“I’m one strong bitch. I’m 27, an Italian girl from the northeast, a social media guru, ‘single and not really tryin’ to mingle because I’m a strong independent woman who doesn’t have time to babysit no man.’ I’m shy, yet goofy, always hungry (for opportunity AND food), and a plant mom.”
Growing up with a big Italian family.
Back in the 1950s, my dad’s family moved to America and settled in Rhode Island, which is where I grew up. My mom’s side of the family is French Canadian and Italian, and my mom’s father also spent a lot of time in Italy. I grew up in the same neighborhood as many of my family members, so I was always very close to family. They taught me how to cook–from baking traditional Italian desserts to the art of homemade pasta–and food has since become a way for me to connect with people.
Cooking is important to my family because food brings us together. Even though I’m 3000 miles away from home now, I feel closer to home every time I cook for my friends the way my grandmother does for our big family gatherings. I’m still not as great as my grandmother is at making homemade pasta, though. She has these strong, weathered Italian hands that knead the dough so well. Even though I’m a physically strong woman, I don’t have the same touch of an Italian grandmother.
I remember one Christmas when I got a fancy camera. I wanted to film my grandmother making pasta and really learn the steps of how to do it properly. So I made this really cool video of my grandmother’s process, from starting with the dough and just folding eggs into flour and she uses her strong Italian hands to knead the dough. Something that I’m still not that good at even though I’m a strong person, I don’t have my grandmother’s strong Italian touch. But then I mean she brings the whole family together over a meal that everyone loves.
Everyone is so obsessed with her pasta and it’s just such a symbolic thing for my family because we all come together over this amazing pasta dish. Everyone’s fighting over the first scoop of pasta, everyone’s fighting over who gets the most cheese. It’s just fun and it’s a fun part of our family holiday celebrations.
Experiencing devastating heartbreak.
I had dated someone for almost a year and I thought he was perfect for me in so many ways. I felt like I could totally be myself around him and that I still had my sense of independence with him. I see so many women who end up clinging to their partner in relationships because they thrive off of attention but I still felt like I could be totally 100% Nicole around him. He was physically my ‘type’ and really sweet to me at the beginning, but then my mental health started derailing because I felt like he was pulling away, like we didn’t have the connection that we had when we first started dating. After almost a year, he ended up ghosting me out of nowhere. I had tried texting him and calling him and I never got a response. I figured it was because he was really busy in his new job; he was a Division One football coach, so he was working 16 hour days, six to seven days a week. I tried making excuses for him, but it still didn’t make up for breaking my heart.
I only wanted to support him and be there for him during this difficult time in his career, but he, I assume, was just overwhelmed with work and didn’t have time for a relationship anymore. Instead of giving me a proper break up, he just disappeared. I felt like he had died–not that I want to compare this to death, because that’s such a hard thing for people to go through–but it almost felt worse than death because I know he wasn’t dead; he was still out there living his life. He just chose not to include me in it, and it just completely killed my self-worth. It killed my confidence. I felt so unmotivated to get out of bed every morning. I felt unattractive. I felt like I had given so much of myself to someone but he didn’t want it, so I felt like I had nothing to offer to the world anymore. It was really difficult to go through all of that and have someone not want me to be part of their life anymore, and all at the same time I was literally starting a new job the next day.
It was incredibly difficult to learn to love myself again. For months, I would cry any time I was alone. I remember few times at work where I would sit in my car on my lunch break on a hot day in October and I would listen to Kesha’s Praying on repeat, sobbing alone hoping no one would come out and see me. It took a lot of strength to find the motivation to dig myself out of that dark depression.
The lessons I learned.
I’m still learning to love myself and trust people again, which has been a long, slow process. I learned that I can’t blame myself for someone else’s behavior. I think people do that a lot; we blame ourselves or look back and say, ‘What could I have done differently?’ What could I have said?’ or ‘How could I have I given more of myself in order to keep this person around?’
But this breakup had nothing to do with my behavior, it was all him. Learning to stop placing blame on myself was one of the biggest lessons that I learned. I kept clinging on to the positive things in our relationship, even though there were very few things that were actually positive and happy toward the end. But learning to let go of the positive moments and start focusing on how losing him was a good thing has helped free me from the depression holding me back from living my life again.
Healing with nature.
During my darkest times, I would just sit at home and never go outside. I wouldn’t do anything active, and I had to work hard to get myself out of bed and out in nature just to breathe some fresh air. I am very active and always in the gym so I knew I needed to challenge myself with something really tough that would make me feel like I had accomplished something big. On New Year’s Eve, instead of bringing in 2018 with champagne and a room full of strangers, I decided to hike Mt. Baldy, which is the highest peak in LA County. That hike is no joke. it’s around 13 miles and it’s at almost 11 thousand foot elevation.
Mt. Baldy will kick your ass, and it’s especially tough to do on your own because you really need the motivation to take every step forward. I wanted to do this strenuous hike–which lasted for 8 plus hours–and force myself to stop paying attention to social media and technology due to the lack of cell service. Being in nature helps me connect with myself, because all I have are my thoughts and the beautiful sounds of silence in nature.
When I summited that peak I felt proud of myself for the first time in a long time. For the first time in a while, I just felt happy for myself. It was very symbolic for me to summit this peak because If I could get through this difficult hike, I could get through anything else in life that scares me.
Self-care means taking time to get to know yourself. Self-care for me is taking care of my mind and body, especially through fitness. Throwing around some weight on a barbell in a gritty gym, sometimes surrounded by men who see how tough I am as a strong woman, helps me build my confidence and my strength, both mentally and physically. Weightlifting is my “me” time. It’s the time I feel most beautiful, strong, and confident.
Weightlifting has become incredibly important to me over the last few years since I started. At work, I can feel the pressure all day to think on my feet, be creative, and dedicate my brain to social media and my clients. I don’t get much brain-space for my own personal thoughts. But weightlifting has afforded me a space where I can let go of all other pressures in life. It’s just me and the barbell. Whether being out in nature, in a gym, or even sitting on my balcony reading a book, that is my time to reflect on life and all of its challenges and successes. Self-care for me is giving myself space to process my thoughts instead of ignoring everything that’s buzzing through my mind.
My ideal day starts by waking up between 4:30–5am (yikes!), making myself a healthy breakfast, and going to the gym. Working out in the morning is more energizing than a cup of coffee for me. My morning routine helps me feel really accomplished and ready to go into my work day with even more confidence knowing that I was kicking ass and lifting weights before most people wake up.
Women Inspiring Women.
There’s a woman at my gym named Patricia. I don’t know her well, but I admire her from afar. She is so beautiful and strong inside and out. She’s more jacked than most of the men at my gym and I think that’s so badass because it completely defies what society thinks a woman should look like. Society thinks women should be petite and skinny and I don’t agree with that. I recently read someone’s blog highlighting Patricia’s story, and what I learned about her really touched me.
She is a super-mom to two beautiful kids. Every day I see on her Instagram that she’s making Mickey Mouse-shaped pancakes and other creative, healthy meals for her kids and herself. She wakes up hours before the sun to help build this amazing life for her kids, kick ass in the gym, and inspire everyone she comes in contact with.
I learned about a difficult time in her life that a few of my friends have gone through as well. An old friend of mine was pregnant with multiples and lost three of her babies. Another old friend from high school lost her baby in her second trimester. And Patricia’s story is similar. Hearing the stories of these mothers-to-be who lost an unborn child really touched me. They’re going through the worst thing any woman can face, yet they have all come out of the situation with a new lease on life–to always live life to the fullest, appreciate every moment, never take a single breath for granted. It was definitely a reality check for me because I was sitting there crying over a boy who didn’t love me anymore, but then I hear these stories of women going through such a difficult situation and it put my life into perspective. I really felt for Patricia and my other old friends. I just can’t understand how anyone could ever go through something like that and still come out with a positive outlook on life. Women like Patricia, who can face tragedy and feelings of vulnerability and not let those feelings get in the way of her outlook on life, are women who inspire me.
Everyone that Patricia comes in contact with is impacted by her even though not everyone knows her story. But hearing her story just made me appreciate her presence so much more because of the positive vibes that she gives off and the strength that she has both emotionally and physically. If I can be half the woman she is someday, I will feel like an accomplished woman.
Growing through darkness.
You learn a lot about yourself in some of the darkest times. You learn a lot about what’s okay to let go of and what’s okay to hold on to. No matter what you’re going through, it takes a lot of effort to let go of negative energy holding you down, and you have to be willing to work through the pain. You have to find a way to turn things around and see the positive in any situation. I’ve learned that it’s really important to celebrate life. I don’t want to be 60 years old and regret not living my best life in my 20s. But developing this positive outlook on life has helped me learn to appreciate myself, my abilities, my friends and family, and all that I have to give to the world.
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#WeAreAllDaughters: Nicole, a social media expert and weightlifter. was originally published in we are all daughters. on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.