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My bio says that I’ve been sharing my stories with the world since 2003 but it began way before then. Maybe it was with the first AOL trial CD and the first time I found myself in a chatroom. It could’ve been the first Tripod page (think Geocities) I built, trying to figure out how to code a page. I think 2003 refers to my first LiveJournal, but I can’t be too sure. Then came Myspace blogs and finally, my own website. BeingBerrak.com is the 3rd or 4th domain name I’ve used since leaving Myspace behind and ventured out to the internet.

All I know for sure is that I’ve processed everything life has thrown my way by writing it down, and throwing those words out to the world via the internet during my loneliest days.

I’ve received a lot of criticism about how much I share about my life. A lot of people have had opinions about how I should process my pain and how it’s improper that I share so much of my life with strangers.

If only those people know how much I haven’t shared.

Back when I was still writing under a pen name, I used to occasionally post password-protected blogs. They would be on my public blog but only accessible if you knew the password.

Even those were the tip of the iceberg.

I’m 32 years old and every year of my life as long as I could remember has felt like its own lifetime.

In the past few years, as I’ve found my footing as an individual, the urge to share has been fighting its way to the surface. My blog never really went anyway – it’s just been hard to find the words as I fought to keep my head above water.

What was I to do?

A book of essays? I mean, sure. That makes sense. After all, it’s the personal blogger way.

But that didn’t feel right.

One of the biggest rewards of sharing my life online has been the community I’ve been able to build. Even more importantly, it’s the stranger who’s stumbled upon my blog at the time they needed in his or her life and messaged me to say “Thank you for sharing. I needed to hear that.”

I write about the uncomfortable so the people who may stumble upon my words today or months from now can have that reminder when they need it – you’re not alone. There’s someone else who gets it. You will be OK.

But the thing is, the blogging landscape has changed. I didn’t want to worry about the SEO of my personal blog – I have to do that enough in my professional life.

I didn’t want sharing my stories to become a chore. It’s hard enough finding the strength to share. It feels cheap to pimp out personal blog posts.

Then came Patreon.

I’ve been playing around with the idea to start a Patreon for the good part of a year, but I felt like it was only for creatives. Why would anyone want to become a Patron to read my essays?

The more I thought about it, the more I realized I could tap into what I’ve loved the most about sharing my stories online: No filter, a community, and providing a safe space for others who are not ready to share their own stories.

That’s how Password Protected came to life.

My goals for the space as it evolves are:

  • Write & share my stories regularly with your feedback on the next steps
  • Create a safe space where you (the patrons) can engage
  • Give a behind-the-scenes look on how anxiety and depression impact my day-to-day creativity
  • Share your stories, anonymously if you choose, to get you feedback and support from our community.

This is where I invite you to join me in this journey. For just $1/month, you can show me the support you’ve shown me for as long as you’ve been part of my life. If you’ve known me for longer than a day, you know how much I struggle with asking for anything.

This isn’t me asking for a handout.

This is me inviting you to the next chapter of my writing career as I finally dive deep into my past.

 

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Small Business Saturday 2017: Etsy Edition

I’m a huge advocate of shopping small when possible, every day, but especially during Small Business Saturday. If you’re not familiar with it, Small Business Saturday is an initiative by American Express, which has taken on a life of its own.

Every year, I try to highlight a few of my favorite Etsy shops and the women behind them.  One of my favorite parts about Small Business Saturday is reminding everyone that shopping small can mean online, supporting Etsy shop owners who work hard at creating high quality, handcrafted goods with love. (If you’re a frugal shopper like me, I’d like to point out that Ebates now provides cashback for Etsy purchases as well. Right now, you can get 6% cashback on your Etsy purchases)

On to the shops: [click to continue…]

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Breaking the Habit

I’m sick of the tension, sick of the hunger
Sick of you acting like I owe you this
Find another place to feed your greed
While I find a place to rest

I’m about to board a plane to Spain and this trip could not have come at a more pivotal point in my life.

I’m tired of being tired.

I say this to my friends – a lot.

Life has always been overwhelming but it feels like the past 6 months, the Universe keeps giving me the middle finger.

At least it feels like that.

The truth is, I want to get on this plane and as I cross the ocean, I want to start letting go.

I want to let go:

The constant disappointment I feel in people after giving them a second, third, eighth chance to let me down.

The grief.

The “what ifs” that have been holding me back for years.

The resentment.

The anger.

The doubt.

I want to let go so that I can finally start healing.

I’ve been looking forward to this trip for weeks but I also almost cancelled it the other day when all I wanted to do was scream. When all I could do was cry.

I’m going to let the Spanish air envelop me and I’m going to start to heal.

I’ll be surrounded by loved ones, friends I trust with my life, and opportunities to make new friends.

My support system here at home has been helping me keep my head (barely) above water and I am forever grateful to them.

I’m going to write. A lot.

I’m going to drink wine and eat cheese and watch sunsets (and probably sunrises).

I’ll be back with a lighter heart.

If I come back. (I kid. Kind of.)

I’ll probably be posting on SnapChat (BerrakDC) and Instagram (BerrakBiz) the most. 

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The Snort Heard Around the World

You know the drill.

You’re standing in front of your classroom/office and you’re buck naked.

I never had that anxiety dream.

I also never pictured that I would stand on a stage in front of 3500 of my peers, mentors, and strangers at my favorite conference in the world.

I certainly didn’t picture myself SNORTING INTO THE MICROPHONE.

But alas.

It happened. [click to continue…]

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Between panic attacks, hiding in my apartment, obsessively reading the news, and working, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the people in my life.

There have been a few great heart-wrenching conversations over the past few weeks.

I visited North Carolina to spend time with my best friend of 18 years.

One of my closest friends visited me in Seattle this past week, and even though we’ve only been friends for 3 years, I consider her family.

Another one of my best friends is someone who’s only been in my life for a little over a year.

18 years. 3 years. 1 year.

I’ve been a friend of convenience to many people in my life. The person they needed to boost themselves up before moving on to the next chapter. I’m fairly certain I’ve done that to others throughout life as well.

It’s just how we operate. Sometimes on purpose. Most of the time, subconsciously as we try to navigate this emotional maze of life.

I’ve let a lot of people down. And in some instances, I’m still making amends. I mean, I really am a bad friend.

One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned about people is that we’re all fighting our demons, and we all make assumptions.

I certainly do.

A lot of tears have been shed over the past couple of weeks as I’ve finally broken down and said “I know I disappointed you. I know we’ve drifted, but this is a friendship I want to fight for. How can I make amends?”

It’s hard to quiet the noise in my head yelling at me about being unworthy, telling me that every single person in my life will leave eventually. It’s hard to think over the screams of doubt, to find the strength to sit down and write the words.

It’s hard, but it’s worth it.

Because people will come and go during my life. I firmly believe there are seasons of friendships, but when the dust settles, who do I want by my side?

Those are the connections I’m fighting for. Those are the connections I want to mend. Those are the threads that I’m holding on to for dear life.

I want those 18 years of memories to turn into 36. I want every moment I spend with my friends to count, even if all we’re doing is sitting on the couch and watching Will & Grace.

So, I’m fighting.

I’ll keep fighting but there are days when battles are lost, or cancelled because I can’t find the strength after fighting my own demons.

There are days I won’t make sense. Days I’ll be extra needy. Hours of crying. Moments of doubt where I’ll ask “No, but seriously, why are you friends with me?”

And sometimes, there will be those times when I am so worn out, so defeated, so scared, that I’ll get on the defensive.

The walls will come up and I’ll push the world away.

Real talk: That’s where I am now. I can feel the defenses going up. I can hear the walls being built. I can feel my fragile heart retreating to recover.

I honestly don’t know what it will take for me to feel secure again. I’ll keep fighting those battles when it’s necessary but right now?

Well, you’ll have to bring those battles to me.

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Over the past few years, I’ve been getting the same questions about Ramadan.

You can’t drink water?

Wait, how long do you have to fast?

Why is it during the summer?

I don’t talk about my faith often, but those around me know that this is my favorite time of the year. It’s been a long time since I’ve addressed questions about my personal observance of my religion. As you can imagine, these days, I’m mostly in defense mode when talking about anything related to Islam.

I’m not the perfect person, nor am I the perfect Muslim. Most days, I don’t feel enough. I hold my faith close to my heart because I truly believe it’s a personal connection that I shouldn’t have to justify to anyone.

But you guys, Ramadan is beautiful. Its observance is something that’s been a cornerstone of my life since I was ten years old.

Full disclosure: I’m not a religious scholar. I don’t have all of the answers. I can only talk about my personal experience and observance. 

First things first: What is Ramadan? [click to continue…]

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The Memory Keeper Learns to Let Go

It just began raining here. I know, in Washington, in the middle of May, that’s not breaking news. (How is it the middle of May?!)

I’m actually sitting in a little cottage on a bluff overlooking the Puget Sound. A writer’s dream, right? I’ve got my wine, my “Mellow Pop” station on Napster, and no deadlines looming over my head – except my own. Hence the getaway in the middle of the week. I’m trying to find my voice again by removing the familiar from the equation.

The familiar isn’t always such a good thing. Right now, my apartment doesn’t always feel like a refuge. Sometimes, it feels like a prison and my anxiety and depression control the locks. Despite being surrounded by love and family, I’ve been in solitary confinement for the past few months. It’s been so difficult to explain.

I’ve spent the past decade expressing my feeling with the written word but it’s been getting more difficult lately.

I’m blocked, stuck, stunned, aghast, overcome.

What? I’m a writer after all. I couldn’t pick just one word.

I’ve already talked about why I’m a bad friend. That’s been just part of the equation.

Don’t even get me started on the current state of affairs in the U.S. and the world. No, really, don’t. I will go on all night, and my AirBnB hosts will find me curled up in the fetal position Thursday morning.

Sigh.

I’m not sure where exactly this post will go. Let’s read and see. [click to continue…]

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What’s My Age Again?

I ask myself that question more often than I’d like to admit lately. Maybe it’s a thing that happens after you turn 30.  It may have to do with no longer having life milestones tied to age.

Honestly, it’s probably because days have started blurring into one another.

I’ve been doing a birthday blog post since my early 20s. It’s a way for me to think about my year and highlight the major milestones I accomplished.

I turned 32 this past Saturday.

Honestly, 31 was an exhausting age. It’s been a hell of a year, with lots of ups and downs.

When I turned 30, I wrote about how I chose me, and living with intention.

Choosing to live with intention comes with the consequence of being scary as fuck. The risks are higher but so are the rewards. Every decision I make is because I’m stubbornly creating a life of purpose.

I wouldn’t call it an unconventional life. We get so caught up with labels and telling everyone how they should or shouldn’t be living their life. I am so over that.

My life doesn’t have to live up to anyone else’s standards for it. Every single day, I wake up and fight through the weight of depression. Every decision I make, every misstep, every little bit of success is mine and mine alone. I have a lot of wonderful people in my life who give me their unwavering support and love, but at the end of the day, they aren’t the ones making the decisions for me.

Most of the time, decisions I make may not make sense to other people. That’s because you’re not in my skin or my mind.

I was talking to a friend of mine the other day about how it feels like my life goes through radical changes. In reality, the changes aren’t so radical if you look at my life as a whole.

When I look back at my life 5, 10, 20 years from now, I want to be proud of my journey. I’ve made a lot of mistakes. I’ll probably make a lot more.

Speaking of mistakes, one of these birthdays, I’ll turn down the shots my friends buy me. As we learned this weekend, 32 was not the year for that.

I declared 2017 my year of Gumption.

I guess setting fire to my safety net, getting my first tattoo, and having my first professional speaking gig would contribute to that goal.

To be perfectly honest, I have no grand declaration about being 32. It’s another year, another number.

I’m grateful for the love in my life, the losses that remind me of my strength, and every day that brings new opportunities for a worthy life.

I guess I’ll keep having to think about how old I am whenever I fill out a form.

No but seriously, what’s my age again?

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My Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

Today was the second day of Digital Summit in Seattle and I’d been looking forward to it for weeks. I fell asleep while working last night, and didn’t pay any mind to the odd position my laptop was in when I picked it up to put it in my laptop bag.

I decided to drive instead taking a Lyft this morning, and boy, am I glad I did. I got to McCaw Hall, ran upstairs to get a little work finished before heading into a session, opened the lid of my laptop and was greeted by this.

Oh yes, that odd position my laptop was in? The charger had slipped off, gotten between the lid and the keyboard, and at some point, my cat walked/sat on my laptop enough to put the pressure on the screen. So, I closed the laptop, ran back to my car, and went to Best Buy.

Pro tip: Best Buy doesn’t do hardware repairs on Macs.

I got back in my car and drove north to the nearest Apple Store. After an hour wait, they told me that the cost to replace the display is …

… $670.

The cost for a new 13″ Macbook Air? $799

So after getting price quotes from a few repair shops, I decided that I would turn my laptop with the busted screen into a “desktop” computer at my home office with my external monitor, keyboard, and mouse.

After picking up my new laptop from Best Buy (and yes, I did use Ebates to buy it online and do store pickup so I could get cashback, thank you very much), I decided I needed to head home. By the time all was said and done, I had missed a majority of the conference and just did not have it in me to network.

Literally 2 minutes away from being safe & sound inside my apartment, I nearly got into a car accident because someone decided that they were going to go straight instead of turning right right at the last second. As in, he’d already started to turn, so I started to pull out and he changed directions mid-turn and almost t-boned me.

Sigh.

But I’m home, safe and sound. I know it could’ve been worse, and I am incredibly lucky to have the savings in place to afford the new computer. (Oh, you should go read my last blog about that.)

So, it’s only Tuesday but it’s been a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad Tuesday. Let’s just hope the week gets better.

Tell me something frustrating and something good in your life right now.

 

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How I Saved $600 Without Even Trying

I am notoriously bad at saving money. Budgeting has always been a struggle for me, mainly because I screwed up my credit pretty bad when I was younger.

I sign up for recurring subscriptions and forget about them until the money is taken out of my bank account.

I’m still struggling with having a proper budget (and believe me, I’ve read about a zillion blog posts and have tried different programs, apps, and templates).

Even when I have a separate savings account, it’s easy for me to just transfer the money to cover bills.

Investing seems too much like a challenge.

So, how do I have over $600 saved right now? [Edit: Since I’ve written this post, my savings are now up to $1000)

Enter Digit

Well, I mentioned the “signing up for things and forgetting about them”. That’s sort of what happened with the savings. A few months ago, in one of those money-saving articles, I read about Digit. Their tagline is “Save money, without thinking about it.”

Appealing, right?

I couldn’t even tell you when I signed up for it, but according to my history, the first withdrawal of $1.74 happened in November. The first few withdrawals were small – less than $5. That’s a direct correlation of what was available in my bank account.

Digit checks your spending habits and moves money from your checking account to your Digit account, if you can afford it.

I know it sounds pretty crazy but I see the transactions with “Hello Digit” on my bank statement and don’t really think about it. Sometimes, it’s as much as a cup of coffee. Other times, it’s what I would spend on a dinner at a restaurant (but didn’t).

I don’t have to think about it – and that’s been the most effective way of saving money right now.

If you’re interested in trying it out, use my referral link.  (I do get $5 if you sign up using my link). You can always pause the withdrawals, and your money is available for withdrawal 24/7/365 (but I personally try to forget about that).

Update: Since I’ve written this post, Digit has announced that they will now be charging a $2.99 monthly fee for their service after the first 100 days. They will also be upping their Savings Bonus from 0.20% to 1%. More details here.

What’s your biggest struggle when it comes to budgeting? How are you overcoming the challenges when it comes to saving money?

 

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