When I read Bella Mahaya Carter’s memoir, Raw: My Journey From Anxiety to Joy, I knew her story would inspire others. Bella is an author, teacher, coach, workshop facilitator and speaker. Throughout her memoir, she shares relatable life struggles and her path to health, happiness and creating the life she wanted.
Lucky for me, I had the privilege of interviewing, Bella. There were so many exciting insights from our 1 hour conversation that I had a hard time shortening the content for this post. I decided to keep most of it. Here is my interview with the incredibly warm, personable and inspiring Bella.
Congratulations on the completion of your memoir! How does it feel to put it out there for the world?
It feels officially wonderful. It’s so satisfying. For so long I was looking forward to this task that I was trying to complete, and it ended up completing me.
Despite the negative comments you received from the people around you regarding your diet, what kept you on track?
It was actually easy to stay on track because what kept me on track was just the conviction that I had to heal myself. Because I knew there was no magic pill that I could take that would make it all go away. I really wanted to feel better, so it was the desire for health and wellbeing that was my motivation. Probably if I hadn’t been uncomfortable, I wouldn’t have made the changes I made.
So feeling better meant more than avoiding the negative comments you were getting?
Yeah. I knew that it was painful to experience the comments, but I also didn’t see another way out. I believed that this was the only way that I was gonna get better. Now whether or not that’s true, who knows? But it was thinking, and thinking is very powerful.
That thought powered me through all the discomfort, the comments that people made, the challenges of having to learn to eat in a completely different way. That’s what powered me was just, “I’ve got to get better, and I’m counting on myself to get me there.”
I personally loved your dedication to healing. You packed your own nutritious meals to stay on track while on your daughter’s camping trip. Many people today are on restrictive diets and can relate to this scenario. Do you still bring meals with you for long trips? Do you have a favorite travel snack?
You know, I do. Not as much as I did, because I transitioned from a raw vegan to a vegan diet, and today there’s so much more vegan food available worldwide than there was when I was first doing this. But I do tend to pack my own snacks. I tend to pack like raw chocolate or nuts and seeds, trail mixes, my own blends or a Lärabar. They, too, are becoming more common and easy to get.
Now I’m also expanding with just trusting that I’m gonna be okay. There’s a lot less rigidity now in my life then there was at the time. I really believed that everything that I put into my mouth had to really nourish me. Otherwise, I don’t know. I wasn’t gonna get better.
Bella, What prompted you to make changes from a raw vegan to a vegan diet? Can you talk about what the transition felt like?
Yeah, I love this question. I was 100% raw for five years. It was great. I really liked it. But I was starting to feel better. I was also just experimenting with the idea of being less rigid with my eating. What would happen if I ate cooked foods?
I started introducing foods slowly, foods that I missed like hot soups and tofu and legumes, vegan chili. I just missed that food. But I remember one day I had a bowl of quinoa with vegetables, and it was the first time that I’d had cooked grains in over five years.
Five years is a long time!
Yeah. What I noticed after I ate the quinoa was that I felt sedated. It wasn’t unpleasant, because I was very relaxed and sort of sleepy. I thought, “Huh, wow. You know a bowl of quinoa just relaxed me and chilled me out and made me sort of sleepy.” In the world of what I might use to relax me, quinoa didn’t seem like such a horrible thing.
Other than that, I didn’t really notice that much of a change except that I’m very aware, still to this day, that when I eat living food I feel the level of nourishment. I’m really aware that when I eat cooked food it’s dead, and it’s not nourishing me in the same way. I can feel it in my body.
Which books helped or inspired you the most during your healing journey?
I think the one book that really stands out is Living on Live Food by Alissa Cohen. The reason why that book was so helpful for me was, number one, it explained the raw diet and how to do it and the equipment that you need. Then it also explained why do it. Then it had lots of testimonials from people that had done it and before and after pictures, which was really impressive.
The third part of the book was recipes. The recipes were easy to follow, well-thought-out. She’s a raw food educator, Alissa Cohen, and the work that she’s done is just remarkable. She was doing this very early on. This was almost 20 years ago now. Alissa Cohen’s book, Living on Live Food, was great.
Throughout your memoir, you discuss different techniques to manage your anxiety. What is in your anxiety tool box? Have you found any supplements, essential oils or other alternative remedies to be particularly helpful in managing your anxiety?
All of the things that you’ve mentioned, I’ve done, and more. Much more. I’ve read a lot of books on the subject. One author who writes a lot on this subject is Michael Neill. He wrote the Inside-Out Revolution and other books. He’s an amazing, internationally-known life coach and really inspired me a lot.
What I have found is that we only feel a certain way because of what we’re thinking about the experience and not the experience itself.
An example, just to make this a little more clear, would be some people are terrified of airplanes and other people are not. If it was the airplane that was creating the anxiety for people, then everybody would have anxiety about airplanes. But only some people have anxiety about flying on airplanes, so what it has to do with is what they’re thinking about when flying on airplanes.
I have been studying and experimenting and exploring the Three Principles of mind, consciousness, and thought and learning about how I create my own experience. Honestly, Jen, that has given me so much more freedom from my anxiety. It’s amazing. But I discovered that I really am making this stuff up. It’s like a kid who has a nightmare. They wake up in the middle of the night. They think they see a shadow on the wall, and it’s in their minds. I am finding there’s so much that I’ve learned about anxiety since writing this book.
I noticed you are now an anxiety coach! Does that have a positive or negative effect on your own anxiety?
What’s been amazing about the anxiety coaching is it has actually grounded me. Because as I talk to other people and I hear what they’re saying, I can hear how ridiculous the fears are that are creating the anxiety. I also resonate with it because I can see myself in them. I can see that where they are is where I was and where I sometimes still go. It actually really helps me. It grounds me in the understanding and having the kinds of conversations that remind me, “Oh, I don’t really need to create this anxiety,” and this has been a surprise.
Do you have a favorite way to recharge spiritually?
There are specific things that I like to do like dance or yoga or meditate or write in my journal or go for a walk. Physical stuff is really great because you really have to be present in your body. If you’re present in your body, you can’t be weaving stories in your head.
If I’m feeling really, really bad, really low and bad, I’ll just say, “Okay. Maybe I can’t let go. Maybe this stuff is going on in the mind and there’s nothing I can do about it right now.” But I know that it’s gonna pass, and I know that the best thing to do is maybe distract myself until it does pass and not be so hard on myself.
The other piece is to just be really gentle with myself and know that it’s okay. The reality is it’s part of my human experience.
Looking back on your journey, do you have any advice for your younger self?
I would tell my younger self:
“You’re okay even though you think you’re not. All that stuff about I’m not good enough, and in order to be worthy to exist, I need to be really outstanding. Those are just misunderstandings. That’s not the truth.
The truth is everyone deserves to exist. If you have the desire to do something creative, that’s your soul talking. You don’t have to prove yourself to anybody. You just get to express yourself and be who you are, and that’s always good enough no matter what it looks like in the world that you live in.
Because the world that you live in is only a part of the reality of what life is. There’s a whole formless part of life that we don’t see and many of us don’t celebrate, but it’s there. You’re here for a reason. You’re always enough. You are always enough. Whenever you think you don’t, that’s the kind of thinking that I would just encourage you to not believe.”
Being a writing coach, what advice would you give to someone struggling to find validation in their life and work? What advice do you give your students?
I always say to students, “If you’re called to write, you must write. That is your soul talking.” And, “Let yourself write badly.” Anne Lamott is famous for her shitty first drafts in Bird by Bird. Because you know what? For years, my writing was terrible. What I’ve learned all these years of studying my craft is that everybody thinks they can write because they went to school and writing is like talking. People can write. People can talk. But to craft something that readers will want to read, that requires a good amount of study.
What message do you hope your readers take away from your memoir?
I hope readers realize that they can do way more than they think they can. Because my memoir is really the story about how I sort of moved beyond all the obstacles physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. How I moved beyond obstacles to have the life that I want to have. I hope that it helps people see how to do that for themselves because I know that people aren’t going to read my book because they care about me. That’s how it should be with a memoir. You read the book because you’re looking for ways to navigate your own life. I hope that people see their own lives and their own stories and their own challenges reflected in mine and that they get some direction. Or that it ignites within them their own inner wisdom.
To purchase: Raw: My Journey From Anxiety to Joy
For more on Bella: http://www.bellamahayacarter.com/