One of the most valuable things I've learned over the course of my life is just how absolutely essential vulnerability is to being human. Even if we aren't cognizant of it, we're all always meeting ourselves at the edge of comfort. Some of us have learned to retreat away from those gates of feeling, others of us learn to press into them. Something Danielle reminded me of so beautifully is that it is worth it to lean in. Life can deliver hard-to-swallow medicine. We digest and take ownership of messages about who we are in the world and it can take a lot of hard work and raw honesty to find the real truths of who we are. Being open and vulnerable with ourselves, with others, and with the world can really give us the power to write new narratives. So much gratitude to Danielle for being so open and candid about her story.
I am Danielle. I am vulnerable. And I am… a future therapist, a musician, an eating disorder survivor, goofy, an oldest child in every textbook version there is, a know-it-all, insightful, open, funny, and a big-hearted caregiver.
"I have done enough work on myself that I allow myself to be vulnerable in almost every relationship I have. It’s taken a lot of work, but definitely preferable to being closed off. Closing yourself off might feel easier, but you miss out on so much. Some emotions aren’t easy, but worth exploring with everyone you get to know. Being vulnerable can even really benefit other people, they can really benefit from hearing what you have to say. I used to be really afraid of being open and shut myself off from honesty, and that led to a lot of anxiety. I still have some anxiety, but what really relieves it is throwing it out there and sitting in the mud with it. Discomfort isn’t the enemy. With practice, embracing vulnerability has been really worth it. It’s been a long road to get here, but I’m so glad I did the work.
From a very young age, I felt like I had to be a certain way. Nobody really told me this, but I felt like the way the world tells women to look was really the end all, be all. I learned from watching the people who are portrayed in pop culture that being really tall and really skinny was the most important way to be. Seeing the very narrow standards of beauty around me impacted me a lot. Looking back, my whole adolescence is a bit void of emotions other than sadness that I didn’t look a certain way. I missed out on a lot of really important experiences. I didn’t try new foods and avoided interacting socially because our whole world is centered around food. If I didn’t have control, I wouldn’t go. I always just wanted to be the best at everything I ever did. In a way, I was ridiculously self-involved. Even though I was really focused on feeling bad about myself, I didn’t stop for a moment to think about how what I was doing also impacted other people. I regret missing out on so much and also feel really grateful for it. I learned a lot from that time period. A lot of women struggle with body image and I get to move forward and educate other women about loving themselves.
I’ve never been one to advertise my past struggles with an eating disorder, but it’s so helpful that people are outwardly having conversations about it. It hasn’t been until now that I’ve even felt ready to talk about it publicly. I usually leave it out of the life story I share out loud. Even now, I don’t use the language that is typically used to describe it, but I’m always doing my best. And it came to a point where I had to ask myself, ‘are you going to be the kind of person who hides the tough shit or are you going to lean into the discomfort of the tough shit to get something more meaningful out of it?’ I’m really glad I’ve chosen to embrace being uncomfortable.
I don’t really doubt the process I’ve gone through in denying this part of my story mostly because I just wasn’t ready. Taking the time that it’s taken to go through the acceptance process helped me realize that time doesn’t necessarily heal everything. Some things require a little bit of extra work. That work can be really hard, but absolutely so worth it. One of the most important things I’ve realized is that it’s nobody’s fault, it’s a societal thing. Speaking about it is part of adding to the resources that I really wish were there when I was younger. Now there’s so much more, which is great. Like, lifting and prioritizing strength over how bodies look. It’s a goal for my body that’s different from looks. It’s about how I feel and being able to do things with my body that I wasn’t able to do before.
In terms of my identity, I think that any statement of my identity kind of feels weird. I’ve grown a lot in my life. Who I used to be is not really anything like who I am now. My personality can be really fluid, I just have learned how to be really flexible. It hard to use really defining words about myself because at any moment, I can change and be a little different than I was even yesterday. I’m okay with that. I like how my life is going right now. I’m definitely always open to change. Being me is fun. I work with kids and really identify with children in a lot of ways. I like to be carefree and have fun. I obviously value responsibilities, but I love having the balance of a lighthearted life, too. I can’t make it through the day with a lot of comic relief. I’m so happy with the person I am right now."
What does love and connection mean to you?
"A lot of things! Love is vulnerability. It’s all about communicating your feelings and expressing yourself how you need to. There’s also something really important about listening to the people you’re connected to and how they like to be loved. Not everyone speaks the same language. It means considering everyone’s feelings and asking real questions and being patient with people as they grow. The biggest thing is letting yourself go all in."
What would you tell your younger self?
"Honestly? Sit down, shut up, and get over yourself. Don’t sweat the small stuff. You’re going to get over that boy, you’re not going to look like this forever and that’s a good thing, your hair will grow back. Go learn more things about yourself. Believe it or not, you don’t know everything. Go and learn it for real. You’re not going to snap your fingers and have everything be better. It’s going to take time and be hard. It’s learning how to be okay with who you are and show who you are without caring too much about other people’s judgement."
See more of Danielle and all of the beautiful humans who have been part of this project so far over on the And I Am... Project Gallery!
If you'd like to be involved with the And I Am... Project, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org