Author: JoAnna

It’s Ok to Not Feel Ok

I called my dad this week, to check in. I told him that I feel like I’m floating, a haze all around me, as I grapple with big questions. What does it mean to be happy or successful? What target am I aiming for? Why do I feel like something is missing?  “My late twenties have felt especially existential,” I said.  He sighed, and I thought he would laugh at the melodrama. I expected him to dismiss me, to remind me of how young I am like so many others have, or to tell me to count my blessings. Instead, he said, “Ah yes. I can see why you’d be asking yourself those things.”  That simple acknowledgement filled me with relief.  Often when I confide in people about feeling anxious, blue, or lost, their instinct is to eradicate these emotions: they try to help me look on the bright side, or they bring logic into the picture, to show me how much these feelings don’t match up to reality. These responses come with the best …

Tattoos and (Im)permanence

I resisted getting a tattoo for a long time, because I felt the pressure to design something profound with long-lasting, regret-proof significance. But now, just a couple weeks after getting inked, I’ve grown to recognize that “meaning” is multifaceted, dynamic, and ever-changing.    To me, the design I chose (two koi, yin and yang) embodies the duality that exists in nearly all things, including myself. They also symbolize the potential for balance within all conflict. I find calm in this concept: when I feel anxious, I look at this image, and it tells me to breathe and surrender to the flow of life. Truth be told, I landed on this design just a day before the needle breached my skin. I was in Maui. While my boyfriend had intended on getting a tattoo on our Hawai’i vacation, penciling it into our itinerary weeks in advance, I didn’t think I’d get one, too. I assumed that when the time came, I’d chicken out. I’m not the type of person to get my first tattoo on vacation from …

Art as Meditation

I live in a near constant state of restlessness. Always occupied with something, anything, but unable to focus on any one activity for too long. Only a few idle seconds pass by before I’m on my phone, tumbling down a social media rabbit hole. Some nights, I find myself scrolling until the wee hours, soaking my face in blue light until I pass out from screen exhaustion, because lying there in the still, quiet darkness is too unnerving. I used to look forward to that sweet spot between lights out and slumber, time that I once used for ideating, daydreaming. These days, I feel overpowered by my own mind, as it relives past trauma or rehearses future devastation, refusing to anchor in the present moment.  The other week, I drew for the first time in months. I felt called to it that day, almost like a craving: an instinct deep in my gut told me that an art session would make me feel better. “Better” as in calm, relaxed, and present. I could best describe my mood …

Reframing My To-Do List

I have a love/hate relationship with to-do lists. On the one hand, the structure they lend to my day can ease the mind. As unsexy as it sounds, I gravitate towards predictability and stability. To-do lists offer a roadmap, a track to follow. On the other hand, seeing all my tasks stretch down the page, screaming at me to DO MORE, MOVE FASTER – well, that fills me with dread and anxiety, too. There’s a point where the checkboxes make me feel controlled instead of in control, and I grow resentful. Even something like purchasing a birthday gift for a loved one can start to feel like just another thing I have to do.   Lately, I’ve been trying to make a conscious effort to shift my focus towards the things that I do have control over, as opposed to agonizing over the things beyond my reach. While I don’t always get to decide which tasks sit on my plate, or how much I must accomplish in a day, I can (for the most part) choose my attitude. I don’t want to look around …

On Vulnerability

If you couldn’t already tell (*gestures around at the blog*), I’m not a particularly private person. I’ve written about my insecurities, my identity crises, my heartbreaks, and much more on the internet. These most raw pieces of myself are out there, for everyone and anyone to consume and judge as they please. My habit of oversharing crosses into my personal life, too. Friends and family have gotten used to seeing the darkest corners of my inner life, the basements and closets that most people keep locked shut. I call it a habit, because it’s not always conscious or intentional. It’s like the filter that should sit at the base of my throat, separating private from public, is missing. Despite my candor, I still feel exposed when I share my most sensitive thoughts and feelings with someone else. I still feel that fear that I’ve said too much, that I’ve burdened others with my emotions, that I’ve revealed an ugliness that’ll make me less likable or lovable. (This is what research professor Brené Brown calls a …

How to Put Self-Love into Practice

Recently, I had a conversation with my boyfriend about fitness goals.   “Who would you consider body goals?” he asked me.   A hot defensiveness rushed through me, and I launched into a tirade about how I’m trying to refrain from comparing myself to other women (which I still stand by), and how this entire conversation was incredibly triggering for someone like me, who has struggled with body image since childhood, and how he should know that by now, after all the conversations we’ve had about my insecurities.   “Every time beauty or fitness comes up, you get upset,” he said. “I understand you have these insecurities. The question is, what are we going to do about it? How can we move forward?”  At first, I felt shut down. Yet again, I’m too sensitive, too emotional—these feelings are too much of a burden for someone to deal with. But his questions marinated in my mind for several days after that. I’ve already done a ton of self-reflection over the years to understand why I am the way I am. I’ve identified the peer and …

Stereotypical Characters Don’t Make Me Feel Represented

I visited my parents’ house recently, where my teenaged bedroom is still, for the most part, intact. The Green Day and Fall Out Boy posters no longer stretch across the walls, but the bookcase is filled with my favorites from middle school and high school. I devoured young adult books by authors like Sarah Dessen and Meg Cabot throughout my adolescence. I connected to the coming-of-age stories about girls like me, struggling to figure out who they are and where they fit in. Before I discovered these treasures, I didn’t care for reading that much. Now, I can’t imagine not having a love for books.   As I reminisced, thumbing through the book spines, I noticed how virtually all these books were written by white women about white women, entangled in heterosexual romances with white men, in middle class suburbia. I pulled out the few books that featured characters of color (usually love interests or sidekicks) and flipped through the pages. Rereading passages, it was obvious to me that these characters were written from a white perspective, too. One in …

Learning to Love My Own Company in Lockdown

While it may sound strange, I feel far less lonely now than I did before the pandemic.  Over the past year, I’ve felt conflicted about acknowledging silver linings—as if doing so dismisses the horror of it all. But the truth is, amongst the profound grief and anxiety and despair, I’ve discovered pockets of positivity for myself. Little joys and meaningful growth. I’ve made some changes to my priorities that I intend to keep alive, even when the world “opens up” again.   Pre-pandemic, I felt a pressure to pack my calendar, weekends filled with hikes, concerts, bar crawls, and brunches. Every time I went out, I documented the event on social media, to make it seem like I had an active and exciting social life. And yet, I always felt like I wasn’t doing enough or that I didn’t have enough friends—as if being perceived as interesting, adventurous, and popular mattered more than the reality of my life. (Frankly, I think being a loner in my adolescence fueled my need to redeem myself online as an adult. Sounds pathetic, but at …

Writing with Intention

Writing has felt especially difficult lately. The older I get and the more I learn about the world, the more responsibility I feel as a writer to use my skill for public good. Each time I sit down at my computer, I wonder, what’s the point of this? What am I contributing to society, by writing about my life? Why do I write, anyway? More often than not, I come out of these sessions with a whole lot of anxiety and a blank page. Turns out, the pressure to change the world within the margins of a Microsoft Word document is rather…daunting.  In his famous essay, “Why I Write,” George Orwell (known for Animal Farm and 1984—admittedly, books I still haven’t read) outlines what he believes to be the four primary motives for writing: sheer egoism, aesthetic enthusiasm, historical impulse, and political purpose. It is this final motive, political purpose, that I’m reckoning with, one which Orwell describes as follows:   “Desire to push the world in a certain direction, to alter other people’s idea of the …