Leaving @skinnypignyc and Being @darapollak

This is one of those moments that feels very self-indulgent and dramatic, but then I stop and think: aren’t all bloggers a little self-indulgent and dramatic?

I have been toying with the idea of changing my handle to just my name for literally over a year now, and there’s a few reasons for it. The main one is that the term “skinny” is banned from searches on Instagram now. I wish I was joking, but it’s evidently considered “hateful speech”. The other reasons I linked to here, since I already wrote about it once, but here’s a brief summary:

When I started The Skinny Pig, I was actually trying to be a “bacon blogger”, if you can believe it. This was 2008, and bacon was not as ubiquitous as it is today. I wrote about all things bacon, then I pivoted into ranting about dumb shit (I still do that), and I also wrote restaurant reviews. Basically, I wanted to be Ruth Reichl, the sarcastic version.

My slogan was “where gluttony is no longer a sin”, and that meant I wrote about all things #foodporn, before #foodporn was even a thing. I created ridiculous, over-the-top recipes as well, and simultaneously made a name for myself in the industry as a food writer, known primarily for satire.

Obviously I still love food, writing, and satire, but my passion for all things gluttonous has waned over the years. Blame it on aging and my cholesterol issues, but I also blame it on burnout. It’s hard to do the same thing over and over for years without getting bored. I admire those who can do that, but I also question whether or not they’re actually happy doing it. 

Over the last few years, I’ve grown increasingly aware of how inauthentic it felt to be consuming food in the way I used to, and how deep down, I felt this undeniable resistance to it. The invites I would get to restaurants that once thrilled me, now felt exhausting. At my peak of The Skinny Pig and @skinnypignyc, I went to 56 restaurants in one month. FIFTY SIX. I’m no math whiz, but 56 restaurants in 30 days is outrageous. No one can keep up that kind of feeding/content schedule, and eventually, I started to burn out. 

What was the point of all this? I’d ask myself. And after a lot of self reflection induced by quarantine, I decided that I was ready to talk more regularly about things outside of food. I’m still passionate about food, but I’m most passionate about helping people, as well as entertaining them. At the end of the day, there’s still a “performer” in me (former dancer here), and making people laugh was always a big part of the reason I started writing in the first place. It just happened to come out through food writing because I love eating. At the time, it was the perfect guise. 

Ultimately, I just feel disconnected from it and I have for a long time. My priority is no longer visiting as many restaurants as I can in one day. The thought of that actually makes me want to die a little inside. The thing I feel most connected to now is helping others. Whether it’s through a blog post, an IG post, a TikTok, a recipe, a coaching sesh, or whatever, THAT is what brings me the most joy. Knowing I made someone’s day a little brighter or more hopeful means a lot to me, because as someone who has gone through many bouts of depression, I know how important those little moments are.

I operate as a social media consultant (d.b.a. The Skinny Pig Inc.) but it still fits under the same umbrella: I HELP people grow their business/find their voice, I create content, and I TEACH bloggers/creators how to work with brands (pitching, media kits, etc). I have a background in ad sales and marketing, and I created a pretty successful brand for myself, so I like to think I know what I’m talking about. But funnily enough, I never actually talk about it on social (for confidentiality reasons), so I’m still figuring out how to approach that, while still feeding my passions with food (pun intended).

In the meantime, here’s a fun story for you.

As I was sitting on a plane coming back from a very fun press trip a few days ago with the American Dairy Association, I started thinking about what I could write to explain my decision behind this handle change. And then, just as I poured over my Instagram from the past year, looking at everything I’ve done and all the places I’ve been, I came across a post that looked familiar. Upon further review, it was a post about the exact same thing I’m trying to express today.

Exactly one year ago, I wrote about how it was “time for a change” on Instagram. Click here if you want to read it. I’m almost embarrassed. I made this giant declaration about how I wanted to change my content moving forward because I’m no longer the same person I was when I started this blog, then I went into some extra detail about how I just don’t feel the same connection to gluttonous food content anymore, then I said something mean about rainbow bagels. Obviously.

As I read that IG post, I put my hand over my mouth and whispered “oh my god” to myself, as if I had just read something shocking and horrible. The thing is, it WAS shocking and horrible, but only to me. I said I was going to be different, I told them to expect new things from me, and then I didn’t deliver, was what ran through my head.

I’m sure at the end of the day, that’s super dramatic because no one really cares except for me, but it immediately made me feel like a failure. Immediately. I got a weird sinking feeling in my chest, and as I gnawed on yet another Biscoff cookie, I stopped and asked myself how I let this happen.

After just a few minutes of reflection (my favorite) and self-induced mental abuse (not my favorite but I’m great at it), I realized what happened: shortly after that post was released into the internet ethers, my cat died and my boyfriend left me (in one of the most cruel ways one could be left aka a complete blindside).

Mother fucker, I thought to myself, I can’t believe I let that POS take up so much of my energy for so long. It’s nearly October and I have spent the last 9 months HEALING?? That’s it?? That’s why I didn’t do the things I said I would?

There’s nothing wrong with taking that much time to heal, by the way, I just normally don’t take that long to bounce back. But as I sat there and thought about it, I really did have a rough year in 2020. I know we all did, but some felt it worse than others and I believe I was on the worse side of the spectrum. I’m not trying to play the victim, but it’s just a fact.

I lost my uncle to Covid, I lost all of my clients, I lost friends, and then I lost my beloved cat of 14 years as well as my bf, whom I loved very much too. There were good times sprinkled in there, of course, but overall, I had a hard time and I didn’t really feel like myself, so when the breakup happened, it sent me into a bit of a depression.

If any of you out there are subscribed to my newsletter (thank you considering I haven’t sent one since May), you probably remember that I was dishing out blog posts and newsletters WEEKLY in the beginning after my breakup, which dates back to the first week of January. I was in so much pain, writing about it or talking about it was the only way I knew how to cope, as well as make connections with people who were going through the same thing or had gone through the same thing. It was very cathartic, not to mention I felt like I was really giving people something they could relate to at some point in their life. I mean, who hasn’t felt heartbreak, right?

After a few months, I started to feel a bit better and weirdly enough, the ideas for posts started dwindling. Isn’t it strange how pain brings out creativity? I am not going to sit here and lie though, I still struggle mentally with the breakup, I just don’t talk about it as much because when the person completely disappears, what is there to even say? I talk to my therapist and a few select friends, but ultimately I would tell myself, I’m a food blogger. No one wants to see me crying about my ex anymore. Suck it up and make some chicken. But forcing it didn’t work either.

Then, Imposter Syndrome entered the chat. I had ZERO creative energy for cooking, and everything I was making was either some iteration of a depression meal (oatmeal) or something super satisfying yet basic (pasta with garlic and parsley). Who wants to see this? I’d ask myself, literally a 9-year old can make this and I’ve posted it like 20 times. Who fucking cares? If people want pasta they have a million other pages to go to. Then I’d take a few photos just in case, and never post it. Round and round we go, week after week.

Playing the IG comparison game just added fuel to the fire, and I did that a lot too. Who doesn’t love a good doom scroll to start the day? I actually stopped picking up my phone first thing in the morning, because that’s how much it would sometimes affect my day. And can I tell you something? I am SO much happier now. I wake up in the morning and I don’t even touch my phone until after I’ve made coffee/breakfast and watched an episode of something or read a chapter of a book. Not kidding. Try it, you’ll thank me later.

Given how much that one little thing helped, I decided to give myself a bit of a break. BUT instead of talking about my struggles or fostering that community I had online, I just threw myself into work and found more clients. A lot more clients. That was my idea of a break (insert “lol” here).

Truly, my work saved me this year. Not only was I able to create the life I envisioned for myself financially, but it was the ONE thing that gave me motivation just to get out of fucking bed every day. It gave me purpose and creative work, which I do genuinely enjoy and was no longer able to do for myself, apparently. I was so busy, I didn’t have a ton of time to feel the underlying sadness or address what I was really dealing with. It wasn’t full blown depression, because I have been there and that is VERY different, but I had my days where I felt completely lost, lethargic, and sad for no reason.

“I’m quite literally thriving in a lot of ways,” I said out loud, to myself one day as I was crying and laughing at the same time, like a lunatic, “so why do I feel like this??” I wiped away my tears and grabbed my phone, and started keeping a note of all times when this would happen, and why.

I had a slew of new clients (aka more money), I got a new car, I planned a trip to Greece, and my friend group was expanding from the new connections I was making. Additionally, I lost weight thanks to the breakup because I didn’t eat anything except matzo ball soup and the occasional grilled cheese for 3 weeks. This was combined with a nightly cocktail of a bottle of wine + 2 xanax just to get to sleep. I’d usually wake up in the middle of the night crying, and have to take another just to sleep for a couple more hours. It was miserable, but my “revenge bod” was “on fleek”, as the kids say. Do the kids even still say that? Probably not.

PLEASE NOTE: I do NOT recommend this as any form of a diet. Feels ridiculous I even have to add that as a disclaimer, but I don’t take chances in 2021. Also, I’m WAY over that regimen now, thank god. If anything, I actually drink way less now, and I’m very happy about that.

Anyway, my point is that on paper, things looked promising. And some of them even felt really good. But when you start off in that wretched pit of sadness and find yourself literally anywhere but back there, you think you’re done. You think you’ve reached success and no longer have a reason to be hurting. I must be over it, I’d tell myself, I’m not crying every day anymore, so I’m fine. That’s my favorite: “I’m fine.” I was not fine at all, and frankly, there are days when I am still very much not fine. Healing is not linear.

The breakup made me question my worth as a person, it made me question my judge of character, and it made me completely untrusting of my own gut. This bled into other areas of my life, but especially my own “brand”. I mean, no wonder I couldn’t pick a direction with it, my gut literally didn’t know what to believe anymore! I was all over the place with my content. What felt right to me (my relationship), turned out to be very wrong, so how could I trust myself to make such a big change?

Eventually, I decided that this one incident doesn’t mean I’ll be wrong about everything moving forward. And the best way to start trusting myself again was to just start. Something about changing my handle felt exciting and liberating, two things I haven’t felt (from my own brand at least) in a while. And usually when something feels right, you lean into it. So that’s what I’m doing, finally.

One year after that dramatic post, things have changed alright, but they sure as shit don’t look like what I thought they would. So here comes another dramatic post!

Despite my heartache, I feel much more like myself than I have in a long while. I may cry more, but I don’t feel weak because of it. I feel…human. I cry every week when I watch Ted Lasso and I wouldn’t have it any other way. There’s nothing wrong with being vulnerable, and once you accept that, your life will start to look very different. The superficial ones will leave you, and the real ones will keep you. That’s just kinda how it works.

One of my friends (one of the real ones) said to me the other day “you’re just…you’re really HERE”. And it made me laugh, because he was saying it in the context of me not being shy about sharing my completely unwanted opinions with the world (by way of Instagram/TikTok). But then it got me thinking about how just a few months ago, I used “I’m still here” in a sad way, because I felt stuck. And now I’m like yeah, I AM here, dammit.

My breakup really fucked with my head in so many ways and sidelined my progress for this year, but I’m still here. After all the pain and setbacks, I’m still here. Still standing, still working hard, still being an unapologetic weirdo, still finding joy in the little things, and still just fucking HERE. Ya know? I’m trying. And I’m staying for this game we call life because I want to see what’s next.

Unfortunately, some people don’t stay. Some people voluntarily quit the game and some are taken out too early. I have been faced with those “quitting” thoughts myself, more than once, and even though it’s been a while since I’ve had them, I remember what it’s like to sleep until 5 pm, to look at someone who loves you and ask yourself why they do, and to wake up feeling alone even when there’s someone right next to you. So to anyone out there who struggles with those thoughts too, tell someone. Don’t keep it to yourself. And most importantly, don’t quit. Please don’t quit.

Things have looked bleak for me many times (more often than I’d like, honestly), and I’m not gonna feed you the same bullshit platitudes over and over like “that which does not kill you only makes you stronger”, because the truth is, it doesn’t make some people stronger. Some people don’t handle change well. And some people don’t come out of it as a better person.

It took me a long time to become the Dara Pollak you see today, and that’s another reason why I’m changing my handle. I had a good run as “The Skinny Pig” and I’m grateful for everything I’ve gotten to do with it, but I don’t really feel the need to hide behind food anymore to get my points across. I’ll still keep this blog with the same name, and I’ll still share my cooking/eating experiences, but it just felt like the right time to change it.

The girl who was quiet and afraid to leave her house is now the woman who curses too much, rants about stuff no one asked for, eats well and travels often.

In honor of National Depression Month, and mental health awareness. Happy October <3

6 Comments

  1. Great read. Thank you for sharing 💕

  2. Wowie, I just read this a couple times through to make sure I didn’t miss anything. So much of this reasonated with me, and while I’ll appreciate The Skinny Pig, I’m glad that Dara will be around now. ❤️ Kudos!!!

  3. Love you for sharing this and being vulnerable! ❤️

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