This Is My 40

Three life lessons from a tumultuous last decade.

1. Self care is no joke.

For a long time I believed that rest was for wimps. In college, I attended class all day, headed to a grueling three hour gymnastics practice, then studied at the library well into the night. I’d wake up for my eight o’clock classes and start all over again. It wasn’t that I was a human machine - one of my professors even called my gymnastics coach because I was constantly falling asleep in class. I simply would not acknowledge that I needed rest. After college, I kept this familiar schedule, working all day and coaching at night. Looking back now, I was running on fumes of anxiety. Down time terrified me. The expectations I put on myself were crushing and no amount of studying was enough. 

It took having kids and leaving a job in academia after almost a decade to help me understand that this pace was unsustainable. It wasn’t one moment or even several, but a slow realization that I because I was not taking good care of myself I was not showing up as the person I wanted to be in the world. I had an extremely short fuse, lots of simmering anger, and I didn’t have any clue about experiencing the present moment. I had one speed - GO. 

Gradually, I made big shifts in my life. I quit my job that had me commuting over an hour each way (with kids, full time). I started a new job from home. I went to therapy for the first time. I began my writing practice. More recently, after my migraines started significantly impacting my quality of life, I decided to try to get eight hours of sleep each night. I finally figured out how to nap. 

I did these things over the course of about five years. There was surely no magic bullet. But I can honestly say that most days I feel really good about what I’m doing with my time and how I am progressing as a person. I have so much room to grow, but I’m also really proud of the choices I’ve made to get myself to this place. 
 

2. Most of the small stuff doesn’t matter. Really.

Not long after my husband and I moved into our first home, a poorly built condo for which we paid way too much at the height of the real estate market before the recession, we had a toilet break. My parents were visiting. All of a sudden water starting coming through the ceiling where the chandelier was hung over the dining room table. I completely lost it. I was screaming at my family as if it was somehow their fault. I couldn’t calm myself down. My dad finally suggested I go out for a walk to cool down. This was my thing - get really mad, really quickly. Why was I so quick to boil over? Who did this anger serve? I guess I got a release and adrenaline rush when I let that anger go by yelling, but this was something I was not proud of. 

For me, it took experiencing significant life challenges to fully understand and agree with the idea that most minor annoyances of daily life are not a big deal. When you say goodbye to your newborn, delivered into the world just hours earlier, and watch him wheeled away to undergo a cardiac catheterization under general anesthesia; well, traffic and picky eating and email just seem like ridiculous things to be worried about. Practicing being grateful has helped me too. When I’m struggling mightily with being a caregiver for my mom with advanced dementia I try to recall how grateful I am that my sister and I are a team, almost always aligned in decision-making and having each other’s backs for support. Facing this disease without my sister is unthinkable. 

I lose sight of this one routinely, but I think I’m getting quicker in my recovery and I know my anger has decreased significantly. Just recently I arrived at the pool with the kids and noticed a hissing sound when I get out of the car. Turns out there was a screw in my tire. Instead of losing my cool, I thought about how fortunate it was that I noticed it and I quickly got the car back home before the tire was entirely flat. No biggie. 
 

3. Your story really is your strength.

Like lots of new moms, I joined a baby group when my eldest was a newborn. There were probably 20 mom/baby pairs in this group led by a breastfeeding expert. I remember watching with a kind of horrified fascination as all the moms laid out their adorable teal and white chevron baby blankets, placed their baby upon them, and then actually sat back and participated in the discussion. My own dear baby (the one who’s now 10), screamed bloody murder if you dared try to leave her on the floor by herself. She was usually screaming anyway, but the volume was somewhat decreased if she was attached in some way to me. I can’t recall a single positive moment from that group and I think I may have stopped going, unable to handle the feelings of defeat that came in waves as I tried to get through those sessions. My early motherhood was filled with these moments of feeling alone, separate from the other moms, aside from my closest of friends. 

We've since learned that this little baby, my daughter, Carly, experiences the world differently than most people you know. When she was a toddler she would often tell me she wished she was still inside my belly. The world was too much for her to bear. She needed parents who could let that be ok. Parents who could handle huge emotional hurricanes that roared through her little body. We were not those parents. Slowly, over the course of several long years, we changed the story of the parents we thought we were to become the parents Carly needed us to be. 

Back then I couldn’t have imagined how Carly would have changed my outlook on life, but now I see how she has rewired my entire brain. The experience of feeling isolated as an outsider was new to me and brought along a new perspective, a new compassion for other people and for myself. Seeing my own child struggle in every possible way and trying for many years to help without seeing much success also made me a more empathetic person with a capacity for holding space for heaviness, discomfort, and loss. 

This very thing I resisted, the ability to sit with the most challenging of emotions without changing or avoiding or shoving them behind the curtain, is the exact thing I bring to the women I work with in my business. It’s what I am teaching them to do with their own stories; look at the darkest of times square in the face and see the beauty in what you’ve become because you found your way through.  

Book Club: Inheritance

What a treat to have the pleasure of meeting author Dani Shapiro several weeks ago when she was in town to promote her new memoir, Inheritance. I’ve loved all of Dani’s books because she dives headfirst into the pain and shows us how crafting a narrative helps to get to the other side.

Inheritance is fantastic for me because there’s a lot about genetics and ethics in the book, along with some big philosophical questions like Who am I? In this video I explain the genetics behind how it was determined that Dani’s half sister was not actually her half sister. Plus I get into the Who am I question and how it might prompt some exploration in you.

If you are considering at home DNA testing for health, ancestry or any other reason it would behoove you to meet with a genetic counselor first. Find someone here. If you have specific questions about your test results, check out my friend Brianne’s site, Watershed DNA. She’s the absolute expert and my go-to for all of this.

Underwent testing and now have a story like Dani’s to tell? Reach out to me - I’d love to help you find meaning in the experience as you weave your new identify into your life.

I’ll be back next week with my second video on Inheritance .

Me with Dani Shapiro in Reston, VA. (queue heart eye emoji!)

Grace for the Messy Middle

However you visualize your Heroine's Journey, (I've found it to be a helpful way to put things in perspective) the Dark Night of the Soul, aka the Messy Middle, is part of it. It's a human experience shared by all of us. In my role as a caregiver for my mom with dementia, I am smack dab in this place. It's kinda a tough spot. In case any of you are also here with me, I thought I'd share some things I've been thinking about. 

The Cocoon
Awhile ago I listened to an interview with Britta Bushnell, PhD on the Atomic Moms podcast. She talked about confronting the unknown by drawing upon the mythical story of Inanna, the Sumerian mother goddess of Heaven and Earth. It's essentially another version of the Hero's Journey, with a goddess as our guide. The messy middle is a big part of this story. Being in this place is critical to transformation. Eventually we will emerge as a beautiful butterfly. For right now though, 

🦋 The length of time is unpredictable. 

🦋 We are patient.

🦋 We surrender to the process.


Asking for help
For many of us, it's sooo hard to ask for help. Why? For me I think it's the fear of hearing "no" in response. Guess what? People do say "no". The kind-hearted, "Let me know how I can help!" people. Our brains like to turn this into a big deal: why should anyone help you? you're never going to get this worked out, you might as well give up. everyone is too busy to care about your problems. Sound familiar? The flipside is that if you get the courage to keep asking, there are people who say "Yes!" with the most generous, beautiful, compassion. Just last week I had a friend say no and a friend say yes. The yes was a big one - our neighbors used their airline miles to purchase flights for our family (!!). Still, my brain keeps returning to the no. We have to remind ourselves of the good around us, redirect our minds to focus on the positive. 
 

This little nugget popped into my head last week and I've been trying to keep it in the front of my mind:

Let me hold your story for awhile so you can rest. 


Doesn't that feel like fresh air? We can think of "me" as G-d or the Universe or the Divine or a friend, but I don't think it has to be a person. We all need the opportunity to set aside our burdens for a moment to catch our breath and look around. 

ENOUGH (aka boundaries)

I opened the email and scrolled. Here's what you should do. Here's why that's not the right decision. Here's where you should look and who you should talk to. 

When I first started getting these emails from people who do care about me and my family a couple of years ago, I would feel the need to consider and explore all the options presented. I didn't want to overlook something important or fail to consider an option. 

Over the years, I've gotten much more clear about who has a say in the decisions I make for my family. Instead of "Thanks for your input!", I'm turning to "Thanks, but this is a personal decision and we are not looking for outside opinions."

I know some of you reading this today are in the middle of a big decision. If not a decision, perhaps a time of transition or a time of hardship/messiness/distress. Everyone and their mother wants to give you advice about what to do. Does this ring true?

I've made several huge, even life or death decisions for my family, and I'm currently in the middle of another big family decision. I thought I would share what I've learned in the event that you too feel like a sailing ship at the mercy of the waves and weather. 

1. Who's on your team? You know, the decision-making team. It should be people you trust 100% without a single ounce of doubt. All other voices get shut out. Be ruthless. My therapist taught me a visualization where you picture a safe. Open up the safe, put all of those outside opinions in there, close it and LOCK IT.

2. There isn't a right decision. I mean, maybe sometimes there is, but in my experience, there is often not a perfect solution or an obvious right one. You are not allowed to beat yourself up for making the "wrong" decision later. I've been stuck in this trap before and it can lead to dark places that are hard to pull out of. I continue to work on untangling myself from the idea of a right or wrong decision. 

3. Make peace with yourself and let go of the outcome. Even when we do all of the research and have the absolute best of intentions, sometimes it doesn't work out the way we want it to. Sometimes the decisions we make go against the wishes of the person we are making them for. Your job is to look at the absolute biggest picture, the eagle's view, and ask yourself no matter what the outcome is, will I be able to live with this decision?

I hope this brings you a little bit of comfort. I'm over here, in your corner. 

Photo by    Paul Green    on    Unsplash

Photo by Paul Green on Unsplash

Dementia Made Me My Mom’s Mom, And It’s Devastating. Here’s Why It’s Also A Gift.

Marathon Monday

On April 16th my husband, Curt, ran the Boston Marathon. Throughout the entire training process, every time I talked about the marathon I said "we," as in both Curt and me, as if I was running the marathon too. It just came out. I am not a runner and in fact I can't quite stand running. I think it's because when our partners decide to commit to something big, we feel a stake in it too. We want it badly for the person we love and we often have a significant shift in our daily schedules too.

Because he was running for a charity, Team Frannie of the Ethan Lindberg Foundation, this added to my feelings of connectedness to the race. I wanted to give back to this organization that had been alongside us since my son Griffin was diagnosed in utero with congenital heart disease (CHD) seven years ago. 

Also, the lives of several children who had died of CHD were integrally woven into this race: Ari, Chase, Ethan, Frannie. Their moms, dads, and siblings would all be present on race day. 

On race day, Curt got up early and headed out. The weather was as bad as predicted. The kids and I sat in the hotel restaurant watching the elite runners and wheelchair athletes at the starting line.  The rain was already gushing in torrents over the hotel entrance, soaking passersby. I was anxious about Curt having to stand in the wet and cold for hours before he started. I was anxious about all of the runners having trained so intensely to show up for this weather. Then they did a tribute on tv to the five year anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombing and my kids starting asking what had happened. Yes, I was anxious about that too.

We headed up to the hotel pool and I watched Carly and Griffin play. My heart was hurting, confused and joyful. Hurting for the pain that CHD has caused these families and my own. Confused about how some kids make it and other kids don't. Joyful that we had the once in a lifetime opportunity to be in Boston that day and participate, in our own way, in the race. 

A little while later, we arrived downtown. We stepped out of the uber and within ten second we were drenched. The kids starting complaining immediately but we went up to Beacon St. to watch the elite women pass. At mile 25, they were almost done. 

We stayed inside for a while, keeping warm. But, I had only one chance to see Curt and I didn't want to miss him. So, the Team Frannie crew headed out to Beacon St. Again, fully drenched within seconds. The rain was coming in sheets, sideways. By now the runners were slowing down. Many were walking. Several were already wrapped in the silver thermal blankets they normally receive at the end. Some were in between two runners who had their arms wrapped around the middle runner, almost carrying the person along. A double amputee made his way by on his prosthetics. I could see the pain in his clenched face.

About 15 minutes before we expected Curt, I took my hand out of my glove and held my phone, with the camera open. I wanted to capture the moment on video. This meant that my hand and arm were sopping wet and frozen and that I couldn't follow Curt on the tracker app because I wanted to keep the camera ready. 

The 15 minutes came and went. By this time Griffin was crying hysterically. He was freezing and wanted to go inside. Carly was ready to give up on seeing Daddy too. I couldn't hug them because we were too wet and I was holding an umbrella and the Team Frannie sign we made and the phone. I tried picking Griffin up and putting the umbrella down but that made things worse. 

I needed to make a decision and quick. Should I let them go inside and get warm? My mother's instinct said yes, especially for Griffin whose health could really be affected by this weather. But my human instinct said no. Their dad had undergone a grueling training for this day. The families standing next to me had undergone weeks and months of hospitals stays for their sick children. And, even if they didn't feel it right then, my kids would always want to have the memory of seeing their dad at mile 25 of the Boston Marathon. So we stayed out.

I started wondering if we missed him. What is he wearing? the Team Frannie supporters wanted to know. I didn't know or couldn't remember, the anxiety getting the best of me by this point. Is Griffin ok? they asked. I wasn't sure.

Finally, we spotted him through the driving rain. He looked fantastic - a big smile on his face and a great energy in his stride. I instantly felt ten pounds lighter. The kids switched from crying to cheering. I pushed the red video button on my outstretched hand. 

He gave us a each a kiss and then he was gone. I looked at my phone and realized it hadn't recorded the moment. I tried again as he ran off towards Boylston St, the final stretch the runners dream of. 


All the struggle and pain and beauty and transformation of life was happening right in front of us that day. Feeling so many emotions at the same time IS life. I was filled with pride and love as I watched Curt run past. Then I turned to take the kids in and caught the eye of my friend Jessica, mom of Ethan, and became filled with sadness for the loss of his life. 

Life is not black and white. It's not either or. It's messy and gray, confused and beautiful. I'm lucky to be here, right in the middle of it.