I will never forget being on the beautiful beaches of northeastern Cape Cod during that unforgettable summer of 2002.
I was a frisky teen girl kitten spending the summer with my best friend Suzie in Provincetown, MA. It was sunset, and we were peering out into the wild, tempestuous ocean, the midnight-blue waves penetrating our 16-year-old eyes.
We were discussing our impulse to dive right into those dangerous dark waters. We craved feeling the rush of the freezing cold Atlantic Ocean, the sensation of it cutting through our hearts and exploding through our chests.
"That's dangerous," Suzie's mom, Marie (whom I dearly loved) warned, wide-eyed and visibly concerned by our reckless desire.
"Live fast, die pretty," I sweetly responded, staring excitedly out into the ocean. It was a tired cliché, but I didn't care. I was a teenager wearing plaid bondage pants to the beach. What the f*ck did I have to worry about?
The truth of the matter was I had seen that quote stitched on to a vegan leather wallet at my favorite punk rock shop, Trash And Vaudeville on St. Mark's place in heart of the East Village. I had begged my mother for that wallet, but she firmly declined.
She had already bought me the plaid bondage pants. Enough was enough.
I eventually grew out of the bondage pants, but every time I saw those four clichéd words scrawled across the inauthentic T-shirts at Hot Topic (every real punk rock kid's worst nightmare), they stuck with me.
For better or worse, I've always sort of lived by the "live fast, die pretty" motto. I'm an honorary graduate from the Institution of Self Destructive Behavior (with a minor in "projecting fantasies").
I've taken the unidentified pill at the party just to see what would happen. I purposefully missed a $1,000 plane ride home just so I could spend one more day with temporary lover. I've hopped into cars with people I didn't know because I was craving adventure, all while being fully aware that this risk could have unsurvivable consequences.
But then, I got older, and sh*t started to come with consequences.
I grew weary of flying by the seat of my skirt. Plus, experimenting with drugs loses its charm really fast after you lose your best friend to an overdose and witness a slew of the most beautiful people on the planet become full-blast drug addicts, losing everything that ever mattered to them.
So, a few years ago I made a choice: I was going to therapy in hopes of learning this "balancing" business.
And, hell yeah, through hard work, I've leveled out a lot: I haven't touched a drug (albeit one or two slip-ups, but who’s counting?) in at least five years. I would never get in a stranger's car (I learned that one the hard way). I don't need to play Russian roulette with my life in order to feel alive.
I want to be the healthiest version of myself.
But sometimes I feel like being fully deemed "healthy" in the therapeutic world includes some pretty intense sacrifices I'm not so sure I'm quite ready to make.
I want to want an even-keeled relationship, but I crave fiery passion.
I want to have my cake and eat it too. In fact, I want to devour the f*cking cake, daily, without putting on those five pesky, inevitable pounds.
The masses claim that the fiery romances, the ones that are loaded with hot sex, the ones that catapult your heart up to the tippy top of an endless sky, are always the ones that burn out fast.
Highs so enthralling always come with crash. What comes up must come down.
So I did it. I attempted the "healthy" relationship. I dated someone who I inherently knew was "good" for me. Someone balanced, who had spent years "working" on herself and was in a healthy, positive place.
I wholly enjoyed myself, but I never felt that sparkly fire. I was on an even keel the entire time, and I was bored as sh*t.
Is it possible to have both? Can you have a fiery, passionate, romance that's also healthy and consistent? I don't know, but it doesn't look so good, based on my personal experiences.
So when faced with the choice of fiery passion over a healthy relationship, what are you supposed to choose?
My mother, my therapist and my brother would tell me to keep it healthy and consistent. But is that enough to satiate the hunger pangs perpetually tormenting me, the irrepressible yearning that craves electricity?
If the main dish is mind-blowing, is it okay if it comes with a side order of pain?
I want to want to spend a night in, but I crave the party.
It's not even so much the booze. Yes, it's fun to get a little wild, have one too many glasses of champagne, but partying is about more than just the liquor buzz.
It's the social interaction. It's the magnetic pull of the nighttime. It's the stars in the mother-f*cking sky.
I know time alone at home, decompressing, is oh-so-good for me. I'm an intense person, and I require quiet time to unwind and re-center.
But every time I stay in, I'm filled with the underlying anxiety of missing out. Like there is a world of possibilities spanning across the nightlife of Manhattan, and I'm wasting the bloom of my youth on the couch watching a documentary on Netflix.
I feel better when I stay in and take time for myself. When I wake up hangover-free and go to work well-rested, clear as a bell. But I'm also fueled by food, dancing, dining and late-night conversation too.
Where is the balance? Does it exist, for real?
I want to want emotional stability, but I crave the emotional roller coaster.
I'm definitely not preaching a reckless, careless life. However, I just don't know if I want to sacrifice the epic emotional highs and pressing emotional lows in order to achieve the "perfect balance." Aren't dramatic ups and downs precisely the antithesis of "stability?" How can you have "balance" without "stability?"
On the other hand, I'm sick of being warped with anxiety. I'm weary of battling the uphill climb of depression. But the thought of living on a perpetual mood-stabilizer-induced life doesn't excite me.
Yes, the pain hurts, but the good feels are so good. I'm sick of life being an emotional roller coaster, yet I'm not quite sure how to hop off.
I want to want to be healthy, but I crave LIVING.
“I want to be healthy, but I'm afraid of what I will lose if I'm totally balanced,” I told my therapist on the phone last Thursday. “It's the emotionally exploded experiences that keep me inspired. Even if it means falling hard. I don't think I would be happy being balanced.”
"Well, I think that's sad, Zara," my therapist responded.
I swallowed hard. I was talking to her whilst smack in the middle of Gramercy Park, where several random photo shoots were taking place all around me. Skinny models smoking cigarettes posed against the backdrop of a slate gray sky.
Click. Flash. Flick.
I watched the models, their ethereal beauty juxtaposed against the raw grime of Manhattan, my gorgeously f*cked up city, the place in which I was conceived, and wondered: Is my therapist right? Is it really sad?
What if my healthy is just different than her healthy? What if my healthy is embarking on wild risks, falling head first into the pavement, suffering through heartbreak and pushing it all a little too far? What if that's my version balance?
We all have our own different versions of what happiness is, right? I'm not saying let's all recklessly consume drugs or jump into cars with strangers. But, f*ck, not everyone feels "balanced" when everything is so bleakly moderate. And isn't that sort of okay?
I would rather be alive, teeming with joy, pain, love, heartbreak and art than be deemed "healthy" by therapeutic standards.
Because after all, kittens, there is more than just one way to define a "healthy" lifestyle.