Being a person is hard. We all have stories — from our childhood maybe, or moments from college, formative memories that cause us pain, shame, embarrassment, or some combination of all three. What happens when we let go of our dreams, let ourselves down and can’t find the strength to start over again?
On Being Human examines Jennifer Pastiloff’s stories from childhood, growing up both in New Jersey and California, as well as attending NYU before embarking on a prolonged stint as a waitress in West Hollywood. She wanted to be a writer, but her IA (Inner Asshole) got in the way of her pursuing that dream. Instead she found herself waiting tables near the New Line Cinema studios, constantly beating herself up for not returning to her studies, trying to ignore the fact that she had hearing loss and battling an eating disorder.
“I would be an adult before I realized that you don’t have to kill yourself to change,” Pastiloff writes. “The will to grow must outweigh the need to be safe.”
The amount of loss that Pastiloff suffered in her childhood is astonishing and could have easily crushed her spirit for good. She went to therapy on and off as a young person, and eventually only her primary care doctor’s samples of antidepressants helped her to stabilize. Her accounts of living with anorexia, painful interactions with her family members, and destructive intimate relationships are told in a choppy style which takes some getting used to. But once the momentum in her tale shifted (for me it was at page 130) I found that I was not just relating to her, I was rooting for her (and for myself, too).
The thing about Pastiloff’s story is it’s so familiar. In one section she gives a year by year account of how she spent a 13 year period. It’s painfully sad and heartbreaking and for me, it was very relatable. My own “dark years” as I call them were thankfully only a four year time span, but they were bad enough and filled with many moments similar to the ones she recounts. She was so filled with self-loathing that she poured all of her energy into trying to shape what was seen by others — her body and her relationships. She thought that a smaller frame would mean she took up less space, and maybe then she would like herself. She thought drinking more and exercising more and being more desirable to men would make her happy. But it didn’t, because she never took the time to examine the lies she was telling herself internally.
Once she began a cycle of anti-depressants, she stopped exercising four hours a day and began to eat a little more. That’s when she found yoga. I had to laugh about the idea that “yoga found her,” but I can see why she said it. People who have never tried yoga have attitudes about it… and some people who do yoga on a regular basis may have a negative opinion, as well. But for Pastiloff, yoga helped her calm her mind down and connect with her physical self. She began treating herself with kindness, both mentally and physically. And finally, in her 30s, she found some peace.
On Being Human recounts Pastiloff’s journey from her waitressing career to leading hybrid yoga/writing workshops all across the globe. She teaches others how to deal with their Inner Assholes, and helps people to find peace through yoga, releasing their bullshit stories, and connecting with like-minded individuals.
“My whole life I had been waiting for permission, waiting to be discovered, waiting to be acknowledged, chosen, given permission to take up space. All my life I had been waiting for someone to tell me I was enough…. Think of all the things that you thought would kill you from shame or pain that didn’t. The things you wept over that now you can talk about, if not laughing, with some kind of remove. I would ask everyone to give themselves a fucking medal,” she writes.
Give yourself a medal, indeed. If you’re looking for some inspiration, or even if you’re just in it for some celebrity name-dropping (find out who the good tippers were at The Newsroom restaurant!) I highly recommend On Being Human.