Everybody has a story: that famous celebrity, scholar, or successful business person that you put on a pedestal, the homeless person who looks into your eyes when you are stuck in traffic on your way to work, your parents… everybody. You have a story. It helps you understand who you are, what you value, and why you think and act the way that you do. Your story also has the power to influence how you will act in the future.
I was born in Iran at the height of the Revolution. My family fled the country to pursue a lifestyle that allowed for greater political and social freedom. Two years after emigrating to America, my mother lost her battle with cancer and fell into a coma for one year. During this time, my father worked multiple jobs to sustain our little family in this significantly more expensive country. He spent his free hours driving to and from the hospital with my brother and I in tow. It was a painful year, but our family endured. My mother passed away when I was 6 years old, and our little family continued to do everything we could to stay afloat. Our family survived many more financial and emotional hardships for years to come. I personally survived a series of textbook traumatic life events, including violence, abuse, and harmful relationships.
I did find refuge in the classroom, however. I identified as an industrious and successful student. I received praise from my school teachers for my hard work and dedication to learning. Unfortunately, this identity was not enough to keep me healthy and happy long term. Because I measured my worth by my academic success, I became desperate to achieve perfection. And, as with all such echoes of Icarus, I learned the hard way that I had to find balance in my life.
In my early twenties, I was already living like I was near the end of my life. I was overweight, plagued by insomnia, migraines, vertigo, and anxiety. I was tired all of the time. My greatest source of pleasure came from overindulging in comfort foods. I dissociated from the image of myself reflected in the mirror, in reality, I dissociated from my body completely. It was during this time that I learned that it was impossible to separate my mind from my body and environment.
Something happened. Surely, many things had to happen to catalyze the shift in my life. But, looking back, it seemed to happen all at once. I underwent a drastic mental and physical transformation. It was all about movement. While I was once in a state of inertia, paralyzed by my own obsession with success, something in my life inspired me to seek movement. I started dancing again for the first time in a decade. It was the most therapeutic practice I had ever known. When I danced (like really truly danced with all of my heart, leaving my ego behind) I could find moments of solitude from the hypercritical perfection-seeking narrator that typically followed me in all of my other daily events. In the midst of the most tumultuous times in my life, I found an opportunity to celebrate the gifts that I had been given. I found a language with which to express my gratitude, my sorrows, my vulnerabilities, my strengths, and my love of beauty. Movement was my conduit for transformation; it was a gateway for me to find a more authentic path to be more deeply present in my own life, in this world, at this moment.
Like most people, my story has evolved, and continues evolving, over the years. The fundamental content is always the same, but how I have come to make sense of the events themselves and the overall tone of the story can shift based on how I allocate value and worth. Research by Timothy Wilson and colleagues suggest that we have the power to redirect our personal narratives, and that this ability to refine our life stories can manifest in hard outcomes like how effectively we cope with and heal from traumatic life events and how likely we are to maintain long term health habits.
I have decided to redirect my life story. Even though there are moments in my story that have been challenging and painful, I chose to make my narrative one of redemption. Upon sitting with these thoughts and this vision that is coming together for me, inspired by my love of science, my personal life experiences, and the stories of my dearest friends and collaborators, I would like to dedicate Auteur to those who are driven to take ownership over their stories and take action towards living healthier and happier lives. Welcome to Auteur. What is your story?