friends

What I Learned from Sara

Two years ago today, I woke up on a friend's couch in NJ and received the text that no one wants to receive. It was my friend Sara's daughter, Cami. She was telling me that Sara had passed away.

Two years later, I feel angry. I know enough from therapy to know that anger isn't a feeling, it's a response to a feeling. So what am I really feeling? I'm feeling frustrated. I'm frustrated that I didn't listen to Sara sooner. She told me that I was amazing and special and deserved a ton of love, support and acceptance and for some frustrating reason, I didn't listen to her. It might have been because it was a lesson she was teaching me, as she was learning it herself.

See, when I met Sara, she and I were in relationships with people who didn't really love us. We didn't see it at the time but we were both settling for people who were sort of along for the ride, but not really invested in the long-term--especially when our lives took a challenging turn. Her journey battling cancer was just beginning and I would soon start my gender transition process. We would spend a lot of time talking about our relationships at work, and she kept telling me that the beginning of a relationship should be fun and exciting--that I should feel chosen and wanted and cherished and loved. Those were the feelings I had at that job and around her and with other people, but not with the person I had chosen as a partner.

It frustrates me now that I that I didn't see what was so obvious. Life is like that, right?

Sara's relationship was similar. She fell for someone who was attractive to her for a few reasons, but didn't really provide what she needed. At the end of her life she woke up to this, and drew boundaries that deeply inspired me. It's like she suddenly got it, and I'm so proud of her for going out strong.

For Christmas one year, she gave me this plaque to hang on my wall. And now it's hanging right by my front door, so I'm constantly reminded not only of her love for me, but the truth of what it says.

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More than any work we do, the relationships in our lives are incredibly important. How we treat people is a mark of our character. Our ability to love, respect and support other people, especially during difficult times in their lives, is a testament to how much we love, respect and support ourselves. We may not always get it right, but the most important thing we can do is be responsible for our shortcomings and ask how to make it better. We can apologize from our heart, not from our bruised egos.

Whether it's a primary partner, a family member or a friend, this is what we can strive for in our relationships.

We CAN do this, if we CHOOSE to do it. It may require some additional outside resources and some deep digging into our own issues and blocks, but we always have the choice. And if someone isn't willing or able to give us what we want to give in return, it is better that they leave our lives.

For a long time, I felt guilty that I hid from Sara's love and didn't show up the way I could have in the last year of her life. She speaks to me through her beautiful daughter Cami, who is patient and gentle with me, just like her mother was. She absolves me of my guilt and reminds me that Sara knew how much I loved her. I feel so grateful that I get to love Sara even more now, through my relationships with her incredible family.

And while I should have listened to her sooner, I know Sara is fist-pumping for me somewhere when I summon the courage to draw a boundary like she did. I feel her on my shoulder and listen to her voice in my ear anytime I experience any less than the love she gave me and told me I deserved.

Show up fully, even if it's scary

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Last week I did something I'd been thinking about for a long, long time. I woke up and felt completely discouraged and a little bit hopeless and I posted what was really happening for me in a really long Facebook status. I put it all out there. I shared some really deep details about myself.

I was completely terrified to do this. I was afraid it would leave people with the impression that I was a failure of a human being and most definitely a failure as a health coach. I overcame the fear and was practically brought to tears as the likes and comments multiplied minute after minute. To date, it has 124 likes and over 60 comments! I overcame the fear and chose to open it up and put it out there, and people resonated very deeply with it.

I'd been carrying this fear around with me for a really long time, though. And it was bugging me to see person after person engage with my Facebook wall or blog posts and the whole time I was left feeling like they were really interacting with a cardboard cutout of me, instead of the REAL me. I know a lot of business folks, or just everyday people, who do this and are perfectly content with it.

I wasn't.

See, there's this trend that everyone's aware of but still participates in. A lot of people are going around posting the highlights of their lives and not really talking about whatever else is happening. I know this for a fact, because I know what people are going through and how it compares to what they show.

Welcome to the social media monster, right?

Wrong.

It doesn't have to be that way. In fact, the more I see people do this, the less I feel inclined to engage with them. And I was concerned people were getting that vibe from me, too. After listening to Pema Chödrön talk about "fake spiritual people" one day, I realized it was sort of my worst nightmare to be coming off as fake to anyone. I was talking about my life and the good and not-so-hot parts of it to other people but I wasn't really showing it publicly. I get the point of professionalism, really I do. But what's the point of that when I'm touting authenticity and fearlessness from one side of my face and pretending everything is fine and dandy from the other side.

I don't think I ever gave that impression but was focused on posting positive stuff to inspire and encourage people. Based on the response I received from that post the other day, people don't just want or need positive stuff. They certainly don't need more negative, cynical stuff but they want real. They want strife. They want to know how I struggle and overcome the same stuff they deal with every day.

I realized I wasn't sharing that with my folks and it wasn't serving me, personally or professionally.

I can't relate to someone who only shares smiles and sunshine. It tells me that person can't be present to the grief and darkness that is part of being human. And that isn't who I am or want to be for others.

I've gone through some very difficult times the past few months which included leaving a long-term relationship, moving all my worldly belongings twice in three months and opening a new office for my business. Not easy stuff, I tell ya.

It wasn't easy, but I did it all because I have learned how to take really good care of myself. In fact, those choices and changes are a RESULT of how well I take care of myself. It's all part of the same package. When I share that with people, it is the full picture of what's behind my healthy breakfasts, my personal-record-breaking jogs, my donut dates with good friends, the pink armchair in my new office and my selfies.

There was a time not long ago, several times in fact, where I couldn't stand my own reflection. To take a selfie and post it is a testament to how far I've come to appreciate my own likeness in the past few years.

This is what people need to see.

This is what people need to read about.

They don't need more resentment. They don't need more complaints. They don't need more advice telling them what to do or think or feel or say to be "right" or "wrong".

They don't need more pictures that highlight the good and make the pain or challenge invisible.

I don't believe it when I see it so I know people weren't believing it about me, either. People aren't stupid, they saw the void where a partnership used to be in my life. They saw a new table when I took pictures of my food.

By opening up and letting it all out, I invited them into what real transformation looks like, what real change requires and what real life is like when you're giving it all you've got to do the best you can.

I was afraid to be so real because I thought people would think I had nothing to offer them as a health coach. If my life isn't perfect, what would they have to learn from me?

I realized that wasn't true. The most valuable thing I can provide people is an example. I can show up fully and be a real example of the resilience, tenacity and self-love one needs to be your authentic self, to leave relationships that aren't supportive, respectful and loving, to pursue work that is meaningful and fulfilling and eat healthy food and exercise even when it feels like your life is falling apart.

I can show up fully, even when it's scary, to inspire other people to do the same.

 

What can YOU provide people? What would you share if you stepped into being fully authentic?

 

Hiding Hinders Healing: What Helped Lift My Depression

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I was sitting down to write a paper for grad school about How We Determine Our Worth and I saw the news about Robin Williams. He allegedly committed suicide after years of battling depression.

I've long considered writing about my own experience with depression but since it felt more situational and wasn't a clinical diagnosis, I felt it wouldn't be as valuable.

And then I realized that was dumb.

My depression was real. I felt it so deeply I wanted to commit suicide multiple times and I expressed those feelings to friends. I wasn't kidding or joking or trying to get attention. I felt helpless and hopeless beyond belief and beyond comfort many, many times.

My depression was legitimate to me, with or without some clinician signing off on a diagnosis or prescription.

I've been able to find my way out from under the weight of the depressive bouts on each and every occasion over the years without prescription medications. I seem to be on a good upswing because the bouts have become much fewer and farther between, lately. I figured that it may be helpful to someone to read what helped my depression so I've decided to push past the thoughts about the depression other people feel and experience and write about mine.

I talked about it. Perhaps one of the toughest parts about depression is speaking about it. There may be fear or shame there because it may carry a stigma implying individual weakness. "Just pick yourself up and move on," people might say. I felt that fear and shame but I still spoke about it. I said it to my therapist. I said it to my friends. I said it to myself. "I feel depressed," I'd say. "I am depressed."

I felt it. Much like talking about it, simply feeling it helped. I allowed myself to be or feel depressed and didn't make excuses or feel like a failure because I was experiencing depression. I knew it was something people feel and I was now feeling it. It sucked and I often wished it would pass more quickly, but I never beat myself up for feeling it and that may have helped me not sink further down. On one occasion this past year, I backed myself into a closet and cried loudly until the tears stopped. I felt a little concerned while it was happening and wondered if calling 911 made sense but on the other side of it, about 30 minutes later, I felt a tremendous weight lifted.

I assessed my current situation and determined that it might be making me feel depressed. It might not be you. It might be your job, your relationship or something else that is not a good or right fit. In more than a few instances, changing my situation profoundly helped my depression.

I ate foods that seemed to improve my mood and (tried to) avoid ones that made it worse. When I ate sugar, my depression came on like gangbusters. What was mildly annoying or bothersome or frustrating one day would become utterly and profoundly hopeless within hours of ingesting too much sugar. I felt painted into a corner by paint that would never, ever dry. "This will be like this forever!" I'd say. And then, I would drink a lot of water and eat more vegetables (especially dark, leafy greens) and the sugar would pass through my bloodstream. The same situation that had me paralyzed hours earlier would feel slightly less horrible. And then, mildly horrible. And then, not so bad at all. I tried to remember this the next time I was tempted to eat a lot of sugar in one sitting but it didn't (doesn't) always work.

I made sure I got sleep, even when it was erratic. Experiencing insomnia brought on by anxiety or depression is hell. I've been through it a few times in the past few years and each time I become incredibly angry. We need sleep to function, it isn't something we can skip on and expect to really thrive. I hated that I wasn't sleeping, especially when I tried everything I could think of to remedy the insomnia. Essential oils. Baths. Not eating or drinking after 8pm. Cool temperature in the room. Blankets. No lights on. Earplugs. God, everything. But I persevered and eventually the circadian rhythms righted themselves and it dissipated. The most helpful thing may have been my tenacity with a regular bedtime, no matter how long I stayed asleep or how many times I woke up during the night.

I wrote about it. I wrote about my depression and didn't publish the blog posts. I got the words out with a pen in a paper journal. I sometimes resorted to drawing angry or sad faces with a crayon.

I listened to music that inspired me in some way. Sometimes it was African lullabies, sometimes it was Disney songs. Sometimes it was cathartic singer-songwriter stuff, in moderation of course. Listening to the suffering of others sometimes helped me gain much-needed perspective on my own situation. Often it helped me feel connected to someone, that person who wrote that song, even if that person was a total stranger who didn't even know I existed. They knew what I was feeling, though, and I felt less wrong or bad or hopeless that I would ever feel anything but those things.

I reminded myself that it might be depression. During especially difficult moments, the kind when I wasn't sure I needed to keep hanging out here on Earth, I remembered that it wasn't total and complete reality that would linger forever. It might be depression, instead, and it might pass.

I remembered my accomplishments. When I felt like I'd done all I could with my life and wanted to pass Go and collect my $200, I reminded myself of what I had accomplished. I considered all I've overcome. I reflected on the lessons I've learned and wondered what else was left for me to experience. "If my life has been this rich," I'd think, "what if there's even more ahead?"

I reached out for help from people I knew would listen. When I was depressed, hanging out or speaking with someone who didn't understand it or have compassion for it made it much worse. Calling someone who didn't judge or condemn it, and even understood it, helped me much more. Even though I don't experience ongoing depression and mine seems to come and go, I still relate to the fundamental quality of it. I remember it. While I hope that all people can find and experience relief from it, I can still hold the space for them as they find that relief. Not everyone can do this. They can't sit with their own feelings and probably can't hold the space for you. I don't spend too much time around these people, anymore.

If you feel depressed or experience ongoing depression, I encourage you to try some of what helped me, in addition to whatever you're doing that helps you wake up and put your feet on the floor each day.