Author Archives: mayaleh

On saying so long.

EDITOR’S NOTEThis post is the 4th in a series, intended as a space for the various authors and contributors of Embracing Ambiguity to reflect on the past year in each of their lives. 2014 has been a tumultuous year for each writer, from transitions and changes in the physical spaces they live in, to the internal turmoil of life changing decisions.  Each post follows the general prompt of thinking back to where we stood one year prior, and the head space we were in at the time; reflecting on what has brought us to where we are now and the change that has occurred in that 365 days of time. Happy reading and an ambiguous 2015 to you!

I’ve been struggling a lot with writing about my past year. Feelings of discomfort overwhelm me with every effort, and I arm myself with words and filled pages to try and fight them back.

How quickly I fall pray to old habits.

Yet I continued to return to the keyboard, determined to write something about this past year. A year that brought so many tears, so much anger and resentment against it, such fear and frustration. I wanted to write something about it, but I didn’t know what. Or why.

My fingers struck keys like soldiers wielding swords, attempting to protect myself from the feelings and the everything that came over me every time I even thought about something to write about this past year.

How quickly I fall pray to old habits.

I wanted to write something, but I didn’t know what. Or why.

I think I understand now though.

A eulogy.

Unknowingly, I had been trying to write a eulogy for this past year. I didn’t want the year to change, for me to wake up in 2015 and just move on. I couldn’t–can’t–just move on.

I couldn’t begin 2015 without properly mourning 2014.

2014 was a hard year. It brought many of my demons to the surface, despite my best efforts to have kept them hidden for the past 13 years. I learned, and am still learning, to differentiate between myself and these demons. To call them out when they act up, and to distance the blame, shame, and guilt that they bring with them. I learned what asking for help–and not on a math question–can look like. Help to get through the day, to find motivation, any reason, to do so. Help to listen to myself, and find worth in what I hear. Help to love, and be loved. I learned what all of this felt like, and even more so, that it is okay to feel it. The struggle, tears, and relief all tangled together in one terrifying and new and strange and comforting bundle. I learned that vulnerability is distinct from weakness. That self care is different from selfishness. That depression is not only sadness, and anxiety not only stress. I learned that I am worth fighting for.

I am still learning to believe it.

It was a hard year, not a magical one, after all.

Nearly every day of the past year, I learned and learned again, that life is painful. Life is exhausting and frustrating and sad. I have also learned that life is not always so hard, not always so terrible, not always so draining. I am still learning to value the fight for those good moments when the bad ones seem always around the corner, and always stronger, adapted to my new defences.

For each thought, each moment, each day that I lost to the stillness, the void, the emptiness, in 2014 and in the years that preceded it, I mourn.

And so I write a eulogy for 2014. I acknowledge my struggle, my losses, and I try to accept them. I hope that those dark moments of 2014 will be buried deep, never again to resurface. I want to never think about it again. I wish that my eyes will open in the morning and I will wonder if 2014 was just a bad dream. I want to believe that 2015 will bring joy and sunshine and renewal. Sure, I’ll squint in the beginning, but soon, soon my eyes will adjust. To the joy, the sunshine, the renewal.

Yet, that does not feel quite right. Not quite enough.

I continue to try to write something about this past year. I just don’t know what. Or why.

I hated 2014, with all of its hardships and suffering, but it is because of 2014 that I know I cannot cross my arms and blink it all away. There is no magic solution. And there is no moving on without taking with me what I have gained from it. This past year freed me from what could have otherwise been a lifetime of bondage to my demons. I know deep down that if I can survive 2014, I can survive anything. This fight for freedom that I have started, that I already have one year under my belt of, is the hardest thing I will ever have to do. I have hit rock bottom, and I am climbing back up.

I wanted to write something about this past year.

I had to memorialize 2014, make sure I in fact never forget it. So I never forget how far I have come and how hard it really was. So I never forget what shapes strength can take.  What glimmers of sunlight feel like against my cheek amidst the darkest of days. So I never have to retrace my steps. And, if one day I do, I know the route, and who I want to bring with me for it.

And so I wanted to write something about this past year. I wanted to prove to myself, to show once more to the demons, that I am not hiding anymore. I am not letting my fears or discomforts prevent me from accomplishing what I know I can do. If I can survive 2014, I can survive anything.

I will not fall prey to my old habits today.

So long, 2014.

– m


On becoming process-oriented

EDITORS NOTE: This blog post is the second in a series, intended to celebrate Embracing Ambiguity reaching the 50 post milestone. If you haven’t already, you should definitely scroll down to see the first post by Jeff. Embracing Ambiguity recently received an email response to a post that asked a lot of great and challenging questions. In celebration of Embracing Ambiguity’s milestone, various authors will be responding to these questions over the next week. In general, the theme is (roughly) “making the decisions that will IMPACT EVERYTHING”, and  “the narratives we tell ourselves about what we’re doing, why and how we feel about it”. It is left to each author to choose how closely they reference / stick to these original prompts. We’re excited to see what they come up with. If you like what you read, share it on Facebook and Twitter and help #EmbAmb increase it’s reach. Happy reading.

I’ve been having a lot of conversations lately about being process-oriented rather than goal-oriented. About focusing on the journey as opposed to the destination, if you haven’t had your daily dose of bad cliches yet. I’ve been having these conversations because it turns out that I am so utterly and entirely goal-oriented, to the horror of the “ideal self” that I have constructed in my mind of who I ought to be. I want to say outright that I’m not suggesting either one is ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. I also don’t mean to dismiss any future goals by trying to be process-oriented. I can have goals (oh honey, do I have goals), but it is whether I can let the process of how I reached them be important, or to continually mount all the pressure and life legitimacy on the precarious “Did I get there?”.

My four month calendar above my desk tells me I am in week three of my two year master’s program. It’s Tuesday. Some people keep a calendar on their desk to keep them organized, and while I wholly intended to use it for that purpose I have to tell myself to use mine as a reality check. How many times have I already freaked my shit about not knowing what I would do my thesis on? About how the end results of my thesis would AFFECT THE WORLD AROUND ME? It is the very onset of my masters (it’s Tuesday of week three, let me remind you), and I am already having discussions or letting comments fly about how I hope it only takes me two years, or how on earth will I get a job with a masters of arts and still no employable skills. I am standing at the beginning, with my gaze solely and intently focused on the very end. I have assumed the middle part will be full of stress, crazy netflix binge watching, and more stress and tears. That is such a crazy thing to do — not only did I predict the course of the next two years, but I predicted a sad and imprisoning two years — that I almost feel the need to repeat it. It is crazy, yet it comes so naturally.

And so, I have been told, I am goal-oriented.

I have recently gone rock climbing only twice, and each time I am excited and cannot wait and then I am rock climbing and I am no longer enjoying it. Something happens. I start a problem (fancy speak for a route up the pegs), and am immediately taken over by thoughts of how in months from now I’ll be so strong; I’ll be so much better than I am now; I’ll be doing way harder ones with less difficulty. I cloud the here and now with thoughts of the future. I completely skip the present moment. I have not gone rock climbing in weeks.

And so, I have been told, I am goal-oriented.

Yesterday I took the bus to school instead of biking. I could have enjoyed the comfort of sitting on my butt, being taken up the big ass hill instead of focusing on breathing and not the burning in my thighs as I struggle to bike up it. I didn’t get a cold or a cough because I forced myself to bike in the cold windy Guelph weather. Yet, I continually reminded myself that “healthy people are active” and if my goal is to be a “healthy person” then I should be riding my bike. I associated this tiny little activity with the grand aspiration of calling myself a Healthy Person.

And so, I have been told, I am goal-oriented.

Slowly, slowly I am trying to learn how to focus on the present moment. To not necessarily focus less on “WILL THIS JOB DEFINE ME” or “WILL THIS MAKE ME THE MOST QUALIFIED EVER” and “WANT. TOP. MARKS”, but to actively incorporate and pay attention to the moments of “Well this is nice” and “mmmm” (four m’s, check it) into my life. To respect my body and my mind and all of their assorted needs, while simultaneously respecting my potential and my future aspirations. To truly believe that if I take the breaks I need, and stimulate the other areas of my brain or hands that thesis writing and computer typing leave wanting, it will enhance all areas of my life.

Thinking about this new ideology is liberating to think that maybe there is hope for me and fun to be had! I am allowed to enjoy the process. I want to enjoy the process. Imma enjoy this process!

This new ideology is also overwhelming because I know change does not come easily, and that I get easily frustrated when I face personal setbacks.

Thinking about this new ideology is even a bit isolating, because it makes me feel like I am working on a whole other full time job on top of my commitments to school. I know everybody has their own shit they are working on and dealing with, but my rational and emotional brain have never liked seeing eye to eye.

And so, I have been told, I can become process-oriented.


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On Changing Course and Being Happy

I’ve been trying to write this for a while. And by trying to write, I mean it’s been running in my head over and and over again. Words fly by in a whiz of anxiety, sometimes excitement, but always overwhelming. The central themes revolve around satisfaction in my life so far, trying to be optimistic in the future, confirming and reconfirming (and re-reconfirming) that “I am no one’s runner up”, and realizing that I have come so bloody far in the past year, no matter how deja vu this all “september 1st is rolling around” feels.

When I was still a little girl, and my mom would come lie with me to help me go to sleep, she’d often have to help me quell my anxiety. What is hilarious to me now is that even as a 10, 11, 12 year old kid, I cried at night with the question “What am I going to be?! What am i going to do?!” ringing in my head (and the walls of our house). I didn’t take well to the standard responses: we’ll cross that bridge when we get there, everything is going to be OK, YOU’RE ONLY 10 FOO’, and anything else anyone would tell me. And so my mom, ever the patient saint, would lie with me naming occupation after occupation, stopping to explain the words that were still foreign to me. Starting with the A’s like archeologist to occupational therapist (I still can’t understand what they do) to social worker,  my mom would move through the alphabet as I was near hysterical about what the future would hold. I can’t say now if it was truly just my anxieties starting to take form, or if even then I had begun to feel the responsibility of the world on my shoulders. I know that the feeling of not being enough, of needing to be more, had already rooted itself in me. It’s almost palpable through the memories how much more faith I had in my peers (what, from their handball skills?) than I had in myself.

Despite all the question marks, some things were certain. I was brought up with my two role models having completed both undergrad and graduate school (my dad’s favourite line, after ones in Hebrew for “that’s how you learn” and “life’s hard, kid” being “I spent 11 years in university!”), and so before I even understood what they were I knew that that’s what my path was too. I thought that’s just what people did, end of story. It honestly didn’t occur to me that there were alternatives, nor did I think to look. I guess my anxieties were gripping with white knuckles the certainty in that path, even if I’d have to fill in all the other blanks as I went along.

But, of course, ha!, try as I might, that wasn’t to be my path. I took a year off before even starting my undergrad, and I hardly finished it in one piece. I literally crumbled a few months after graduating, and after dedicating myself to my GPA so that I could get into any grad school I wanted (although I had no fucking clue what that was), I decided, to hell with it! that wasn’t for me! I met really lovely people who were making it work without a master’s degree (say what?!), and that was powerful.

That didn’t pan out so well, if only (and definitely not only) because I was too sick to even watch  movies for much of this past year. I can break the year down into a few distinct phases, or states of mind, but the most important of which being the two I currently capriciously rotate between.

There was the sick, unable, hopeless Maya that when answered what I was up to I would sheepishly answer anything from I don’t know, Nothing, or sometimes in moments of hysterical honesty I would own the list of diagnoses that had become my shadow. I became almost comfortable, although maybe complacent is a more accurate but also unfair descriptor, in these diagnoses, in the “what was wrong with me”. It was my self-perceived identifier. My new Path, illuminating where I had been and where my feet were to be planted next. Instead of these conditions being something I had, I let them become something I was. The running dialogue in my head was overrun with “I am Maya and I am tainted.” This occupied a lot of space, a lot of time, and a whole lot of energy. And still, in my weakest moments, it roars its ugly ass head once more.

But a powerful thing happened the other day. I can’t remember what the context was, or who it was with, or even what I had just eaten. I was probably talking to myself, to be honest. Something provoked me to describe myself, in my head or out loud, and my first response was no longer “I am Maya and I am trying (and rarely succeeding) to get better” but instead “I am Maya and look at this bright future and all the baller things I’m going to do!” That’s right, there was a fucking exclamation mark. There are baller things that I am going to do. ME. My path had yet again changed course. This time, though, it didn’t have a predetermined destination or mapped out route. It. Just. Was. Inhale. Exhale.

Ten year old Maya would still be unsatisfied–I haven’t answered any of her questions. I don’t know what I am going to do or how I am going to get there. I still have to reckon with the fact that I have spent my whole life following the equation I wanted so badly to exist for how to live a happy life. I still have a long ways to go before my physical and mental health are up to par. But for tonight, for right now, I can be OK with not knowing what I am doing and if my current path is the capital R Right one, or if the Right one even exists. In this moment, I am not seeking perfection. I finally (sometimes) have optimism for the future and a hope that things will get better. That all the work I’ve put into this year will realize its rewards eventually, in time. And, fittingly enough, the ability to see that is the result of all the personal work I’ve done this year.


Someone recently told me, “I’m busy enjoying being happy”.

So maybe this new grad school won’t be the answer, and maybe it won’t land me my dream job or make me feel like I am the morning and the evening star.

But maybe, hopefully, I can be busy being happy (with my deepest sympathies to ten year old Maya’s frustration and anguish)

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