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Ask Izzy: Just who is Isabel Mata? — New SGN columnist to get messy and talk sex, love, and queer cringe

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Photo by Alex Quetzali / @grainy.girl
Photo by Alex Quetzali / @grainy.girl

Ever since I was born on a warm summer day in 1996, I've known that I was different. To be honest, I was different in a lot of ways — I was a middle-child Gemini with a love of boobs, a flair for the dramatic, and a never-ending drive for greatness.

But something else made me feel out of place, a feeling deep in my belly. And no, it wasn't the everything bagel with cream cheese that I ate despite being a lactose-intolerant Jew, although that probably didn't help.

Staring down an escalator at five years old, terrified of taking that next step, I felt it. I thought that if I stepped forward, my shoelace would get caught and I would be dragged down the steps, my small body breaking as easily as a twig in winter.

Oh, and I was wearing slip-ons. Welcome to my brain.

My name is Isabel Mata and ever since I was a kid, I have been using my own experiences (and traumas) as a bisexual, neurodivergent chronic over-sharer to help my friends, family, and even random strangers on the internet have stronger relationships, better sex, and healthier mindsets. With over 500 bylines in publications like Cosmopolitan, Nylon, Elle, and now the Seattle Gay News, I find joy in writing about all the things no one else wants to talk about. The more cringe, the better.

Photo by Alex Quetzali / @grainy.girl  

Different but the same
I grew up in the early 2000s, and boy oh boy was I immersed. I had my bat mitzvah in 2009 and by the time I was in high school, I was already addicted to social media. It was during this time that I began to notice how mental illness and Queerness were depicted all around me. In front of my very eyes, I watched my favorite stars (Miley, Demi, Selena, Amanda, Lindsey, etc. etc.) struggle with anxiety, depression, heterosexuality and get called drug addicts, lunatics, sluts, and so much worse. If Britney was being called crazy, then what was I? I may not have shaved my head, but I did chop off my hair and dye it a bunch of different colors. Same, same, ya know?

But just like in any good superhero origin story (yes, I am calling myself a superhero, just let me be), rather than letting injustice deter me, I was instead inspired to speak openly and freely about my struggles (including my internalized biphobia). My mother would say that I didn't know how to keep things to myself, but regardless, I was ready to challenge the status quo and damn anyone who tried to stop me. I have never been afraid to be myself, at least when it came to how I presented myself online.

Photo by Alex Quetzali / @grainy.girl  

Between friendship breakups and abusive relationships, I let my mental illness rule my life invisibly for the first 23 years of my life. From the outside, my life looked beautiful—living in Israel, London, then New York, with internships and jobs at Cosmopolitan, CNN, L'Oréal, and even a degree from NYU—but internally, I was falling apart, telling myself that I was the problem. But only those closest to me saw the truth, or rather, the terrible panic attacks that left me hunched over the toilet, drenched in sweat. But even when I was thinking about death and planning my funeral in my head, I continued to excel in my professional career as a writer. Upon reflection it seems like I was using the hustle in an attempt to validate my existence, but I am still digging into that. Between having a panic attack in the bathroom at a Maybelline photoshoot and navigating my extreme social anxiety at New York Fashion Week, my life appeared to be fun and games while underneath it all I was a mess. Just call me a walking tornado of chaos with a really polished internet presence.

Photo by Alex Quetzali / @grainy.girl  

The only way forward is up
Eventually, all that changed. After hitting rock bottom thanks to a shitty bartender and a lack of boundaries, I finally realized that maybe I didn't deserve to live in constant fear and dread. Even if I had trouble regulating my emotions and my reactivity was less than ideal. It was time to prioritize myself and address all the things keeping me from being my most authentic, bisexual self. Little did I know that this meant doing actual work and looking inward, something that seemed terrifying. But the only way forward was up.

With new medication, a proper diagnosis, mindfulness, and a mixture of dialectical and cognitive behavioral therapy, I learned how to love myself and to thrive, not just live, in a world that wasn't made for people like me and you. Now, three years since beginning my "journey of authenticity," as I sit in my Seattle apartment, newly married to the love of my life, with my three cats by my side and a Disney instrumental playing in my headphones, I am proud to say that I've accomplished all the things I wanted to (so far). And for the first time in my life, I am not leaning on other people for happiness and joy, all because of the skills, tools, and experiences that I have gone through to rewire my brain and change the way I speak to myself. While I'm still very much a work in progress, instead of searching for the solution elsewhere, I know that it's all within me. And I have a responsibility to share this knowledge with others.

This is where you come in.

Using my experience and my innate ability to connect with empathy, every other week I will respond to your questions about life, love, friendships, sexuality, mental health, and whatever else is on your mind. Nothing is off limits.

So, send questions to [email protected] and allow me to help you help yourself. Don't forget to include your name, age, and pronouns, or request to remain anonymous. Your letters may be edited for clarity.

Are you ready to get messy? I know I am.

Isabel Mata (she/her) is a full-time lifestyle and wellness writer whose work has been published in more than 50 outlets across the world. She is also the host of "Being Yourself Loudly," a Queer podcast destigmatizing mental illness. Connect with Isabel on Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/isabelcalkinsmata.