The 19th Year.

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Looking back on it all, it was all worth it in the end.

As I write this, September 12th, 2017, it is the day before my 19th year begins.

It’s truly been a whirlwind of a year, though to be completely honest, it feels as though my life has been a whirlwind for the past three or four years. But in the last 12 months I’ve started and completed my first year of college, traveled outside the country for the first time, completed work on the documentary about my story, gotten my first tattoo, made friends I’m certain will last a lifetime, began seriously discussing a possible book with publishers, adopted my first dog, and so many other things that I couldn’t possibly list them all here.

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To make a long story short, this year has been one that felt remarkably filled with “firsts” and excitement. Perhaps more importantly, it fills me with joy to look back on the year and truly consider it to be another piece of proof that life only gets better as it goes on. I sometimes wish I could travel back in time and shake freshman Maris awake, tell her how wonderful and exciting life will get.

Back then, only four or so years ago,  I thought my life was over. I was depressed, my anxiety was worse than ever, my body was shutting down as a result of my eating disorder. I was trapped in a hospital bed that felt more like a grave than anything else, and at the time nothing but a time-traveling Maris could have convinced me that my life was only just about to begin.

But in the years to come so much magic would happen that I’d come to see just how wrong I had been lying in that hospital bed. I’d find yoga, go through a transformative teacher training, and graduate high school happier than I ever thought was possible. I’d find my best friend in the whole wide world, move away from home for the first time, and begin working on a documentary that gave me a sense of purpose and urgency to help others that I’d never experienced before. Life just kept feeling better and better, and this year felt even better than the rest.

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Perhaps the most transformative part of this year was moving to Santa Cruz for school. It was here that I’d fall in love with the forests and the ocean, meet some of my dearest friends, and explore what it was like to forge my own identity in a place that didn’t already know my story.

When I spent years terrified of college, I never pictured what was waiting for me in Santa Cruz: mornings watching the sunrise in the ocean mist and over the redwood trees, afternoons spent searching for banana slugs in the mud, and nights stargazing from a golden field. I didn’t know college could feel so magical and sacred, didn’t know that “college” didn’t have to mean being locked up in brick buildings away from nature and the magic I’d found in the Just Be community back home. The words I spoke at my graduation just a few months before manifested themselves before my eyes during that first year:

“At one time or another, we have all felt out of place. We have all felt lost, confused, and misdirected. We have all felt like we have nowhere to go.

But today, we have seen that it is up to us to create a space where we belong. It is not something to be discovered, it is something to be created. Something we can only construct once we shed ourselves of the fear that there is no one and no place to accept us. 

As we get ready to go off into the world for the first time, we aren’t doing it to find anything that isn’t already inside of us. Our home is a tent that can be laid wherever we so choose. Our home isn’t made of bricks and cement- it’s made of whatever it is that we decide is important to us. Our home is unique to who we are and the life that speaks to our soul.”

But the magic of this past year wasn’t contained to school. The summer after- the summer I’m remarkably still living in- was filled with nothing short of adventure. The mantra of this season was as fiery as the record-breaking heat that came with it: Fuck fear. I literally shouted out this mantra as I zip-lined above a rainforest, whispered it to myself as I repelled down a waterfall, and swallowed it in airless gasps while I flew down the highest waterfall in Mexico.

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One evening in Mexico, I sat in a little boat just off the coast of Puerto Vallarta next to tiny islands covered in trees and blue-footed booby birds. The engine of the boat cut out into the silence of the twilight, and all was calm. The guide in our boat told us that right below us was a school of fish, and if anyone had a swimsuit on and wanted to borrow some goggles, we were welcome to go check them out. No one moved for a moment, tired from a long day of tourism and dressed in street clothes. But in a totally out-of-character move, I grabbed the goggles and leapt into the warm summer ocean, clothes and all.

When I opened my eyes and saw the glimmering school of fish, bobbing for the bits of banana being thrown from the boat, I couldn’t believe how different my life had become. I was no longer Maris, the girl terrified of everything and a perfectionist to a fault. I was Maris, an adventurer, an explorer, and maybe even a thrill-seeker.

This year has been filled with the spirit of that self-discovery. I’ve embraced the wildness of Yosemite, the adventure of Mexico, and the richness of it all that I carry now in my heart.

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Looking back on it all, I’m grateful for every last bit of it, but have a special place in my heart for the article that started it all almost exactly two years ago on CNN Health. The article that showed me the power in sharing my truth, and inspired me to stay strong on my recovery journey. As I reread the article on the anniversary of its publication, one word in the title struck me with its enormity for the first time: overcome.

I’ve decided to embrace this word as the guiding force for my 19th year. I will continue to overcome my fears, overcome my self-limiting beliefs, and overcome the trials and tribulations that life has thrown my way. Overcoming has become a part of my fibers and a part of who I am, and it’s a skill I’ve come to appreciate exercising in my life time and time again.

This 19th year, I shall overcome. And so it is.

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