You Can Go Home Again

Eleven years.

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.

It’s difficult overcoming the Nostalgia Conundrum.

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 budgeted. 

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.

Because I’m worthy and I belong at home. 

I keep a record of the wreckage of my life

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.

Allow Me to Reintroduce Myself

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.

Full disclosure: I do however have an Etsy shop

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 (BerrakWrites) (Writing): This is where I’m working on focusing only on sharing my writing and writing process as I work on my first book. 
  • 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!

How I Found My Groove in the Orange Zone

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
  • My first DriTri
  • 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.

“My heart it is racing, but afraid I am not”

“I’m going through a rough patch,” I told one of my best friends last night as we sipped our nightcaps after a great meal and a show at one of our favorite venues.

She looked at me straight in the eyes and said “a rough patch where you have a roof over your head, a job you love, and pretty solid life. You’ve been through worse.”

She’s right, of course. I have been. In fact, earlier that night, I had given her a highlight reel of one of the toughest periods of my life. I met her right at the tail end of it, when I was still healing and wasn’t really talking about the details.

There’s so much of my story I haven’t shared with even my closest confidantes because I met them after I had come out of the fire. It’s never about “hiding” my past but choosing to only share the details as they become relevant to today.

And sometimes, honestly, because I’m so open with them, I just assume that I’ve already told them everything, even though I’ve lived lifetimes before our paths even crossed.

So this is 34. It’s no longer about just moving forward and just surviving and thriving in small, present moments but owning my full story.

It’s going back to my roots of sharing my pain, my flaws, my weaknesses, and the lessons I’ve learned, not only to begin healing but to help others understand my story.

This is 34.

It’s owning my anxiety and my bad days and being honest about how much I’m struggling.

It’s reminding myself that I am allowed to cry it the fuck out when my heart is broken into pieces.

This is 34.

It’s being selective with how I choose to spend my limited energy, and not feeling guilty about leaving people behind when they’re no longer a good fit for who I am becoming.

It’s about not only growing out of my own comfort zone, and remembering that I will grow out of other people’s comfort zones. It’s knowing that I do not have to apologize for either.

This is 34.

It’s being able to stop saying “I’m too much” and instead, pivoting to proudly owning my personality without feeling the need to shrink to fit into anyone’s expectations.

It’s loving things and people passionately and enthusiastically without justifying my feelings.

Oh, and I guess it’s safe to say that this space is going to get a little busy again.

I’ve missed writing. I’ve missed sharing. I’ve missed my community.

So, if you’re new or if you’ve been around for a while, I hope you’ll stick around.

Because this is 34, and y’all, I have a lifetime’s worth of stories to share.

“The moon stays bright when it doesn’t avoid the light”

When I set out to clean my apartment this morning, I never imagined the kinds of breakthroughs I would have while picking crud out of my dishwasher filter with a toothpick. It wasn’t until I was on my stomach, cleaning the dust filter underneath my fridge that everything clicked together.

I know, what a visual, right?

2018 has been rough for me but if I’m being honest, I’ve been struggling for about a year now. There have been ups and downs, yes, but mostly, it’s been this weird limbo. I’ve felt like I’ve been walking around with that feeling of needing to pop my ears but never being able to, no matter how hard I blew my nose.

I’ve been stuck emotionally. Mentally. Professionally.

I’ve been stuck in a walk-in freezer, unable to push the handle while the words I need have been haunting me through the frosted window.

<Insert endless metaphors about feeling stuck and depressed here.>

A few weeks ago, I had another candid heart-to-heart with one of my best friends. Right before my 30th birthday, she had asked me if I was freaking out and at the time I wasn’t. My 30th came and went with the regular amount of fanfare and not too much freaking out. I was happy.

“I think my 30th freak out is hitting me now, 3 years later,” I confessed while crying into a glass of red wine. That night, I went home and sat down to write.  Read more “The moon stays bright when it doesn’t avoid the light”

My Very Grown-Up Birthday Wish List

On the eve of my 33rd birthday, I’ve been thinking a lot about presents, experiences, and the people in my life. One of my biggest goals over the past few years has been to focus on spending quality time with people in my life and creating memories. Flowers and chocolates will come and go but the laughter and tears you shared over a bottle (or three) of wine live on forever.

So, when it comes to birthdays and birthday presents, my only wish has been about experiences with friends. I have the annual Vegas trip with my girlfriends. In Seattle, I do my best to have dinner & a fun night where my friends can embarrass me (last year, it was a dueling piano bar). When it comes to things, the beauty of being an adult is being able to actually purchase what I want on my own terms. Don’t get me wrong – I appreciate thoughtful personalized presents from friends that touch on inside jokes or my quirky obsessions that make me who I am.

This year, though, as I began thinking about my birthday, I realized that my wish list is very…grown-up. As I come to terms with that, and in my attempt to actually start writing more often, I figured it would make a good blog. Read more My Very Grown-Up Birthday Wish List

“You Can’t Drink Water?” and Other Questions about Ramadan

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? Read more “You Can’t Drink Water?” and Other Questions about Ramadan

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?

How the Women’s March on Washington Revealed My Uncomfortable Truths

On January 21, 2017, I had the honor of joining 130,000 human beings and fellow Seattle citizens to march down the streets of our city for the Women’s March on Washington. We were 130,000 out of millions around the globe. It was my first time participating in a movement like this. It took me out of my comfort zone. Crowds give me anxiety, but I had close friends I trusted, and I didn’t even hesitate.

It was empowering, but it was also a reminder of how much of a bubble I’ve put myself in over the past few years. It’s not that I’ve been silent about injustices, but I thought the only difference I could make were with my words. I’m a writer. I’m an amplifier. I thought my power was limited to speaking out with the written word, but to be honest, I haven’t even done that as much.

The Women’s March on Washington, the conversations leading up to it, and the discussions that will continue to happen reminded me that as a Muslim immigrant woman who’s survived sexual assault and harassment, I’m still more privileged than most.

To make a difference, I need to come to terms with my uncomfortable truths.

Yes, I’m a Muslim immigrant woman from Turkey, but you wouldn’t know that from looking at me. I’m not olive skinned. I have an accent, but I’ve been here long enough that it sounds more like an east coast accent than a foreign accent – unless I’ve been drinking or I’m fatigued. I’m Muslim, but I don’t “look” Muslim (which is a whole different conversation).

Yes, I’ve been sexually assaulted and stalked, even worried about my life being in danger at one point, but I’m a survivor. It’s not something I carry with me – or at least I try not to. I was able to leave the situations that made me feel unsafe. I’ve created a safe environment for myself. I had the opportunity, as painful as it was, to remove myself from a dangerous environment. I’m lucky. There are millions of women (and men) right here in the U.S. who are physically abused daily.

My relationship with racism and marginalization is complicated.

21 years ago, when my family and I moved to the U.S., I remember being confused about racism. I studied about slavery in school. I knew about the civil rights movement, which is why I couldn’t understand how racism could still exist. It’s not that I didn’t believe it did – I had trouble wrapping my head around anyone thinking another human being is beneath them on a fundamental level. When I studied about the Holocaust in 8th grade, that same confusion led me to become intensely interested in learning more about the Holocaust. I read book after book about how Hitler came to power, trying to understand how a person could be filled with so much hate. In high school, I became obsessed with forensic profiling and trying to understand serial killers (think Criminal Minds, the high school edition).

But I didn’t continue in my due diligence. I was going to study psychology, and go to law school. Instead, I continued my journey by embracing the power of words as a writer.

I still don’t understand how there is so much hatred in the world tied to religion and skin color. I don’t understand how someone could claim to be a superior race when we’re all part of the human race. When I say that, I don’t mean it as a naive statement or ignorance. It’s just disbelief, in the same vain as the signs I saw this weekend reading ‘I can’t believe we still have to protest this crap.’

There are LGBT issues. There are transgender rights and equality issues.

I know that’s the tip of the iceberg.

My personal acceptance of everyone’s equality as human beings despite their religion, race, sexuality, and gender doesn’t make me immune to ignorance.

My truth is that I’m thirsty for knowledge, but at the same time, I feel like I’m drowning.

I’ve been overwhelmed with news about what’s happening back home in Turkey. I’ve been overwhelmed with seeing shooting after shooting in our home. I’ve been overwhelmed with seeing story after story of black men and women being brutally attacked. I’ve been overwhelmed with police aggression. I’ve been overwhelmed with homophobia, Islamaphobia, and the helplessness of not being able to help the LGBT and transgender individuals feeling helpless because the “It Gets Better” mantra seems far from the truth. I’ve been overwhelmed…

…from the safety my apartment, surrounded by loved ones and the comfort zone I’ve been able to build for myself.

Yes, my power still lies in words, but I also need to arm myself with the knowledge to make those words even more powerful.

In the last 24 hours, I learned that:

So, what’s next?

How do I control the firehose of knowledge to educate myself on issues that are out of my comfort zone?

One sip at a time.

I pledge to dive deeper into the history of the civil rights movement, the men and women who were not in our history books, and those who are fighting to make a difference today.

I pledge to put one foot in front of the other at more events – yes, the #BlackLivesMatter and #TransLivesMatter marches too.

I pledge to speak out louder at injustices online and offline.

I pledge to continue to do my due diligence when it comes to facts and never spread false information. If I see false information being spread, I pledge to continue to speak out with the facts and resources.

I pledge to be cognizant of my privilege and check it at the door when entering discussions.

I pledge to recognize my shortcomings and arm myself with knowledge.

I pledge to ask questions.

This is where you come in. If I come to you to understand your history and your battles better, I hope that you won’t be flustered with my questions. I don’t mean to be ignorant – but no matter what I read in books, I will never fully understand what it means to be in your shoes. But I will try, and your answers will help me understand.

The truth is that what I do will never feel like it’s enough, but I also know I need to do more.

Yesterday’s march was a first for me, and it won’t be the last.