe those middle schoolers had been wrong.

Over the past few years I’ve seen myself open up even more, and slowly start to talk about topics I never thought I would talk about. I hardly recognize that scared, self-conscious young girl who thought she had to be quiet to be liked. I’ve finally realized that “being liked” is completely out of your control. All you can do is be kind and be yourself, and the people that are meant to be in your life and be supportive will find you! I’ve also realized that not only was I depriving others of getting to know me during the time when I had a wall up, but I was also depriving myself. It is so therapeutic to be vulnerable, to connect with people through storytelling and writing and sharing my truth. It can help others, but I think it actually helps me the most.

This path to self-discovery and finding my voice has been slow and painful at times, and I don’t think the journey ever really ends. I can’t sit here and say I feel 100% confident or 100% comfortable sharing my opinions in every situation, and I don’t think I ever will. I don’t think anyone ever reaches that 100%. What I do know is that I feel more myself today than I have for the past 27 years. I feel happy when I get to share my story through this blog, my podcast, and my Instagram, and my new TikTok account.

If you are someone who is still afraid of opening up, letting others in, or speaking your truth, it’s okay! It takes a lot of time and practice and patience. You’ll get there when you’re ready, just like I did.

Fighting past writer’s block during a pandemic

Fighting past writer’s block during a pandemic

I’ve had a bit of a writer’s block lately. What do I write about at a time like this? So many thoughts and feelings and ideas, but also self-doubt and worry. It’s as if I feel like whatever I write during this time needs to be insightful and sensitive and powerful. Until I have the perfect blog post, I better not post anything. I realized today that I am putting too much pressure on myself, on this blog, even on my readers. You all don’t need to read something that is perfect, right? You just want to read something.

Today I decided to put aside all of my doubts and hesitations and just write. So here I go….

The last blog post I wrote was about my intentions for this year. The funny thing about writing what you want to do in a year is you don’t really know what other factors will come into play. I obviously could not have predicted a global pandemic. I had no idea I would be on my 6th week of not going into work, and of mostly staying home and not seeing friends. I could not have predicted the complicated set of emotions and struggles and coping mechanisms that would come into play for me during this time. We can never predict anything in life, and life sure does have a way of keeping us guessing!

In my last blog post I talked about how the message I want to focus on and manifest in 2020 is confidence. I started the year off strong in this arena by starting my own podcast! It’s called Vulnerable Views, and you can find it on iTunes, Spotify, SoundCloud, Google Podcasts, and Stitcher. This took a lot of confidence to say “I think my voice is worth sharing. I think I have opinions people need to hear.” Putting myself out there in this way has been so rewarding, and I am so proud of myself for doing this project. But I can’t lie and say this pandemic hasn’t made it harder for me to stay confidence and focused on the podcast. “There’s a pandemic going on, do people really want to hear what I have to say right now?” Thoughts like that infiltrate my mind on almost a daily basis, and similarly I wonder the same thing about this blog. I’m trying to set those negative thoughts aside and continue to create, because it makes me happy.

Finding things that make me happy has been another hurdle to get past during this time of social distancing. I’m learning to appreciate the simple things in life like blasting Taylor swift while driving with my windows down on a sunny day; walking around my neighborhood and being active and connecting with nature; talking with friends on video chat and laughing together; taking a hot bath at the end of a long day; seeing my parents and sister (from 6 feet away). For me, writing and being creative has always made me happy, so continuing to write blog posts and create Instagram content and put out new podcast episodes makes me happy as well, so I want to push myself to continue to be creative during this time.

Although I’ve found ways to stay happy, of course I still have my fair share of struggles and down days and moments of sadness and loneliness and fear. One of the biggest emotions I’ve noticed myself having is guilt. Some people have it so much worse than me. I should be grateful I’m healthy and can still see family and am doing relatively well. But the thing I keep reminding myself over and over again is: Someone else will always have it worse than you. That doesn’t mean you can’t feel sadness and loneliness and hopelessness and anger and fear. You can appreciate what you have, while still mourning what you have lost. The two are not mutually exclusive. Beating yourself up or feeling guilty for not appreciating what you have 24/7, or not being happy all the time, is not productive or helpful to you in any way. I keep reminding myself of this, and I think it has finally started to sink in.

I have so many ideas about topics I want to write about in the future, and I hope I can continue pushing myself to write new blog posts in the midst of this traumatic time we are all experiencing. I hope this blog post finds you well, whoever you are. Thank you for reading this and I will talk to you soon!

Reflecting on 2019, and Sharing my 2020 Intention

Reflecting on 2019, and Sharing my 2020 Intention

I have a really great feeling about 2020. Last year was a year full of changes and uncertainty and pushing past fear and being brave. This year I want to use everything I’ve learned to really come into my own. I have so many creative ideas and new projects I’m excited to start working on this year, and I really feel like 2020 will be my year to shine!

My intention for 2019 was courage, and I definitely feel like I carried this word with me throughout the year. 2019 started out with a couple months of unemployment, where I dove into figuring out what I wanted my next job to be, and having the courage to think outside the box. When I landed on working as an assistant preschool teacher, this was one of the more spontaneous and unexpected decisions I’ve made in my life. Making this career change took a lot of courage, and forced me to move past fear and shame around changing careers, taking a large pay cut, and trying not to worry about other people’s opinions.

2019 also forced me to be courageous with my personal life, jumping back into dating after a long time of consciously choosing to be single. I got into a relationship again for the first time since 2017, and had to push past a lot of insecurity and doubt and worry around opening up to someone again. Allowing myself to be vulnerable with a new partner was not easy for me, and although that relationship ended right at the close of 2019, I’m happy it happened and proud of myself for not letting fear stop me from putting myself out there. That relationship taught me a lot about myself and personal growth I still need to do, as well as what I’m looking for and not looking for in a partner, and what I’d like to find in the future. It also taught me that pushing past the fear of being hurt is worth it, even when the relationship ultimately does not work out.

Looking at the year ahead of me, I’m feeling extremely optimistic about many areas in my life. The word I’ve chosen for my intention for this year is Confidence. I want this year to be my year of being confident in everything I pursue and everything I do in my life. I have so many things I want to accomplish this year, and the main thing stopping me is a lack of confidence and a fear of failure. I’ve been working really hard at improving my self-esteem and self-love, and I think remembering to act with confidence in every aspect of my life, will really help me to be happier.

Confidence has never come naturally to me, but I do have a history of pushing myself to work on being more confident. When I was younger this started with my passion for acting, when I started getting the lead in my school plays in middle school, later diving into the world of musical theater and choir in high school. I was terrified every time I stepped on stage, but taking my bow at the end of the shows gave me a certain confidence I hadn’t had before. This year I want to carry that idea with me into some personal creative projects I’m working on (I hate to be that person who says they have exciting projects coming that they can’t share yet, but…stay tuned).

I’m looking forward to continuing 2020 with confidence, and I have a feeling this is going to be a great year for me! What is your intention or resolution for this year? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!

Learning to love my body

Learning to love my body

I remember the first time someone told me I had “curves.” I was in eighth grade hanging out with my three best friends after an afternoon of shopping. We were all trying on the clothes we’d bought, and while showing off my new jeans my friend said “Shelly, you’ve got curves!” I remember immediately assuming it was a bad thing. “Is that…good?” I asked hesitantly. “Yes! I wish I had curves! I have no hips and no butt, my body basically looks like a boy’s still! You’re so lucky!” I was genuinely baffled by this. I thought my friend’s body was perfect. I wished I looked like her. To me, she was perfect. But evidently, to her, I was perfect.

In high school I started to accept, and even like, my curves. But I started to worry I wasn’t “proportionate” enough. I had big hips and a big butt and a tiny waist like J Lo and Kim Kardashian, but they had big boobs and mine were small. I remember reading magazines giving advice on “dressing for your body type” and I didn’t feel I fit into any of the categories they provided. The “petite” girls were shorter and skinnier than me. The “athletic” girls were taller and more toned. Even “curvy”, a word I had grown to accept for myself, didn’t quite fit. Those girls were bigger than me. Was there something wrong with my body? I just wanted to fit into a “body type”, to feel like I belonged, to feel like my body was accepted by society. The problem with that was a magazine could never tell me I’m beautiful. Society is never going to give me the validation I craved. And even if it could, it wouldn’t matter if I didn’t see it for myself.

When I got to college I started seeking validation from a different source: guys. I started dating and getting more attention from boys and I figured, “If all these guys are interested in me and wanting to date me, my body must look pretty good!” But then when I would experience any sort of rejection, I’d wonder if things would be different if my boobs were bigger or my legs longer or my hips narrower. Just like seeking validation from magazines, seeking validation from others wasn’t really working for me either.

Over the past couple of years I’ve gained a little bit of weight. When I see pictures of myself from college, I find myself thinking “Wow I was so skinny back then! I look so much older and bigger now. Why didn’t I appreciate what I had back then?!” I’ve spent so much time wishing I could look the same as I did when I was in college, even though I’m approaching 27 and I’m a completely different person than I was back then. I’m not the same on the inside, so why should I expect to look the same on the outside? It wasn’t until recently that I started to finally have a new perspective on my body. I started trying to appreciate it and love it for exactly what it is in this moment.

I don’t need my friends to tell me I should love my curves. I don’t need a magazine to tell me what kind of clothes I should wear. I don’t need some guy to tell me I have a hot body. None of that matters if I don’t love my body. If I don’t see it for what it is, which is more than an aesthetic object. My body is my own. My body allows me to pick up and hold and run and play with children all day. My body allows me to do yoga and go on walks and hikes and dance at weddings until my feet are sore. My body is beautiful for so much more than what it looks like. It may have taken me this long to realize it, and it may still be a struggle every day, but I am finally learning to love my body.