Freedom Claustrophobia: The Fear of Disappearing Choices

Claustrophobia is an extreme fear of confined spaces. When my options are limited, I struggle
with the lack of freedom in choices. However, I make choices every day that affect my body and
my life. Choices that I intentionally make with the help of my past experiences.


As a therapist, I assist people with processing their experiences and choices. And while I have
the professional experience and education to help, I am not the best person to dictate decisions
for other people. We are all the experts of our own lives.


Recently, I made a choice to have a medical procedure to improve my quality of life. I did
research. I spoke with my doctor. I asked other women who’ve had this procedure about their
experience. I used my skills to make a choice for me.


As I prepared for the procedure, I was asked questions which limited my access to care. My
answers would not change the procedure itself nor the status of my health. The questions were
asked because the laws around women’s healthcare have changed. My access to care is limited. I
am no longer the expert on me.


I made a choice to be a mother and assumed the risk of pregnancy and giving birth. Our
experience included eleven days in the NICU for our daughter and five days in the hospital due
to complications for me. I had a c-section because my doctor said that was our best chance of
survival, which included major abdominal surgery, a massive needle stuck in my back risking
paralysis, organs pulled from my body lying on my chest while remaining awake to bring my
daughters safely into this world. The recovery was difficult. Sitting on the toilet was unbearable
for weeks, pads filled with bloody uterine lining, and a massive scar that I still do not have
feeling around. And yet, we are lucky this was our experience.


I was pregnant with twins before my daughters. Babies I planned for and wanted and loved. At
20 weeks an ultrasound showed no heartbeats. No viable pregnancy. I got a choice. I could leave
those dead babies in my body risking infection and continuing the trauma of a failed pregnancy,
feeling the loss every minute of every day. Or I could have an abortion. I could end the physical
trauma and start the healing process. In an impossible situation, I got to be an expert on my life.
Only because I exerted my right to choose, three months later I was pregnant with my daughters.


My nephew Karter died in utero. My sister had a healthy pregnancy until she didn’t and she
almost lost her life for it. By the time she made it to the hospital, she was rushed into surgery.
She had to make choices and answer questions no one dreams of when they become pregnant.


Do you want to be awake or sedated while we remove your dead son from your body?
Do you want to hold him?
Do you want to bury him?
Can you afford it?
Do you want an autopsy?
Do you want him baptized?

I question where Karter’s life was documented. A traumatic stillbirth of a loved baby boy two
days from his due date or was his life used as a “late-term abortion” statistic?


The trauma of this loss changes the choices and questions surrounding a pregnancy. Those who
have suffered this physical and emotional pain understand, as perhaps few others can, the risk
involved with giving birth. They are the experts in their experience.


Having children, in any circumstances, involves trauma. What happens to our minds, bodies,
spirits, careers, relationships, finances, and wellness is massively shifted when a pregnancy
happens, no matter the outcome.

I am freedom claustrophobic. I am afraid of losing the choice to do what I want with my body. I
am afraid of limited healthcare and risking death because we are no longer able to be the experts
on ourselves.

The right to a life of freedom and choice is what I gave birth under and what I lost my babies
under. However, today my choices are limited on how I access medical care. While I have the
resources necessary to meet my needs, resources should not be the limiting factor in the
freedoms I have as a woman.

My claustrophobia has spread to realize that confined freedoms are more terrifying than the
smallest elevator or coffin. Our paths are narrowing right before our eyes. I refuse to sit by in
fear while I watch freedom disappear for myself, my daughters and all women. I know the risks.
I know the power in choice. Our lives are worth the choice.

mid-life crowning

Midlife Crisis or Crowning?

As a woman of a certain age (somewhere in my mid-thirties) I swore I would never have a mid-life crisis. With images of hysterical females shoving themselves into clothes they aged out of and watching salt & peppered-haired men driving gas-powered penis extensions, I wanted no part of it. The fear of aging we have been spoon-fed has prompted an entire industry of age-defying potions and tricks to stop a process of privilege.

The fact is not everyone gets to grow old.

Even more ironic, this same brand of magic would have gotten us all an early death throughout history.

So why do we continuously, cut on ourselves and cover ourselves with whatever they say will make us appear younger? And who decided that being younger is the ultimate goal?

I have no desire to be 25 again…it was hard enough the first time around and even with the knowledge I have today, 25 wouldn’t be as much fun as it was when that was my actual age.

As we approach “mid-life” I also ask, who the hell determined when “mid-life” actually takes place?

Is there a crystal ball somewhere or a game clock buzzing indicating half-time?

And if this is in fact the mid-point of my life, what is the point of trying to reduce myself to what I have already been?

Isn’t the point, growth? Change? Knowing better, so I can do better?

A couple of years before my 40th birthday, I made a promise to myself – absolutely no mid-life crisis! Instead, I began work on self-discovery. My thought was, “in 40 years I’ve bound to have learned a few things, so instead of seeking out youth, I want to uncover the lessons of aging.”

Great idea, right?

I thought I had tricked the system! ‘Okay society, you want me to long for my younger years, I’m going to celebrate the aging process!’ Haha!

Upon this brilliant journey, I completely lost my mind.

I uncovered so many pieces of myself that were hard to look at. I charted mistake, after mistake doing the same wrong things over & over expecting different results (aka insanity).

I found traumas I thought I had laid to rest, but in reality I just took a giant step over as I passed by, thinking that acknowledgment indicated acceptance.

While I did not dress like a 25-year-old or purchase a mobile penis, my behavior & mindset were in a full-blown crisis.

So there I was, broken.

Broken promises to myself.

Questioning all my life’s choices.

Berating myself for in fact having the mid-life crisis I promised I would not.

I wanted out of that feeling immediately!

The healing began.

Acknowledging my mistakes & traumas was step one. I had to figure out a way to heal.

Therapy. Meditation. Writing. Making amends (to others & myself).

This was not a weekend retreat & all was right in the world (btw…still in process).

This is accepting the lessons of life so far and actually implanting them in my life.

It’s being brave enough to own my shit and start something new.

This crisis became my crowning. My celebration that I get to move to the next round-I get to keep living & learning.

So I’m going to challenge society (or whoever reads this post), to change our mindset of mid-life crisis to mid-life crowning. We are privileged to experience this moment in time, so let’s embrace it rather than run from it. There are so many who do not get the opportunity.

Let’s aim for being grateful rather than grimaced.

Thriving instead of surviving is a much better place to function from so we might as well get a crown out of it instead.

The Switch Has Flipped

I’ve been robbed!

I’m under attack!

I’m taking on water!

My walls have been breached!

The world I carefully constructed for my babies has been destroyed.

My precious cherubs have moved outside my reach. They were in public without parental supervision (pause for dramatic effect).

Go ahead & roll your eyes, teenage parents. Tell me “welcome to the club”.

I do not want to be in your club. Your club is scary AF.

Yes they are equipped with cell phones.

Yes they are VERY aware of stranger danger (I’m a social worker for the love of all that is holy).

Yes I trust them-it’s the rest of this jacked-up world I struggle to trust with my most prized possessions.

(And yes they are mine!)

I grew these humans inside my body. Mother Nature said “hey lady, here are two humans. Keep them safe from everything & teach them how to be decent. Okay, cool? love ya, good luck!”

Okay, Mother Nature…WTAF?!?

Before motherhood, the world was all mine-wide open and ready for me to explore.

I knew the dangers.

I knew the costs.

And I ran and pushed the boundaries as long and far as I could without suffering too many consequences.

I stepped over the line and got my hand smacked a few times.

I said “why not” and later found out the answer.

I did things that would have made my mom clutch her pearls and gasp (hope she skipped this post).

I have a few good stories and scars to prove it. And yes-I lived to tell the tale.

Then Mother Nature gave me these babies…my world shrunk into a circle big enough for my huge pregnant body and I was the omnipotent ruler.

Everything I did directly impacted my girls.

(*side note these babies were after I lost two, so trauma and grief has a major role to play here.)

When they came into this world, my circle was forced open just enough…like when you park too close to car next to you and you hold your breath to squeeze out of your car-just enough.

I controlled what they ate. When they ate. What they wore. Where they went.

I even manipulated their first steps (can’t have one twin out do the other before the age of 1).

I was terrified to do the “wrong thing.”

I remember in the hospital someone told me, “they will never be as safe as they were inside of you.”

I cocked my head with complete panic and rage…seriously?!? You tell me this now!

This illustration is to show for 12.5 years we lived in the same world. Sure I traveled to different places from time to time. Whether it was work, out with my girlfriend or even a vacation with my husband (aka their father) I expanded my world to meet my needs from time to time. I preserved my sanity.

However, now is different.

These babies want to expand their world.

They have friends.

They have places they want to go without me.

They do not require me tucking them in to go to sleep.

They have inside jokes I don’t get.

And they even get embarrassed by my singing in the car.

I am not okay!!

These girls are growing up.

They are running far and pushing hard against boundaries at every turn.

They don’t subscribe to what society tells them to wear.

They don’t make themselves small and accept what is given to them – they take what they want and make things happen.

They ask questions and make up their own rules – sometimes even making the consequences worth it.

So I will be over grieving the knowledge that my babies are no longer babies. That is my right and that is okay.

I earned the right to miss the smell of their sweet heads, the sound of their precious laughter and their tight hugs gripping my soul. That is what no one told me.

About the light switch from babies to badasses.

Watching this instant shift and hearing the lessons I’ve preached roll off their tongues is exciting. It takes just a twinge of the sting away because I realize they are setting the boundaries in their new world and I’m just lucky enough to help.

So send me your sympathy or laugh and shake your head at me. Either way, I’m swimming in the deep end of my new world so allow me some grace while I figure out how to float.

I’m sure you can remember what this push and pull feels like and if not, let me be the first to warn you – You will be filled with terrifying pride.

It is a strange combination.

This is the part no one prepared me for. Watching these girls jump out of the world I created for them and building their own. I’m not okay…but I will be and so will they.

Haunted by Approval

Next week, I will turn 42 (the good Lord willing)!

This is the age my father was when he died. To act as if that has not been weighing on me would be inauthentic.

I love my birthday. I really LOVE my birthday. It may be due to the fact I was born in the armpit of winter and celebrating my birthday gives me something to look forward to. Or, maybe I am a self-centered, egotistical asshole. Either way, I celebrate all month long and I have no intention of stopping.

Turning 42 has haunted me from the day my dad died. I wanted to achieve so much with my life – do so many things that he would never have the chance to do. My unwritten, unrealistic expectation was to turn 42 with the knowledge that my dad was proud of me. The problem with this plan – it’s impossible!

I would never get that validation, because he would not be here to witness my life.

So instead, I sought out approval from every other corner of my life. From grades, to sports, to career choices, outside validation became the measuring stick of my worth.

Am I good enough? Says who…always you, never me.

My desires, my reasons were never enough.

I required the co-signing of other people’s opinions.

I spent so much time worrying about what everyone thought of everything I did, I forgot that the first person I need to be accountable to and approve of is ME!

If you disagreed with how I did things, my first inclination was to question myself. I couldn’t possibly be right, if someone questioned me.

I feel so much empathy for that girl, today.

So rigid. Functioning out of fear. And judging herself constantly.

The girl who never felt secure – in her thoughts, her actions, her dreams and even her own skin. I didn’t want to be liked as much as I wanted to be right, validated for being me.

Along with my birthday celebration, February also brings the anniversary of my dad’s death. I remember every detail of that morning, to my mother’s voice telling me he’s gone to the emptiness that filled our home with the absence of his presence. I remember feeling helpless and a strong desire to do something, anything that made sense because the realization that my father, the strongest person I knew, was not coming home was inconceivable. Not only my brain, but my soul refused to accept it.

I did not want to be a cautionary tale, a girl with daddy issues who sought comfort in all the wrong ways. I channeled my fear into action and the race to perfection began. It was a game of whack-a-mole.

School struggles?? Nope-fixed it!

Typical teenage antics?? Not me!

Grieving correctly?? Sure am!

“Nothing to see here! I’m fine.”

So at the ripe ole age of 14, I set the expectation of perfection. All the while, managing overwhelming grief from the loss of my parent and not processing this with anyone.

The real achievement is that I am alive to tell this tale.

And my career choice…helping people, of course. Because what better way to hide from my troubles than to dive head-first into someone else’s?

For the next 25 years, I spent my life chasing approval from a ghost, setting a bar of achievement to an unreachable level and berating myself along the way for not being what I was “supposed” to be. I did not do this without many failures and much self-inflicted pain.

The theme of not feeling “good enough” has been heavy on my mind recently.

The pressures from work. The failures at home. The lack of peace of mind. These are common struggles I hear during therapy sessions as well as in my own thoughts.

We all are hurting.

We all have failures.

We all need more peace.

Right before COVID hit, I promised myself I would not have a ‘mid-life’ crisis when I turned 40. I would cross that threshold with grace and embrace aging.

Though it may have looked more like a brace-for-landing situation rather than a graceful entrance into my forties, here I am nonetheless.

What I did have was an awakening.

I realized what I had been doing to myself my entire adult life. I looked around and saw no one was keeping score, but me.

No one (that mattered) judged me for my pain or my faults.

I was my own worst enemy standing right in my way.

With no plan, other than change I promised myself I would learn to love and be proud of me. That became my guiding manta – I would trust myself above all else.

Since that birthday, I have made huge strides in that change.

I am more comfortable in my own skin, but there are days I still cover up and fight that shaming voice.

I am confident in my accomplishments, but there are moments I suffer from imposture syndrome.

I find purpose and peace in my day, but I fight storm of chaos to gain perspective.

What I’ve learned is, struggling does not define my life, I do. I write this narrative. I validate my experience.

I have hard days. I cry often because it heals me. I soak in my bathtub to let go of the day. I talk to my therapist to unpack my baggage. I still have hard days, the difference is I don’t live there all the time.

This is not a how-to-post. I do not know a secret. I have not found an “answer”, I found options. When letting go of expectations, some of my rigid ways went also. The more I let go of, the more my mind opened up to opportunities for a more peaceful existence. I blew up the walls that confined the narrow path I traveled for so long, to uncover unlimited choices for where I want to go next. Empathy and intentionality became more comfortable to me. I started to give myself grace and felt lighter. Grace and options are a beautiful combo.

I have rough times, not a rough life. I define my own narrative. Change promises change. My job is to navigate my journey and be accountable to myself.

My life is beautiful chaos, simply because I say so.

So 42, I am ready for you! I embrace this birthday full of gratitude and a ton of grace to give myself as I mess-up, succeed and enjoy all the moments (even the ugly ones because that is part of my story). I miss my dad all the time. There are still moments I pause to look for his nod of approval. However, I no longer chase that impossible expectation. I am learning to be proud of myself, because I am enough.

I am not finished. More to come.

Death By Silence

At a wedding recently, I was at a table making small talk about work when another guest and I realized we were in similar industries. The other guest worked for a company where I knew someone. As our conversation narrowed to a specific group of people and then to the person I knew, the other guest nodded in acknowledgement of being acquainted with the person I knew. We shared a common human which connected us.

The guest leaned closer to me and whispered, “but didn’t she pass away?”

I replied, “yes, she did.”

“So young, gosh, so sad I mean I heard she was very active so I wondered if it was a tragic accident or something.”

“It was tragic. She died by suicide.”

And with that statement of truth, the entire table froze. It might as well have been the entire reception. I took the silence as an opportunity to start the conversation. Yes she was young and beautiful and successful and smiling and struggling in silence. Her social media posts looked amazing, full of love and fun and happiness, though she suffered with the pain of a chronic, invisible illness.

The entire table lowered their heads and did not engage in the conversation, not because they are assholes and don’t care, but because suicide is the death by silence. We don’t talk enough about how to prevent it because we don’t talk about it when it happens. Death by suicide is not shameful or something to shy away from having conversations about. It is a preventable cause of death, but the prevention is where the work happens.

We HAVE to normalize accessing mental health care.

We HAVE to stop calling people crazy.

We HAVE to talk about how hard life is and stop setting unrealistic expectations for ourselves.

Suicide is more preventable than heart disease, diabetes and cancer. I see ads everyday praising people for getting help to lower their risk of each of these illnesses, highlighting how easy it is to get treatment as well as the side effects from whatever treatment is being advertised.

You know what the side effect of not getting mental health treatment?

Self-harm, deteriorating relationships, sleep disturbances, digestive issues, heart problems and death by suicide.

So we think twice about taking a medication that causes skin irritation or diarrhea, but we suffer in silence with the losing connections to those we love, lack of sleep and thoughts of death?

It does not make sense, because it does not make sense.

There is no one to blame for suicide. (I will type it again) There is NO ONE to blame for suicide.

No one person can make another person end their life.

No one interaction can make another person die at their own hands.

The person who dies by suicide is equally NOT to blame.

They are ill with distorted thoughts.

The evidence in front of them when making this decision is not true.

They are literally dying because of inaccurate information that feels very real.

Feelings are not facts.

In the last two weeks of my professional life, I have come in contact with five survivors of suicide. Five people who lost a loved one in their immediate family! Mothers, fathers, wives, husbands, children who have questions that will never be answered. A void in their lives that will always be present.

I provide treatment for the effects of suicide on a daily basis. Whether it’s with someone brave enough to ask for help for their own struggles with distorted thoughts or their family member trying to make sense out of a reality that does not. It is by far, the most challenging work I do. I am a solution-focused junkie – I see a problem, I offer a solution. Many times my solution is assisting my clients in creating the solution themselves. When someone is grieving a death by suicide, there is no solution. There is no resolve. There are no answers. Only pain and time.

So I hold the space for their pain and assure them, it will not always feel this way. Grief is not something to get over. There is no end. Grief remains for a lifetime. Grief is something to get through and to learn to manage so that life has purpose – yours and the life you lost.

Did you know if you have a connection to someone who has died by suicide, your risk for suicidal ideation, distorted thoughts, increases? And with each connection, your risk goes up.

Treatment, recovery and peace are possible.

The most heartbreaking question I’ve been asked was by a parent of someone who died by suicide.

“What could I have done differently?”

The only response I have to give is “nothing”.

The answer is nothing because no action or inaction was the cause.

Silence is to blame.

Prevention is the cure. The only cure.

Okay, so we got the cure but what does prevention look like?

Prevention is education.

Prevention is access to care.

Prevention is validating that mental health matters.

Education looks like: Yes, I go to therapy because I need help with dealing with my life (period). That is not a random statement, it is fact for me. I GO TO THERAPY BECAUSE I NEED HELP DEALING WITH MY LIFE. By the way, I am also a therapist. Do you know how many clients I have shocked with this statement? The same amount that relax their shoulders and sigh with relief after I say it because I normalize accessing help for them. They are not crazy. They do not need to be fixed. They need to be validated and witnessed for. And I am their girl!

Access to care looks like: Did you know most employers offer an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) as a benefit which includes FREE therapy sessions? Did you know there are virtual services available at a low cost and even some that are covered by your health insurance provider? Did you know there are free groups and websites full of information on affordable mental health services? When in doubt, ASK about ACCESS! If you don’t know where to start, start with me. Shoot me an email. Message me on Facebook. I will help you find a place to begin. And if I am not your cup of tea, there are A LOT of licensed professionals who might be – keep reaching out until you find one that fits.

Validation looks like: Your experience matters. Your feelings are not facts, that is why we don’t function on feelings alone. However, your feelings do matter and you deserve to be heard. There is not a single thing you can tell a therapist that will shock them enough and send you away. And if that ever happens to you, tell ME and I will report them to their licensing board because they should not be in the helping profession!

Talk therapy may not be the easy-fix-it-button, because there may be more dynamics at play. Taking care of our mental health with self-care is a pie. There are many pieces at play.

Our physical health.

Our spirituality.

Our mentality.

Our activity.

Our connections.

There is not one piece that is more important than another.

We can’t take a pill to cure it.

We can’t pray it away.

We can’t think it away.

We can’t exercise it away.

We can’t love it away.

We CAN eat one piece at a time. One day at a time. And we can find peace in healing.

We have to start talking. We have to remove the mask of judgement and shame.

Share your story, because there is someone who needs to hear it. You are NEVER alone.

What box do you check, today?

I check a lot of boxes.

✅Woman

✅Mother

✅Wife

✅Daughter

✅Sister

✅Friend

✅Helper

These boxes are easy to identify roles I play daily. These are roles I am proud of.

However, there are many other boxes I check that are not so clear to the outside world – identities I own, but may not show to everyone.

✅Empathic

✅Spiritual

✅Feminist

✅Strong-willed

✅Relentless

And still, some identities I own, but am not so proud of.

✅Self-conscious

✅Controlling

✅Neurotic

✅Procrastinator

Our identities dictate how we function in the world. As a woman, the world interacts with me based on that identity. In turn, my identity as a woman shapes how I make my way through my day. People see my appearance, assume I am a woman, and act accordingly.

My identity as a wife also shapes how people interact and communicate with me. The fact I wear two bands on my left ring finger signifies I have someone I share my life with (or that I don’t want to be bothered). It identifies I am married and this identity shapes my interaction with other people and even how I interact with societal structures like government, financial institutions and organized religion.

Other pieces of my identity are not as easy to notice. You may not get the opportunity to witness my relentlessness unless you are a client of mine or working on a project with me. My family and friends can attest to pros and cons of my strong-will. You can simply have a conversation with me or see my social media posts to recognize I am a feminist, but you may wonder if I am religious or spiritual – these identities are not seen with the eye.

And as for the identities I am not so proud of, I go to great lengths to keep these embarrassing little boxes closed and out of sight. These identities are currently under construction and in process of change.

ALL of these identities are pieces of me – They make up who I am.

How I see me.

How the world sees me.

Pieces of a pie that I serve to those who come my way.

And yet, they are ALL able to be changed.

Now you may argue, a mother is always a mother. My response is, yes, but a mother can be a mother in name only. I choose to be the kind of mother I am today. That choice shapes my identity as a mother. Same as being a wife, a daughter, a sister, a friend and a helper. Identities that many also lay claim to but implement differently.

I do not enjoy cooking. (Yep-I said it!) I cook so my family doesn’t starve. I have identified as a bad cook for most of my adulthood – I did try to act like I enjoyed it for a few years in my 20’s but that lie died quickly. I told anyone who would listen, and I preface any food offer I brought to a party, “I am a bad cook.” I lowered the expectation immediately. What came along with that identity was the resentment with cooking and all associated activities. The grocery shopping, the prepping, the planning are all tasks I dread, because who wants to do a task when you don’t enjoy it and you aren’t any good at it.

But what if I am an amazing cook?

What if I decide to change my identity and find purpose and peace in cooking for my family? What if I choose a different identity? I do not have to love cooking to be good enough.

Maybe changing my identity as a bad cook prompts me to ask for help with other tasks at home and improves communication at my house?

Maybe if I am not a bad cook, maybe I am more confident to make food for family get togethers and gives us more time to make memories?

Maybe identities can be changed? Maybe the more knowledge we gain we can adjust our perspective?

The challenge lies with accepting, evaluating, and learning from new information then adjusting my perception of truth to account for this knowledge. I am evolving and opening my mind to acceptance that my identities can change when I open myself up to the opportunity. Maybe adjusting my identity opens doors of opportunity that would remain closed if my mind does also.

💥Maybe I am confident, not self-conscious.

💥Maybe I am vulnerable, not sensitive.

💥Maybe I am spiritual, not religious.

Changing my identity doesn’t negate who I used to be, it validates my growth.

And I don’t grow in my comfort zone.

Maybe I am a good cook sometimes and sometimes I am not. Maybe it’s not all or nothing.

Maybe who I am, changes as I grow. Maybe I get to be whoever the hell I decide to be.💥

Choosing It or Changing It

Last week I was in session with a client, when I got my mind blown. The client said to me “if you are not changing it, you are choosing it.” (WOW!) That caused me to pause. The client even checked to see if I was still on the line because it was a phone session. Good thing, too because I was left with my mouth wide open while I processed this simple statement.

If you are not changing it, you are choosing it.

That prompted me to evaluate all the things.

So what in my life am I passively choosing by refusing to change?

I first eliminated the occurrences in my life I have no control over (i.e. the guy driving like an asshole in front of me, the US Supreme Court, my daughters’ mouths, etc).

Once those were pushed to the side I began to really assess what I was choosing. This led me to my laundry list of (actual laundry included) of complaints

I’m tired ALL the time.

I am overwhelmed with ALL the things.

I don’t have time to do ALL the things.

I hate ALL the laundry.

You get the idea.

Then my oppositional tendencies kicked in…how am I choosing to be tired all the time? I want rest, but I don’t have enough time to rest because I am overwhelmed with all the things I have to do and laundry continues to pile up! Could I have meditated and not binged watched the rest of Cheer last night and gone to sleep at a decent hour – sure but what is ONE night gonna do?

It’s the ONE nights that really get me! Because one night of Netflix drama leads me to one bowl of ice cream, that leads me to racing thoughts preventing me from sleep, that leads me to hitting snooze one-too-many-times, that leads me to being late for work that leads me to being behind and overwhelmed all day, that leads me right back to another bowl of ice cream in my bed watching Vampire Diaries reruns thinking about all the things I didn’t get done that day and then back to…(I’m sure you can guess from here).

One night. One choice. One change. It DOES matter.

Let’s take that same day full overwhelm, cheer-filled dreams and ice cream after oversleeping…what if I came home and exercised instead? Or journaled about my frustrating day? Or meditated to let go of my overwhelm? Not all of these, just ONE. Then tomorrow maybe I add going to bed earlier without the TV on or maybe I simply repeat the choice from the previous day.

That is choosing change.

That is doing something different instead of the same thing expecting a different result (you know, the definition of insanity?!)

Recently, I’ve been crawling out of a rough patch, of my own creation. I did not jump down in the dark abyss of self-loathing and despair, I slid down one small choice at a time. Each choice coated in the lie of “it’s just ONE day/time/bowl/glass”. The “ones” became comfortable and I soaked in the darkness while I convinced myself this is where I deserved to be. I pushed away those closest to me. I closed myself off and used “I’m fine & you?” as a defense from any attempt of concern. It is really difficult to look at yourself in the dark, so I did not. I kept quiet and stayed comfortable there.

 The outside world of consequences wouldn’t let me stay in the dark. The effects of my behavior started slowly and softly tapping me on the shoulder. This turned into shaking my shoulders with the force of two hands and eventually holding a mirror in front of me, forcing me to look at myself and the comfort zone I created. I wasn’t proud of what I saw in my reflection. I wasn’t really comfortable. I was hiding. However, when I looked up from my deep, dark abyss I couldn’t see a way out. I was so far down. I’m not freaking Wonder Woman and I can’t lasso my way out of here.

I was tired.

I was overwhelmed.

And I still had a lot of freaking laundry. But I wasn’t alone. I had only chosen to be for awhile.

I made a choice. I talked to my husband, who still loved and accepted me. Then, I talked to my friend. Then another friend. I didn’t make a big, blanket announcement that I was struggling, I was honest with the people I love and trusted. The same people I had pushed away with the lie of “I’m fine”. They still loved and accepted me.

With each person in my circle I reached out to, I began my climb out. I’m still building the ladder and figuring out what choice comes next, but I am uncomfortable, so I know I am still climbing in the right direction. Comfort is no place for me to take up permanent residence.

Climbing out is much more difficult than the slide in, but it is still ONE call/text/honest conversation at a time. I began to clean up my mess with one healthy choice after another. There isn’t enough super power in the world for me perform a complete overhaul, but I can make a MASSIVE change with one choice at a time.

This was not my first visit to the deep, dark abyss. It’s super easy to get there, so I’ve made the trip before and more than likely will do it again. However, I do not have to stay as long because with each trip down I learn something about myself that helps me make that first choice to find my way out the next time.

My choices and my darkness may sound and look different from yours, but our answer is the same – One at a time.

Breakthrough 2022

2022 or 2020-TOO?

Don’t we all love a do-over?

A be kind and rewind?

The benefits of hindsight?

Well, 2020 was not a year I would like to relive for many obvious reasons, however it was a year full of lessons learned I would like to implement as I move into 2022.

Lately, I have caught myself pausing to pinpoint where in time a memory came from. The last two years have been a bit of a blur and I honestly struggle remembering if something occurred in 2020 or 2021. It is much easier to categorize events in “pre” and “post” pandemic columns.

What I don’t have trouble acknowledging is the massive shift in what life looks like today compared to January 2020.

I preach often about the power of gratitude – how gratitude has an abundant amount of power in shifting our mindset and changing how we see the world.

Granted, identifying and acknowledging gratitude is much more difficult when your ass is on fire rather than when you are practicing mindfulness on beach with a drink in your hand.

That brings me to what I call “Do-Over-Hindsight-Rewind Lessons”, a 2020-TOO, if you will.

Do-Over-Hindsight-Rewind lesson #1: Seek out gratitude and cling to it for survival.

A wise woman (whom I’ve written about before) showed me the importance of being grateful for the basics. She let me cry and whine and bitch and moan about the things I wanted and the reasons I had been wronged. Then she challenged me to seek out the gratitude I was missing to change my mindset from “why me” to “why not me”.

Breath in my lungs. A roof over my head. Lights in my home. Someone to say they love me. These simple gifts are often overlooked when heavy chaos rains down, however their value is nonetheless.

So many people died over the last two years.

So many more people lost someone they love.

A massive amount of people lost their jobs, their homes and their light.

There is always going to be someone praying and wishing and manifesting what you have right now. When I remember this, gratitude is NOT that difficult to find and even more essential to cling to.

Do-Over-Hindsight-Rewind lesson #2: My validation does not require your understanding.

I’ve heard people say politics and religion are not worth discussing. I completely disagree. Sharing ideas is how we learn and evolve. However, preaching your ideas and force-feeding them down an unwanted throat is not sharing and further more it’s arrogant and wrong.

Learning from each other is how we become better humans. Finding our path of co-existence rather than polarizing categorizes of “us” and “them” makes us all better. I am as guilty as the next person for arguing politics and religious views, leaving the conversation thinking the other person is so far off base it’s a wonder they can function in their daily life. (No? Just me that does this? Hum…doubtful).

Just because I do not agree with or understand where someone is coming from or why they believe a certain way does not negate their view. Their belief does not require my understanding to be valid (no matter how wrong I believe it is).

Over the last two years we have all hopped on our high horses and locked ourselves in our ivory towers for so long we forgot that there is another way. We have the ability to listen for the sake of listening and not waiting for someone to catch their breath so we can interject. We’ve turned a difference of opinion into hatred of groups of people we don’t understand.

We are more comfortable with seeking out blame rather than truth.

Can our non-negotiables in life be limited to truth, inclusivity and independence?

Do-Over-Hindsight-Rewind lesson #3: Productivity is in the eye of the beholder.

What was your pandemic project?

Did you get in the best shape of your life? (Nope)

Did you reinvent yourself and change careers? (Nope)

Did you find a new passion for cooking and now your family eats the best it ever has? (Hell No – I still hate cooking!).

Did you survive the lockdown, bounce back and forth with your weight, find new ways not to cook every day, continue your love-hate relationship with work and become a binge-watching expert? (Yep – that’s me!)

Productivity is a nasty, powerful word that inflicts self-loathing tendencies. It is also a moving target. Productivity equates to “they” from “you know what they say”.  I don’t know about you, but no I do not know what “they” nor do I give a damn and who the hell are “they” anyway?

Productivity is this moving target set by “they” to measure if you are good enough. Good enough for what you ask? Good enough compared to who? I have no idea, but a discussion of how productive I am leaves me feeling similar to getting on the scale –never the correct number, less-than and full of self-doubt.

My point is, I can be productive by just showing up may be all I have in me some days. Getting up, showering and tending to the littles (aka my daughters) is a full day, but rarely do I accept this as productive. I am happy to do so for anyone else, but I hold myself to the most unrealistic expectations.

I spent far too much time watching how bad-ass other people were during lockdown, giving myself unproductive lashes for not living up to an unrealistic expectation of myself that I do not know the origin of.

So on the 4th day of 2022, can we catch our breath, find some gratitude, open our minds and give ourselves permission to breakout out of the pressures that a new year brings. Can we learn the lessons of the struggle that the last two years brought, because we do not get a “do-over” but maybe we can get a “do-better” year.

Happy New Year, Friends!

Peace & Love,

Steph

Help is for Humans

I despise waste.  Wasted time. Wasted talent. Wasted resources. Wasted potential. Wasted help.

My heart aches when I witness people in pain all the while knowing help is available – for everyone.

When we chose to do the comfortable thing, rather than the hard thing, we waste it all; time, energy, resources, love – all of it.

Hard things are hard. If they weren’t, then we would always choose that path.

It’s actually easy to keep doing what you’ve always done because you are comfortable with doing it – not because it is always the healthiest path to travel. 

But healing and growth and change and peace do not come with comfort.

You must be willing to fight for them.

I am a helper. I struggle with calling myself a healer because healing comes with permission and active participation. I help people who want to be helped and some who may not know they want the help -yet. I gently push them outside their comfort zones to change enough to find what they are looking for.

And we are all looking for the same thing…peace.

I cannot help everyone. But everyone can help someone. Help is not reserved for those who ‘know someone’. Help is available for everyone who wants it – even for those who don’t know they want it yet. Help is also available for those who watch others in pain and don’t know what to do next because loving other humans is difficult and complicated.

While help is available for everyone, help is more easily accessible to some more than others. The more resources you already have, the easier it is to gain access to help. We have to do a better job of extending the reach of help, because people are not waste and people are worth the worry. And when we lose someone who did not get help, that loss is felt exponentially, forever.

I am amazing at helping – I always have been. I like helping others. Helping meets a need for me – helping helps me. And since I know that, I also have to be mindful of my ability to ‘help’, because ‘helping’ can be hurtful to me if I allow it. Prioritizing others’ needs over mine and seeking approval, or people-pleasing, negatively effects how I function in the world.

My obligation is to myself to get help when and where I need it. When I get help for me, I show up how I want to with those I love and those who depend on me.

💥When I get help, I am a better helper (period).

I’ve been wasteful. I’ve watched others be wasteful. I’ve been unsuccessful at helping, even when I tried my best. Even when I loved the most. Because helping requires two people.

My brother died without getting the help he needed. Not because I didn’t love him enough. Not because I didn’t find the exact right words to help him. Not because he didn’t have resources. But nonetheless, he died of a drug overdose, alone.

I needed help after he died. I needed help to heal from the pain I carried from the blame I took on from failing to help him. I needed help, because grief is hard. I needed help, because hurting is hard.

And not only did I need help in crisis times, I needed help because 2020 and 2021 have been hard. I needed help to manage life on life’s terms even when my hair was not on fire. I needed help in the quiet times of everyday life.

I am a licensed therapist and I needed help.

In order for us all to be better, we must be willing to talk about the hard stuff. We must be willing to say the things that make us uncomfortable and tell the people that need to be told the truth.

We have to be willing to say:

📢“I am in pain.”

📢“I love you.”

📢“I see you.”

📢“I don’t like this.”

📢“No, I won’t.”

📢“I want to go.”

📢“I cannot do this anymore.”

📢“I need help.”

Refuse to remain comfortable.

Asking for help, requiring help, receiving help means you are human.

❌Not broken.

❌Not damaged.

❌Not strange.

❌Not messed-up.

❌Not diseased.

❌Not a lost cause.

❌Not alone.

🌟Only human.

October 10th is Mental Health Awareness Day. Just be aware that mental health matters. It matters not only in a crisis when your hair is on fire, but EVERY SINGLE DAY.

Mental health matters because we are human and being human is hard. If we can prioritize maintenance on our car, our house and our hair color, surely our mind, body and spirit are just as important to maintain with a little help from others who get it.

I get it – if you need help and don’t know where to start. Start here, with me.

Be Your Own Advocate

I am not a fan of pink – I’m just not.

I do not like being put in a color box because I am a woman and pink is feminine. Pink is a color – not an identity. However, this month, October I love pink. Pink signifies survival. My mother is a brave breast cancer survivor. My grandmother was also a brave breast cancer survivor. My cousin who beat breast cancer, but was taken from us after cancer returned in her brain. So many friends and family members that I could make an entire post filled with their names, who have bravely fought the battle with breast cancer. Women who make me proud to wear pink. Women who gave me the strength and knowledge of how to not only trust science and medicine, but to ask questions and advocate for myself.

I do not have breast cancer, and for that I am grateful. I know I do not have breast cancer because:

✅I follow the recommendations of medical professionals.

✅I perform self-examinations.

✅I get a mammogram every year.

At 37, I asked my primary care doctor for a referral for a mammogram. The year before, the recommended age to begin mammograms was pushed from age 35 to 40. When she looked at my family history, she gladly made the referral – but only because I asked and I have received a mammogram every year since.

My first mammogram showed ‘dense breast tissue’ which could be difficult to detect masses with a mammogram alone. Though, each year, my mammogram came back ‘clean’ with no concerns.

Until this year…

I read “There is an isodense, oval mass measuring 14mm with obscured margins seen in the posterior one-third upper outer region of the right breast” from the MyChart app while I soaked in the tub after my daughters’ swim meet.

I froze – I was terrified. A mass in my breast.

It was a Monday night and I had no other information, with the exception of what WebMD had to say. I didn’t know what this meant, so I messaged my doctor on the app. Then, I read the report to my husband and we sat silently while we processed what this could mean. And of course, I did all the things I tell people not to do. I hopped in my time machine and traveled into the fearful future I made up in my head and began planning for what may come – not a helpful practice.

The next morning, I called the office where I had my mammogram and scheduled a “diagnostic mammogram and targeted ultrasound”, as recommended in the report I read on MyChart app, to get more information on what was going on inside my boob. In the meantime, my doctor messaged me back encouraging me ‘not to worry until we have something to worry about.’ That was Tuesday morning. The “diagnostic mammogram and targeted ultrasound” were scheduled the FOLLOWING Friday morning – 10 days away.

I told a couple of close friends, but kept this to myself. I didn’t want worry anyone else until I had to.

Honorable, right? WRONG!

My problems, my fears, my issues and my struggles are worth the worry of others. I did not have to go through that alone and each time I shared my fears with someone I trusted, I felt better – lighter and better able to function in the midst of the torturous holding pattern of waiting for more results.

After the diagnostic mammogram and targeted ultrasound, the radiologist explained there was not only one but two masses in my right breast and the recommendation was to biopsy both of them. I was a fan of this plan, because if there is something in there, I wanted to know what it is. I asked the radiologist how they found the second mass. He said the ultrasound is more sensitive than the mammogram and is able to pick up masses a mammogram misses.

My next question was ‘then why aren’t we doing an ultrasound on my left breast to make sure the mammogram didn’t miss anything there?’ He agreed and said if I waited while they contacted my doctor for an order, they would do the ultrasound right then. And guess what…there were two small masses in my left breast as well. These were much smaller and did not indicate any concern, however, they are there and now we know they are there – because I asked.

I was then scheduled for an ultrasound biopsy the following Tuesday – 4 days later – on both masses in my right breast. It didn’t feel great, but it wasn’t the worst thing I’ve ever felt either. There was a lot of pressure, but the doctor and the nurses were wonderful in explaining every step and checking in with me along the way. They realized, they do this every day, but I do not and they treated me as such which I am grateful for.

I had bruising, bandages and swelling, but I’ve also had bug bites that have caused about as much discomfort. I felt empowered to take action to know what was going on with my body. The action fought against the fear of the unknown. The practice of mindfulness was extremely helpful to my mental health during this time. Mindfulness stopped me from time traveling down a path that I may never walk.

About 24 hours later, as I was getting seven inches of my hair chopped off at the salon, the doctor called me with the results and she led with ‘Stephanie, I have good news!’ From there, I heard very little other than the word ‘benign.’ She told me I didn’t need to do anything else for follow-up unless I had issues with the incisions. Sweet relief rolled over me!

Even in that celebratory moment, I remembered a note from the initial mammogram report which indicated I was now at an “increased lifetime risk for breast cancer” and an annual MRI was appropriate for additional screening. I asked her about the note, and she said I would be eligible and my doctor could order it no problem. Again, I asked the question to get the answer.

I am grateful for medicine and for medical professionals – more so than I have ever been. They have so much to juggle, monitor and prioritize without working from home or calling in sick. Medical professionals are our partners in taking care of health and it is our obligation to ask questions and participate in our medical care.

I share my story today, because I was terrified when I got these results. I read words I didn’t understand and I was intimidated to ask questions, but my medical professions held space for me and even encouraged me to do so. I wasn’t made to feel inferior or stupid for asking, nor did they make me feel like I was bothering them. And when I asked questions, I got more answers – it’s that simple.

I advocate for people for a living. I consider myself outspoken. And still…I struggled to ask the questions to make sense of what was going on in my body.

Ask the questions. Find doctors and nurses and therapists and facilities who encourage you to do so because it is your body and your health and you have an obligation to yourself and those who love you to take care of you!

Your concerns, your fears, your issues and your problems are worthy of the worry of others.  

✨Ask the questions

✨Share your story

✨Reach out for support

(Spoiler Alert – YOU ARE NOT ALONE!)