Every few days, I have this jolt of a thought come out of nowhere: “Oh, I’m vaccinated.”
After the year we’ve had, it feels surreal. I’m ecstatic about the fact that my friends can come into my apartment without wearing a mask. I had my first indoor dining experience at a dive bar in LA with a friend a few weeks ago – we sat by the open door.
I’ve flown since the pandemic began. The first time was involuntary because I had to jump on a plane the morning my dad had a heart attack.
The second time, voluntarily, as I flew across the Atlantic to Turkey.
And yet, when I went down to LA, after being vaccinated, I drove.
I still make sure I get outdoor seating when I go out to a restaurant.
I still haven’t gone to my favorite bar.
My gym is now letting us work out without our masks if we’re vaccinated, but I will keep mine on.
It’s not that I don’t trust science or my vaccine.
It’s because we’re not “post” pandemic, and the trauma from the last year is very real. I’ve talked about the collective grief we’ve all felt but that means that as things “open up” and people are talking about “back to normal,” it’s normal to feel anxiety. You don’t have to be ready to jump back in. Nor should you be.
I will not list out the data because this article does a good job of it but let’s say it point blank: We’re all experiencing Post-COVID Stress Disorder and I cannot stress this enough, you are experiencing it even if you didn’t experience a loss. A loss of life, a loss of job, a loss of anything. Even if your life, comparatively, is good and you didn’t have any health issues and no one close to you experienced trauma, guess what: You still lived through trauma. So did those close to you.
Are you feeling anxious about going to public places?
Do you feel like your priorities have changed during the pandemic?
Good. That means you’re processing your feelings properly.
We go through changes in our lives as we grow. It’s a natural part of growing and evolving as a person.
What happened during 2020 wasn’t the natural course of growth. It was an unprecedented event for you (unless you were born in the early 1900s).
We’ve seen health crises and pandemics and diseases happen at a distance, in the news.
We know people who’ve gone overseas to help communities through the events but nothing has hit us all at once, suddenly, globally, without giving a shit about borders, the way COVID-19 did.
2020 showed us the best and worst of humanity. The experience brought questions and mistrust to our backyard. It made us reevaluate our relationships with work, our families, our communities, and even our homes. We realized the tiny routines we’ve been taking for granted.
Swinging by a coffee shop.
Grabbing a drink after work.
Hopping on a plane for a long weekend.
The “insignificant” moments that make up our life went under a microscope.
So, we grieved. Collectively.
And now, with the light teasing us at the end of the tunnel, of course we’re apprehensive.
Of course we’re anxious.
Of course, our coping mechanisms have changed.
Of course we have trust issues.
As with any kind of grief and trauma, it’s a personal experience. You can be ready to strip the mask as you walk into your gym tomorrow. You can also be the person who’ll wear masks for the foreseeable future. Both are valid responses.
Your experience and trauma and grief are unique to you, and so will be your recovery and healing.
I, for one, will cheer you on every step of the way without an ounce of shaming you.
This is your life. You made it through one of the hardest years of your life.
How you emerge out of that experience is completely up to you.
“It’s loving things and people passionately and enthusiastically without justifying my feelings.”
That’s from my birthday blog post when I turned 34. That’s two years ago. Before a pandemic. Before burnout brought me to the edge, so I finally took a break from life.
I didn’t write a post on my birthday when I turned 35 because it was at the beginning of the pandemic. I cancelled a trip I’d been planning for over a year. I cried. I sat alone on my couch, eating a birthday cake shaped like toilet paper by myself while friends from all over jumped on a zoom call with me to keep me company that night. That is the most 2020 sentence I can write.
I wasn’t alone in having a pandemic birthday, but it triggered a lot of traumas for me. Birthdays are difficult, but they’ve gotten easier over the past few years because I am so incredibly lucky to have so much love in my life.
💗Love that’s dependable.
💗Love that’s not afraid to call me out on my shit.
💗Love that sees all of me and accepts me unconditionally.
Despite the overwhelming grief, 35 was actually a year of growth.
35 was the year:
💭I finally began therapy.
✈I reconnected with my roots.
💞I found the strength to walk away from toxic situations.
📢I actively began telling my story again, all of it, without holding back for the sake of others.
It’s funny. I began reclaiming my narrative a couple of years ago, but it wasn’t until this year that I really spoke my truths, editing none of the parts out.
My best friend and I were having one of our famous wine-buzzed Friday night heart-to-hearts a few weeks ago. She’s that person who just cuts to my core. We were talking about how I feel like I missed out on enjoying life in my 20s living in DC. We lived there at the same time but didn’t become friends until she moved to Seattle after I did. Whenever she reminisces about her life in DC, it triggers this sadness for me, as if I was living in a parallel universe back then.
As much as I tried to live life on my own terms, until this past year, there was always an external force that kept my light on a dimmer.
Family. Friends. School. My ex-fiance. Friends again. My job. Politics. Family. Money.
So when she asked me if I would want to go back and get a chance to rediscover some things I missed, my answer was no. Do I think about the what ifs? Do I feel like I missed out on a few key experiences throughout my life? Of course. I would be lying if I didn’t, but that’s the fun thing about growing up.
This is 36.
I get to finally shine bright and light the path ahead of me.
What’s funny is that I haven’t changed. Not really. A fun discovery I made recently is that my original Twitter handle is still active, and this is the bio from 10 years ago.
I mean, all of that is still pretty accurate. The only thing that’s evolved is my career.
This is 36.
A personal brand so strong that my closest friends regularly “replicate my selfie face.”
A personality so effervescent that the ridiculous spills across borders.
A heart so resilient that I know I’ll always make it through.
A brain so combative that fights against me, but most days, it fights for me.
Like I recently told a friend, I am a lot and I’m OK with that.
I’ve been trying to write this post for weeks. March 30 is World Bipolar Day, so it made perfect sense to me to share an update on living with Bipolar 2 Disorder. Well, more accurately, living knowing that I have Bipolar 2.
I’ve shared the good, bad, and ugly in my life in some shape or form for the past 20 years. When I opened up about my diagnosis in November, it surprised me to hear from various connections about their personal experiences with bipolar 2. Not everyone wants to share their story publicly and that’s perfectly fine. I share my life because it helps me feel connected and like I always say, if there’s one person out there who feels less alone because they come across my experiences, then it’s worth it.
The first thing I did after I got my diagnosis was to look for stories about others to see how they live their lives.
Bipolar 1 is the most common, therefore there are a lot of personal stories out there, written, spoken, and depicted in pop culture.
“(I’m) a human who’s had her fair share of challenging and unhappy experiences. Over time, I’ve paid attention, taken notes and forgotten easily half of everything I’ve gone through. But I’ll rifle through the half I recall and lay it at your feet.”
It felt a little frustrating to not have examples I could point people to when they asked me about bipolar 2. There are links to articles about the difference between 1 and 2, but that still doesn’t feel like enough.
I can’t point to a medical article and have people in my life understand what it’s like for me at a particular moment.
When I’ve talked about anxiety or depression, it’s been easy to get across my mood and struggles. It feels like people have a frame of reference for what it’s like to experience those feelings. But not when it comes to bipolar disorder.
I found this graphic on Instagram, which helps me express the bipolar spectrum a little better. My experiences range from hypomania to severe depression.
Before I was diagnosed, I didn’t know why I couldn’t just go to sleep or why my brain wouldn’t shut up. It felt like I couldn’t do anything right and any time I had something positive in my life, I would try to destroy it. I never felt in control, so I thought choosing to be reckless somehow gave me back that sense of control. Turns out, that wasn’t always my choice either. I constantly felt like a shit person because I was so incredibly self-destructive. I didn’t understand what was going on in my head, so I lashed out at people in my life. But mostly, I lashed out at myself.
Here’s the thing about mental illness that we all know but don’t express often: It’s so incredibly personal. My brain chemistry, life experiences, day-to-day life – everything creates a unique experience for me.
Hypomania can be a pretty enjoyable state, really,” Dr. Bearden says. A person’s mood can be elevated, they may have a lot of energy and creativity, and they may experience euphoria. This is the “up” side of bipolar disorder that some people with the condition actually enjoy—while it lasts.
For living with bipolar 2, it’s honestly scary some days. Although I feel more in control of my triggers and my medication is helping, it’s literally out of my control. Because of where I am on the spectrum, most of my days are more mixed than clearly defined. It’s not an even split of 3 days of being depressed and 3 days of being hypomanic. I’m lucky in that my hypomania is on the mild side compared to those who suffer from severe manic episodes, but it turns out my depression is actually quite deeper. I now refer to them as #badbraindays because sometimes, I’m too exhausted to find the words to explain the range of emotions I’m feeling waking up after a night of vivid nightmares, or when I’m having a good day and in the middle of writing an email, my brain flips a switch.
Even while writing this post, it feels like I can’t quite get a handle on the words. You can imagine how fun that is for a writer.
I’m #BipolarStrong because
➡I keep showing up to life.
➡I’m getting better at expressing my needs.
➡I’m not letting my emotions control me, but I’m not trying to suppress them either.
➡I’m owning my narrative even when I’m not in control of my brain.
➡I’m recognizing toxic triggers and getting better at removing them from my life.
➡I’m going to keep sharing my story and do my best to help others who may be feeling alone.
Here’s the thing.
This isn’t going away. This is my life. I’m in a constant and exhausting battle.
March 9 2021 update: So, I went to two tapings of the show and they actually aired my conversation during the first taping tonight. There’s no snorting for that one but you can hear me pronounce my name. Adding that video to the bottom of this post as well.
I love comedy. Laughter is in my DNA. It’s the way I deal with both grief and joy. When my dad had his heart attack in September, during his recovery, we watched hours of a Turkish comedy sketch show.
Think SNL meets Whose Line Is It Anyway.
Between each sketch, as they’re setting up, the host asks a question relevant to the following sketch. They get stories from the audience, both to make them feel involved and give the crew time to set up.
When I was in Istanbul during my leave of absence after my diagnosis (more on that in a later blog), I really wanted to go to a taping of the show, but I knew it was probably unlikely because of the pandemic.
In January, I got lucky. I could safely go to 2 tapings before I left the city.
One of the questions during the second taping was on something unusual happening during an event. My hand went up and for some reason, I wanted to share the story about how I snorted while accepting an award. Obviously, I was telling this story in Turkish and because I couldn’t think of the word for “snort” I just… made the noise to illustrate my point.
Now, a piece of crucial information: One of the regular cast members is notorious for breaking character and snorting when she does because she can’t stop laughing. They refer to it as her “stage monster.” So as I told my story, sound effects and all, she came out from backstage.
And challenged me to a snort-off.
I can’t even make this up.
I couldn’t believe it happened when it did. After the taping, I posted on Twitter thanking Doga for the experience. She replied.
And for the past few weeks, I’ve been waiting to see when that sketch would be shown (they stitch an episode together from different tapings so I didn’t know when it would be).
The day came. I saw the sketch was part of this week’s episode. I waited until they posted it to YouTube to see if they edited out my story (they do that sometimes for timing).
Nope. There I was, sharing my story in Turkish and snorting. Multiple times.
I don’t really have much to add except to say that I’m glad it happened.
Life is too short not to take advantage of moments that could turn into experiences you’ll remember forever.
So, without further ado, the video is below for your entertainment.
Keep watching all the way to the end. You’ll see that she comes out snorting at the beginning of the sketch, points at me, and they show my reaction.
A couple people requested captions, so a rough translation of the exchange is below the video.
Ali Sunal, Doğa Rutkay ve bütün Güldür Güldür ekibine çok teşekkürler.
Host (Ali): Is there anyone who had something funny/unusual happen to them in a public gathering like a wedding or funeral?
Me: It wasn’t a funeral or wedding but there’s a conference I go to every year. And I hate surprises.
Me: In the US. They have an awards show every year.
Ali: What do you do?
Me: Marketing. [This is the part where they cut out a little bit because I went into detail about how I didn’t even know I was nominated for the awardbut it was edited out for time] I was going to receive the award. They said my name. As I’m going up to the stage, I’m trying not to cry because there are cameras and 3500 people in the audience. I got on stage. As I started talking and was trying not to cry or laugh, a sound came out of me. [This is the part where I couldn’t think of a Turkish word for snort.] My “stage monster” came out in front of 3500 people. [I snort.]
Ali: Yeter does that every day.
Me: I know. I tweeted at her about it. After the awards, people who saw me in the elevator or at the parties during the conference recognized me.
Ali: So you’re famous.
Me: Something like that.
[This is when Yeter comes out]
Yeter: Let’s have a snort off. [We do.] See. I found someone else like me in the world.
Ali: Yeah, I noticed that it happens to me sometimes too.
Yeter: Let’s all do it.
Yeter: Who cares if we laugh like this?
Me: Personally, I think it’s a good thing to laugh deeply.
Ali: Yeah, from way deep.
Me: [After she exits] When I was watching old episodes and saw her stage monster come out first time, I really enjoyed it.
Ali: She does it involuntarily.
Me: You think I do this on purpose?
Ali: OK, thank you for sharing.
[Then the sketch starts, she comes out snorting when she isn’t supposed to be, points at me and I die.]
Here’s the video where you can hear me pronounce my name in Turkish. The rest of the clip, I share about being a realistic planner who plans for the worst case scenario, and then go on to thank the cast and crew for making us laugh for hours when my dad was recovering from his heart attack. No snorts in this one. Transcript to come maybe later.
Completely blanking on the English word for milk and panicking on the plane.
Landing at Dulles International Airport.
The Fresh Prince of Bel Air playing on the TV when I walked into my cousin’s house.
These are the only three distinct memories I have from December 18, 1995. It was probably just a normal winter day for most people in the Northern Hemisphere, but for me, it was the day my life changed. I wrote more about that day in this post.
It’s been 25 years since my family left our home to become immigrants in a foreign land. This is the first time that I’m home on that anniversary.
There have been a lot of feelings.
But I’ve been thinking about my life as I’ve worked on taking back my narrative and healing my wounds. This year has been pivotal for my mental health, for my relationships, and for my identity.
Much like the beautiful city I get to call home, my soul lives on two continents, but the bridge in my heart is not as steady as the one over the Bosphorus.
Until recently, I felt that this sentiment was an exaggeration, but to be perfectly honest, I have felt completely alone since that day 25 years ago. In being a first-generation immigrant who had to grow up fast, I’m not the first nor am I unique.
But as with everything in life, my experience is uniquely mine.
My family, my thoughts, my fears, my struggles to belong to two worlds that never completely felt mine.
There are a few distinct patterns in my relationships and struggles for the past 25 years.
They bullied me the first few years I went to school in Maryland. My first “best friend” in middle school was the first in a lifetime of people who would take advantage of my need for belonging and gaslight me. I hated my life in middle school so much that I made my parents transfer me to a different high school so I wouldn’t have to spend 4 more years with those people. In hindsight, I had people try to reach me in middle school to help me separate from that person, but I am so fiercely loyal that I saw them as the threat instead of the one in my life.
High school was the first time I found my footing, and I made some pretty great friends, even though I was a transfer. I’m still best friends with one, though she and I didn’t really become best friends until junior year. I floated through a few disparate groups my freshman year, the most reliable being the seniors I met through my cousin. It wasn’t the first time I connected more with people older than me. My experience in high school wasn’t the worst, but my home life was getting worse and the loneliness I felt grew. Everything was a constant battle. It was exhausting trying to explain to my friends the hoops I had to jump through to simply go to a movie or why I had to always bail on plans. I began to feel like I couldn’t actually really belong anywhere and I kind of floated in and out, even with my closest friend group.
High school was when I carved out a secret life for myself, at times destructive but mostly, just wanting to have a moment of relief and control. I always got along with authority figures, gaining their trust, so when I would walk into my first period class my junior year, asking my teacher if I should be there and walking out without being marked absent wasn’t uncommon.
I didn’t realize it then, but I was building a fortress around me because if I was going to feel lonely, I would also feel protected. I don’t think I was ever truly protected because my heart has been shattered so many times.
In friendships and in love, I’ve been drawn to the people who “needed” me in the sense that they would use my energy until our relationship got so incredibly toxic that it blew up. It’s the friendship breakups that hurt the most, to be honest.
I have trust issues. While I felt alone in the place where I had to learn how to belong while fighting daily battles with my family, I was feeling more and more disconnected from my home and my identity. Anyone who’s met me knows that I have fierce pride and love for my Turkish identity and my home. But every time I visited, I felt more and more disconnected. I felt like an imposter, so much that I stayed away for 11 years.
I don’t look or sound like an immigrant
“Wow, you don’t have an accent.”
“Oh, you’re Muslim?”
I’m white-passing, but any time I fill out a form, I always put Middle Eastern. I no longer have an accent unless I’m extremely tired or drunk. And the accent I have is more east coast than Turkish.
I’m more of a foreigner in my home than I am in the United States.
I can’t even explain the toll that takes on a person and how makes me feel alone, but the one thing that’s been the hardest has been my name.
I lost my name.
Unless you’re Turkish, you’ve been pronouncing my name wrong for the past 25 years. I was 10 years old when we moved to the US. I was already in battle when I finally began school that the first time a teacher tried to pronounce my name and it came out as “Brock” I just said “Yeah, that’s how you pronounce it” instead of correcting her. I was already an outsider. My outfit was already getting weird looks. I had an accent. It was the middle of the school year.
I gave up my name to keep fighting bigger battles.
Later on in life, I would take on a pen name, losing my identity more and more.
It wasn’t until when I was in Turkey last summer and I could use my real name when ordering coffee and hearing the barista call out my name I realized how completely lost I’ve been without my name.
I’m not unique in this but the thing is, after 25 years, I now have an accent while pronouncing my name so I have to get over that before I can teach others how to say it correctly.
I still don’t know where I belong.
I think I will always feel alone because the older I get, the harder I’m finding it to tell my story over and over again to people that I want to let into my heart. The more I share, the more alone I feel because how do you fit in a lifetime of straddling two worlds and every scar that comes with it into a conversation over a bottle of wine or two?
How can I trust people not to take a sledgehammer to the bridge in my soul with every microaggression or every letdown?
How can I explain the battles in my head when I don’t fully understand them myself?
25 years ago, my world got split into two and I’ve been trying to keep the bridge from crumbling ever since.
I was hoping to have a clear epiphany by the time I finished writing this post, but honestly, I’m still not completely sure how I’ll ever feel complete.
The only thing I can do is keep healing and hope that along the way, I eventually find peace.
As the flames rose, the rational voice in my head told me that it was getting late and I should go inside. The louder voice in my head kept whispering, “But I don’t want to go inside. It’s still early, and I just want to sit here and read my book by the fire.”
All the windows around my yard had gone dark, and yet I still felt exposed. But I didn’t care. All I knew was that I didn’t want to go inside, and there was nowhere else to go because my safe escapes were all closed due to the pandemic.
I ran out of firewood a couple of hours into my Saturday night plans of sitting in my yard, having a whiskey drink, and reading my book. Instead of just enjoying my book in the soft breeze of the night, a voice in my head kept yelling that it didn’t feel right without a fire going. I needed the fire. But I’d been drinking, so I couldn’t drive to get more firewood.
Then I remembered the pallets against the side of the house. The massive, imposing pallets that were twice the size of my fire pit.
As if I was just grabbing a small piece of wood to throw into the fire, I walked over and grabbed one of the pallets and calmly walked it over to my firepit, putting it on top, with its sides hanging off the edge of the pit.
I threw a little starter brick into the middle of it.
A couple of small flames began to take form under the pallet in my fire pit. In my head, it made perfect sense. I went back to my drink and my book.
About an hour later, as the flames got going, the wind started picking up. It was a soft breeze at first.
It was only 1 AM, it was a Saturday, and I wasn’t listening to any music or anything, just sitting quietly in my yard.
My rational voice started to speak up, but there was no way I could go back to the house. Not yet. I couldn’t do it.
The flames got higher as the wind picked up. A light went on in one of the apartments around my yard. My neighbor walked out of his house. Asked me what I was doing. I looked up and noticed that the smoke had started making its way to their third-story window.
Without saying a word, I stood up, grabbed the hose, and watered down the flames that had engulfed the pallet. My fire pit was deformed. The pallet was more than half gone. I went inside my apartment and waited an hour, holding my breath the entire time. Then I went outside, grabbed the remnants of the pallet, put them against the side of my house, moving my fire pit back to its place, and making sure my yard was empty. I didn’t leave my house for two days after that.
I didn’t know it at the time, but that was my most severe hypomanic episode, followed by a depressive one.
The following Monday, I talked my therapist through what happened, and that was the session where I finally suggested that it might be time for me to do a psych evaluation.
It took me four months after that to schedule my psychological evaluation. It was supposed to take 90 minutes. The doctor had me diagnosed in 30 minutes flat.
In addition to Generalized Anxiety Disorder, I also have Bipolar II Disorder.
At the end of the diagnosis, she asked me if I was interested in treatment options.
“Of course,” I replied, surprised. It turns out that a lot of people who get the diagnosis aren’t ready to tackle it.
I wasn’t surprised at the diagnosis. I was surprised at how emotional and relieved and overwhelmed I felt once there was a name to everything, but that also meant that I would need to go back through memorable points in my life and evaluate what my diagnosis meant.
Bipolar II vs. Bipolar I
When people hear “Bipolar Disorder,” they usually think of Bipolar I. Think Claire Danes from Homeland or Ian Gallagher from Shameless. Part of the reason why Bipolar never occurred to me is for that same reason. Sure, I’ve suffered from insomnia and depression and made some reckless decisions, but I’ve never had extreme manic episodes.
A few years ago, I had a psychiatrist as a client and wrote copy for his webpage around depression and bipolar disorder, but I didn’t dive too much into Bipolar 2 during that project.
After I got off the phone following my diagnosis, in tears, I looked up Bipolar 2. I found a chart outlining the symptoms of depression and hypomania associated with it, took a screenshot, and sent it to one of my best friends.
“This is literally me.”
Here are the symptoms of hypomania that I can map to precise moments in my life:
Having higher-than-normal energy levels, being restless or unable to sit still, having a decreased need for sleep, having increased self-esteem or confidence, or grandiosity, being extremely talkative, having a racing mind, or having lots of new ideas and plans, being easily distracted, taking on multiple projects with no way of finishing them, having decreased inhibitions, having increased sexual desire, engaging in risky behavior, such as having impulsive sex, gambling with life savings, or going on big spending sprees.
OH, OK. I THOUGHT I WAS JUST A CREATIVE, RECKLESS FAILURE OF A PERSON FOR MOST OF MY LIFE.
Hypomania differs from full manic episodes because they don’t include hallucinations, paranoia, or delusional thoughts.
The depression is pretty much the same.
What’s next for me
I’ve checked off the most difficult steps: Getting diagnosed, beginning treatment, and talking to my brother and dad about it.
But the diagnosis is just the beginning.
I can’t just write off responsibility for 20 years of decisions.
Yes, the average age-of-onset of Bipolar Disorder is about 25, but that doesn’t mean every reckless decision I made in my 20s (and OK, early 30s) was because of my disorder. Without a doubt, it probably increased the severity of everything, but what does that look like?
And more importantly, can I begin to forgive myself without holding on to the “What ifs” of my past?
Would I have finished getting my degree? Would I have drunk less? Would I have been more successful in my career? Would my finances be in better shape if I didn’t ruin my credit in my 20s?
WOULD I HAVE SLEPT MORE, MAYBE?
I don’t know. Possibly.
All I know is that I’m not scared of my brain as much as I used to be.
I have a road map.
There are signs to recognize.
And there is so much more to understand about my disorder, my own brain, and what this means for my future as a creative professional.
As I do with everything in my life, I will be sharing this journey as it makes sense for me. I’m not sure what that will look like just yet, but if you follow me on Twitter or Instagram, I imagine I’ll be sharing more frequently on there and when it makes sense, share longer posts on here.
I also have to reflect and come to terms with what this means for my professional past and future, so if you’re at all interested, that post will be over on my Substack.
One thing is for sure: I have felt so fucking lonely and lost in my mind for 30 years, and if I can help one person feel a little less alone in their journey by sharing mine, it will be worth it.
As with everything in my life, there will probably be memes and jokes, and I am always open to talk about it. But it is a heavy lift for my emotional state, so if you ever reach out to me and I don’t respond right away, give me space and time to get back to you.
I will leave you with this one distinction: When it comes to the language around bipolar disorder, there is no consensus around whether or not you should say someone is bipolar or has bipolar disorder.
My personal preference is that I have or suffer from bipolar disorder.
It had been eleven years since the last time I stepped foot in Turkey.
Somewhere along the way, I decided that I wasn’t worthy of returning home.
Part of me felt that I wasn’t worthy of seeing my family until I could prove that my work and life have value.
Until I could make them proud.
Because I’ve taken an unconventional approach to my life and my career, I had some missteps.
I failed a lot, but at some point, I felt that I couldn’t explain away my failures until I had an undeniable amount of success.
But it turns out, all I needed to do was be a good person and show up.
Well, I had to show up and be vulnerable.
“Hello, have we met? This is who I am now.”
It’s scary to show up with your scars in a place where you feel whole and wholly misunderstood at the same time. It’s strange being home and feeling like a foreigner because you have an accent when you’re speaking your native tongue.
But it felt right. I knew in those moments, no matter how difficult it may have felt, there would be nothing that kept me from going home once a year.
I’ve been working on defining my values. If I’m honest, it’s been for the past year, ever since I got on a plane to leave Istanbul. On the flight back, I had a plan. I would split my time between my chosen home (Seattle) and explore my roots, but then 2020 happened.
Not only did we get hit with a pandemic, but my company got acquired, which meant that I could no longer work remotely from a different country.
I was lucky to have a job.
It would be irresponsible of me to quit while my friends were getting laid off and struggling to make ends meet.
But we were in the middle of a pandemic, and I kept yearning to be in a place where I belonged.
A place where the simple act of walking down the street would surround me with the sights and sounds of home, even with a mask on.
I felt stuck.
I screamed. I held on. I lashed out. I felt burnt out on life (and work).
I discussed it over and over with my therapist.
The decision was clear.
I put in my request for a leave of absence.
I discussed it over with my brother.
I tossed and turned.
I planned for worst-case scenarios.
The decision is made: I’m going home, and not just for two weeks this time.
I’ll be home for two months, even if that means sitting in my aunt’s apartment because we’re in the middle of a global pandemic.
Even if it scares me because the last time I made a life decision this major was when I packed my car and moved to Seattle.
Even if I’m going to miss the hell out of my cat and the people in my COVID bubble in Seattle.
Even if it means that this will be the first time in 8 years I won’t be spending the holidays in my chosen home.
I was supposed to be in Seattle for Thanksgiving. I wanted to be in Seattle the day after I called off my engagement. But instead, I lived in the same apartment with my ex for 10 months after breaking things off because I was financially unable to leave. The situation kept getting toxic but I did my best to make every day livable as I kept making my plans to move cross country. To the outside world, we were just taking a break from wedding planning while I navigated my new career path as a freelancer, but in reality, I needed to save money. I needed to somehow get a new car. I needed to secure some freelance contracts. I needed to stay awake so that I wouldn’t be startled out of sleep when he slammed the front door when he walked in drunk in the middle of the night. I needed to keep it together for the days he broke down in tears, begging me to stay and make it work while flipping the switch 5 minutes later to call me an ungrateful bitch who just used him for money. I needed to remember to lock the bedroom door so he wouldn’t try to crawl into bed with me while I was sleeping. I needed to survive one more day. One more day. Until I could finally leave.
Then the day came and I finally got in my car and began the drive to Seattle. It took me 3.5 days in December to go from DC to Seattle. Every time I stopped the car long enough to nap, I worried that I would wake up back in that bed in DC. I made it to Seattle but I couldn’t cut ties with him. He called and texted every day, using the excuse that he was taking care of my cat. He promised he would give her back to me once I got settled. He screamed at me. He cried and told me he didn’t know how he could survive. He continued to hack into my emails. He catfished my friends, who all turned their backs on me, leaving me completely alone in a new city. He stalked me. He threatened me. He never gave my cat back. He told lies to his family about me, who ignored my pleas to take care of him because he wasn’t OK. He put my life in danger from 3000 miles away.
I kept moving forward, trying to make a life for myself in this new city. I came within 48 hours of being evicted from my apartment. I lashed out at my family. I found myself at the bottom of the bottle whenever I could afford it while writing for content mills for a penny a word to keep my head above water. I changed my password a million times. I slept with a knife under my pillow when I did sleep.
I never told anyone what I was dealing with every day.
I got a job. I got more clients. I met people who relentlessly pushed through my walls to make me feel safe even when they didn’t know just how much scar tissue had been building up for years.
I moved, two steps forward three steps back. Or is it the other way around? I can’t tell most days.
I survived. Somehow. Barely.
I made it one year. Two years. Created new traditions. Constantly ran away from Seattle because I didn’t think I could call it home. Setting down real roots in this place meant that they would probably get ripped out.
But slowly, I found my people. I found a glimmer of light in myself. I pushed. I slept sometimes. I grew a lot (I think). I gave my heart to others. I gave all the pieces of myself to the universe. The pieces came back jagged, cutting into my scars, yet I keep moving forward somehow.
But here’s the thing.
All I want to do most days is scream.
I still have vivid nightmares where I wake up and I’m back in my bed in DC, stuck in a loop, feeling a prisoner in my own life.
So I don’t sleep.
Heartbreak after heartbreak, resentment has been building up and I don’t know how to release it other than to push people away because I want to just scream at them for not just getting all of who I am right away when I don’t even know who I am today.
Who am I now that I’ve realized I can stop running, that I can forgive and begin to heal?
Who do I deserve?
What do I deserve?
What kind of love will accept me not just with my scars but with the uncertainties of who I will continue to evolve into?
I say that it feels like I’ve lived lifetimes since I moved to Seattle but the truth is that I relive the events that led to the move and the following few years where trauma after trauma hit me on a constant loop. I say that I’ve grown and healed and while that may be partially true, the fact is I am still holding on to who I was then as a way to keep people away.
I don’t know how to share who I am today without the postscripts and the post-postscripts and the context and the prologues and and and
Happy anniversary, Seattle.
It’s been 7 years.
Maybe next year the healing will be a little less messy.
I guess that means I need to actually begin to forgive myself for wanting to move on.
So, there’s this funny thing that happens when you’ve spent 20 years talking to people on the internet, sharing both your personal and professional journey.
You wake up one morning, 34-years-old, with the realization that a majority of the people who have “met” you over the past 5 years only know you in your professional capacity, while you have your high school friends, your blogger friends, and then your girlfriends who aren’t bloggers but still like reading your writing (you assume).
What follows is a bit of an identity crisis.
I had this little crisis a few years ago when I was meeting a lot of people at conferences and even attempted to “segment” my posts on Facebook for the different audiences I had.
Needless to say, that fell apart pretty quickly.
Then there’s the whole thing where I decided to build a business on my own strengths, without separating the business from who I am, and so my Twitter & Instagram feeds have become a mix of both personal observations and professional insights. Oh, and then I decided to go in house at an agency after being a freelance consultant for a decade, so that’s been a fun transition.
While all of this has been happening over the course of the past few years, I’ve also lost ownership of my own narrative. The most basic truth about human nature is that we all only share parts of our stories to certain audiences. We package up our life to serve the anticipated expectations of the people we encounter. Before the internet, this was limited to our families, our friends, and coworkers that were physically present in our daily lives.
With the growth of our perceived audience, the anticipated expectations of people have grown exponentially.
For me, the consequence of that was being so afraid to share my narrative to my segmented audiences that I just stopped sharing, not only with the world but with myself.
I lost touch with my own healing process—I stopped writing.
I began censoring myself.
I tried to fit the mold of so-called “best practices” not only in my professional journey but my personal life too.
My depression and anxiety began taking over my inner monologue, making it even more difficult to express myself to the outside world.
I became lost in a sea of expectations, seeking validation from people who don’t even know how to accept themselves.
I began to shrink.
Then I had an epiphany.
The most radical act of self-care is reclaiming the narrative.
So, I’d like to take a moment to introduce myself and tell you a little bit about who I am today.
I’m Berrak Sarikaya, a 34-year-old April Fool Baby who is Aries AF, and feels no shame about it. According to the Enneagram Institute, I am Type 2: The Helper.
I am an immigrant and proud of it.
I’m multipassionate, and no, I do not want to monetize every single hobby that I have because I want to just enjoy things without feeling judged.
Hello. Hi. Do you have a hobby you’re passionate about?
Being multipassionate also means that if you’re following me on social media, you will see me go from geeking out about the latest Doctor Who episode to talking about politics (both in the US and Turkey) to sharing memes to sharing marketing tips to amplifying job postings to connect people to…whatever it is that’s on my mind that day.
Life is too short and I am too busy living to have a curated persona for your benefit.
I’m a writer, first and foremost, but I’ve also worked my ass off over the past decade to curate a career that combines a few of my different passions.
While I am growing as an integrated marketing strategist, I’ve also got a soft spot in my heart for small businesses, content marketing, and freelancers/solopreneurs.
I am not an expert in anything, but I do have a lot of experience.
I am curious as fuck, and I will ask questions. If you have the answers or an opinion, I want you to answer those questions.
In case you haven’t noticed, I am expressive. I am easily excitable.
I take big leaps. I am more scared of being successful than failing. I make mistakes. Lots of them. I let people down.
I make snap judgments. I let my insecurities take control.
I wear my soul and scars out in the open.
I am thirsty for knowledge. I am overwhelmed.
I am a survivor.
I am evolving.
So, welcome to my life. If you’d like to be a part of it daily, here’s a little cheat sheet to connect with me.
Twitter (@BerrakBiz): This is my favorite platform. You can engage with me daily on here for random thoughts, industry insights, cat pictures, random observations about Seattle life, and generally geeking out.
Substack: This is a brand new endeavor and where you can find more of my writing.
Instagram (@BerrakBiz) (personal): This is where my biggest identity crisis is happening and things are shifting. I wanted it to be a curated experience as a small biz owner, but I’m shifting back to it just being me. I use the stories a lot, and I’ve begun posting a little bit more to just share daily thoughts, books I’m reading, etc.
Instagram (@BerrakLava) (food & fitness): This is where you’ll find posts about my fitness journey, foods I’m loving at local restaurants, and new recipes I’m trying as I reconnect with my roots.
LinkedIn: This is where I’m professional AF. Obviously. I’m pretty selective about who I connect with on here but if you want to connect, be sure to send me a note with your request.
Now, I’d love to meet you. Tell me something you discovered yourself in the past year.
Remember: You can subscribe to get email updates until I’ve got my biweekly newsletter up & running!
Growing up in Turkey, I was used to running around all the time. Our days in elementary school were long because we had recess between every single class. So I would spend half the day in the schoolyard in my dress uniform, running around behind a soccer ball, heckling most of the boys in my class. Fun fact: My biggest expense as a kid was tights because of how many I tore through running around during recess.
When we moved to the U.S., I spent my weekends playing soccer, baseball, and tennis with my cousins. In middle school, I hated running in track & field but in high school, I tried out for the volleyball team every year. I was never the most athletic kid but damn if I didn’t try so hard to be part of a team. I loved playing volleyball but just could not get over my own insecurity issues to ever make the cut. Of course, this being high school, I threw myself into kickboxing in gym class and threw food right out the window. My body images issues have been around for as long as I can remember and I’ve already written about that.
When I finally moved out of my parents’ house and in with a house full of roommates when I was 24-years-old, I threw myself back into working out. I would come home from happy hour to do the 30 Day Shred in my tiny room as my roommates slept.
I was feeling strong and about to dive into P90X when I got in my first major car accident. My car was totaled, the whiplash was awful, and I never got treated for the injuries. My shoulder spasm issues were already under way when this happened so I just gave up. I slowly started to gain weight and stopped taking care of my body.
I never really found a way to make peace with my body to the point of trying to become active again. My ex was a runner, so when we first started dating, he pushed me to go jogging with him once. It did not go well. The first time we went hiking was encouraging but then we took on a more challenging mountain and well, we made it to the top but I didn’t feel like my best self.
That was the last time.
Fast forward to January 2018. One of my best friends had started to do barre and she gifted me a 5-class pass. “You can go at your own pace,” she told me. The first class was absolute torture but something in me finally clicked. We started our Saturday mornings sweating at barre class and little by little, it became sort of easier.
Then I got into another car accident. This one was brutal. Thankfully, I had health insurance so I finally went to see a chiropractor. The first thing he said to me was that I had a “10 year old car accident on my spine.”
Needless to say, the adjustments were NOT easy. I went back to barre class about a month later and it was so fucking painful but I didn’t back down.
Yet, there was still something missing. Barre was great but I knew I needed to also get back into cardio work. I didn’t want to go to the gym, and I didn’t want a personal trainer. The last time I had done a spin class was a disaster. A few of my friends had seen success at Orangetheory Fitness. They encouraged me to try a class but I was terrified.
“I’ll go when I’m a little stronger,” I kept telling myself. I kept delaying, and delaying, and delaying…until I finally made the commitment. I texted my friends.
“I’M GOING TO MY FIRST ORANGETHEORY CLASS NEXT WEDNESDAY.”
On November 7, 2018, I walked into my first OTF class. Everyone was super nice, and my coach showed me the ropes. They told me I didn’t have to run and I could do the tread blocks as a power walker.
The biggest selling point of OTF for me was that it’s a guided workout, but everyone goes at their own pace. You don’t have to worry about anyone but yourself. Except my first class was a partner workout. They begin every first-timer on the rower, so the person who was at the same number station on the treadmill was my partner. As the rower, I was the one keeping pace for our switches.
Y’all. It was the most intimidating situation and I was worried about holding my partner back. I was in pain. I was out of breath. I was cramping up. I wanted to drop the handles and run out—and never look back.
Except I didn’t. I have no idea how but I pushed through the class.
Then I signed up for another one.
My next class was a different format and a little “easier” in the sense that it was not a partner workout and I was able to get in the groove a little more comfortably. It was also a different coach, so I got a more well-rounded perspective about OTF in general.
And I kept coming back. I went from going 2X/week to 4-5X/week depending on how I’m feeling.
Here’s what I’ve accomplished in the 5 months since that first class:
2,000 meter row benchmark. Twice. Beating my own personal record the second time
Numerous personal records when it comes to the weight floor
My first 90 minute class
I stopped caring about the scale. When I began going to OTF, the number on the scale was the highest it’s ever been my entire life, but I made a choice not to focus on that number. I am focusing on how I feel, how my clothes fit me, and the fact that I keep showing the fuck up.
So, what is it about Orangetheory that helped me find my groove?
For those 60 minutes, it is only about that workout. Whatever’s going on in my life and the world that day, I leave it at the door as soon as I step into that studio. My phone is left behind.
The coaches are fantastic. They’re hands off because they have an entire class to pay attention to but they don’t let me slack either. They encourage me to keep pushing, just a tiny bit every time.
I don’t have to worry about making any decisions except for which station I will begin on, and how will I push myself for the next 60 minutes. I have decision fatigue during my everyday life, so not having to think about which workout I should be doing, or how long I should be on the rower, or which core exercise I should be doing…it is a literal sigh of relief.
If I don’t give my all in one class because I’m having an off day, it’s completely fine. That is ONE class. I still showed up. I still did the work, and I will be right back in the studio the next day.
I have never felt stronger. I am still not a runner but that’s OK. The tread and rower workouts are fine but when a coach comments on my form on the weight floor, that means the world to me.
My left shoulder is still incredibly weak and I still suffer from muscle spasms. Yet, every time I go into class feeling “off” and planning on hitting the lighter weights on the floor, my body surprises me.
Orangetheory taught me that after decades of feeling at odds with my body, it is possible to make peace.
It’s possible to slowly gain confidence and strength.
It’s possible to listen to my body, understand its limits, and then push past that comfort zone.
I can’t wait to see what I can do next.
If you want to follow along with my OTF journey, I post all of my updates over at @BerrakLava on Instagram.