Identifying Your Own Personal Roadblocks

Last November I noticed that the gym one block from me was having an amazing sale. But when I walked in the walls were lime green and orange, with no windows.  And admittedly I was a bit judge-y about the clientele.  I felt like all the men were meat head/muscle men and there were very few women in sight.  I left after getting a tour, convinced that the aesthetic of a place was more important to me than proximity, and I’d find another gym.

A couple of weeks later they had an even more ridiculous sale and I got over myself and joined.  I knew that come winter, I would stop running and this would effect my emotional and mental health.

I have now been going consistently since November.  I took away a major lesson from this.  Don’t make things harder on yourself than they need to be.  First of all, how motivated would I have been if the walk to my gym was 15 minutes away instead of 2 minutes.  Would I go as often?  Probably not.  Why?  Because I know myself, and my motivation comes in spurts, which I need to capitalize on in the moment.  The more time I give myself to overthink and change my mind, the less likely I will be to do things.

Had I let my judgments get the better of me, I would have stopped running for the last few months.  While I do appreciate a gym that is aesthetically pleasing it turns out that really isn’t much of a road block for me…but traveling a far distance is.  

Make things easier on yourself.  If there are things you want to do more often such as exercise, throw potlucks, sing-a-longs, jam sessions etc, don’t make it an impossible feat to do.  Figure out what are the road blocks that prevent you from taking action and make it work for you.  What are motivating factors for YOU?  

I was also re-reminded that first impressions are not always correct.  I have a new found appreciation for my gym.  It’s a VERY diverse group of people, all ages, all races, all sizes, all types of folks. Pretentious it is NOT.  And that, as it turns out, is another motivating factor for me.

Take care of YOU.






Understanding Secondary Trauma

In the last decade or so, I’ve finally heard this phrase get some real air time.  Secondary trauma is a real thing, and as caregivers we are NOT immune to this form of damaging traumatic stress.

What is secondary trauma?  The National Child Traumatic Stress Network defines it as, “Emotional duress that results when an individual hears about the firsthand trauma experiences of another.  Its symptoms mimic those of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder).”

Everyone talks about burnout, but are we addressing WHY we burn out?  There’s more to it than just the long hours.

One of my first exposures to secondary trauma was back in 2001 when I lived in Ireland.  I worked at a homeless shelter that was run primarily by us international volunteers. The volunteers all lived together in a house, walking distance from the shelter.  We were young hopeful early twenty-somethings, hoping to “give back.” Within one week of working there, my idea of the world had been blown apart.  I saw and experienced violence.  I watched irreparable damage be done to others because of the addiction to the drink.  I heard first hand accounts of families killed and destroyed because of “the troubles” (referring to the conflict in Northern Ireland).

I have too many stories and memories to recall in this little post, so I will focus on what I learned.  Whenever we would come back from our shifts at the shelter, we’d sit and help the other person process what had happened while they were there.  Sometimes it was just little updates, and other times it was major.  We really had no idea what we were doing or even that this act of being for there for one another was so crucial.  But we did it anyway, and we did it consistently.  Having a place to put all those traumatic stories was crucial to our mental health.  We didn’t have therapists, but we had each other.

As the years have gone on, I’ve continued to process when I need to and seek out help through therapy or friends.  But not because this has ever been offered or suggested at my various jobs.  In fact, compassion fatigue and secondary trauma are rarely if ever mentioned.  These tools were incorporated into my self care regime, primarily due to my initial foundation learned all those years ago, by accident.

You may THINK you are someone who doesn’t take “work” home with you.  But have you ever snapped at your child, a stranger on the train, your spouse or parent for a tiny little reason?  Of course you have.  This stuff affects us, it just does.  And while I will scream up and down that you need to take your sick days, and use your vacation time, I will also remind you, you need to process what you see and hear as well.  The danger is too great that you will lose yourself and what makes you uniquely you, if you ignore the signs of secondary traumatic stress.

What are the signs?

Hyper-vigilance, hopelessness, guilt, avoidance, survival coping, social withdrawal, minimizing, anger and cynicism, sleeplessness, insensitivity to violence, illness, fear, chronic exhaustion, disconnection, poor boundaries, loss of creativity, inability to listen, and diminished self care.

One book I highly recommend is called “Trauma Stewardship: An Everday Guide to Caring for Self While Caring for Others by Laura Van Dernoot Lipsky.  Also just a reminder that many jobs offer the EAP (Employee Assistance program) which often gives you at least three free therapy sessions, which is completely confidential.

Take care of YOU.

Attempt to be present moment to moment.

Yesterday I started reading, “The Power of Now” by Eckhart Tolle.  I’ll be honest with you, I had a lot of moments of “huh???”  It wasn’t all sinking into my overactive noggin.  But I did manage to take one major thing from it, here’s a quote:

“Your mind is an instrument, a tool.  It is there to be used for a specific task, and when the task is completed, you lay it down.  As it is, I would say about 80 to 90 percent of most people’s thinking is not only repetitive and useless, but because of its dysfunctional and often negative nature, much of it is also harmful.  Observe your mind and you will find this to be true.  It causes a serious leakage of vital energy.”

Whoa.  The line “causes serious leakage of vital energy” hit me HARD.  I need all the energy I can get,  and so do you!  To hear that I am expelling more energy than was necessary made me look a little deeper.  I absolutely related to the idea my thoughts are often repetitive and harmful.

It’s a long book and I’ve only just scratched the surface but one of the things the writer recommends (so that your mind can get off the hamster wheel), is to be present in what you are doing.  You can quiet your mind by shifting your awareness to what is happening right now in the moment.

So I am going to give this a shot this week.  When my brain starts to go over and over something, I’m going to attempt to shift the focus back onto whatever is happening in that moment.  How does my body feel? Am I so worked up I haven’t been taking full breaths?  Am I in the middle of a task that I could instead focus my full attention on.  Do I need to have my phone in my eye line or is it merely an unnecessary distraction.

I have no idea how this will go, but I certainly don’t think it will hurt to give my mind a break from negative and repetitive thoughts…so here goes!

Take care of YOU.





“Our lives begin to end the day we become SILENT about the things that matter.”- MLK

In honor of the great Martin Luther King Jr. it seemed only fitting to use one of his many wise quotes on this important day.

The past few years I’ve become more and more in touch with how much damage we do to ourselves and others when we remain silent.  Silent about the injustices we observe happening to others, silent about the injustices happening to us.  Silent about concerns, or little things eating away at us, and on and on.

I do not feel at all equipped to write on this but I do know that we have a responsibility to  value and illuminate especially the voices and stories of those who have been silenced.  In the past year, the stories of Eric Garner, Sandra Bland, Tamir Rice and many more have surfaced.  And while your inclination may be to ignore their stories (for whatever your reasons may be), your denial serves no one.  One of the best people I know says, “Communication is love.”

So for the sake of your own self care and the caring of others, SPEAK UP!  Push against the resistance!  It will be uncomfortable sometimes, but who said life would always be comfortable.  Drown out the voices of those who do not teach LOVE but preach hate.  They do not deserve or need anymore air space.

Do not allow silence to be a option.

Take care of YOU and others.


“Rainy days and Mondays”…

A couple of weeks ago I was sharing with a friend, how rainy days are just plain hard for me.  My mood instantly plummets if it’s gray outside.  I can be humming along, loving life, and get a glimpse of the dreariness outside and BOOM!  I become very melancholy.  I’m envious of those of you who love a rainy day; who love nothing more than jumping around in puddles or cozying up to a good book, listening to the rain.  (Now for those of you in drought country, perhaps hearing me go off on rain when it’s clearly a luxury in parts of the country and world, is rather annoying, so feel free to read ahead).

By talking it out with my friend here’s what I realized.  It has become very much a given that when it rains consistently ie: more than one day, I get sad and start to tank emotionally. I’m generally a glass half full person, but not on day 3 of rain…believe me.  I recognize that sometimes it’s good to feel and be in the sadness, and conversely sometimes we need to be lifted out of the sadness so we can function.

So through our brainstorm session my friend offered this piece of advice, “What if you save certain things you love to do, for rainy days?  So instead of feeling a sense of dread on rainy days, you will feel excitement because you get to do those things you love to do.”

Isn’t she smart?  I also think this was a tactic of my parents in my childhood. Hmmmm.

One thing I would add to that idea, is make that initial list of things you GET to do on rainy days (or whatever your thing is) when you aren’t sad.  I am rarely energetic or motivated when I’m down, so trying to think of things that I love doing, needs to be brainstormed on “up” days.  Don’t set yourself up to fail by expecting yourself to come up with rainy day plans when you’re already sad.  Nope.  That’s not going to help.

In my case, music has A LOT of power over me.  Certain music makes me instantly feel better, and so that music is now reserved for my rainy days.  I love playing records, I love coloring (yes I mean coloring in coloring books, they are everywhere these days for adults…do it!), I love going to the movies, the list goes on. So, I am going to start a rainy day pile of things that are going to make me WISH it was a rainy day.

This Saturday it’s supposed to rain, YAY!  Ok….maybe it’s still a “yay…” But I’m trying!

Take care of YOU.




Action is required.

I had an a-ha moment the other day, that would’ve made Oprah proud.  I had the day off and I knew what I needed to do: write another set for an upcoming open mic.  But what I “wanted” to do was watch non-stop episodes of the show “Jane the Virgin” * until my eyes went blurry.  The truth is I really did want to write, but my fear was kicking in.  Then I got hit with something…if the actors on that show had made the same decision I was making, to cave into their fear, there’d be no show.  They had to take action at some point.  They did not get where they are by sitting on their couch in their pj’s.  Let’s not fool ourselves here. They had to audition, face their fears, throw caution to the wind…all of it!

Making a decision to do something is not enough.  Action is required.  And I totally get how scary taking action can be.  Believe me.  Yesterday as I walked to the lounge where I was going to do an open mic, I started talking to myself out loud (it’s NewYork, no one batted an eye).  I told myself the fear I was feeling was a good thing.  I told myself, “From now on, when you feel this specific feeling, it means you are pushing yourself.  Get excited about this feeling, it means you aren’t stagnant.  You are alive and you are pushing past fear.”

“Everything you desire is on the other side of your fear.  If you push through, you will get it.  If you do nothing, you’ll get nothing.” -Mel Robbins

You are stronger than you think.  Think back to times in your life when you never thought you’d master something.  My fellow nurses, there was a time when we knew nothing, and felt like fake nurses am I right?  But we pushed past that fear, and then one day we didn’t feel like fakes.  It takes action, practice and patience.  This concept isn’t new to any of us.

You’ve done it before, you can do it again. You’ve got this.

Take care of YOU.

*(For those of you out there who are too spent after dealing with heartbreak all day to watch heavy shows, I really recommend this show…it’s a nice break from the harshness of life.)

Before you start the resolutions list, reflect back on what worked this year.

It’s the end of the year, time for those New Year’s resolutions…OR you could try something different.  What if instead of berating yourself for all you didn’t accomplish in 2015 and making a list of resolutions/punishments for the next year, you celebrated what did work.

When’s the last time you looked at your accomplishments, took inventory on everything you went through and threw some love your own way?

We don’t get report cards any more.  We don’t have a teacher evaluating our comprehension skills, listening abilities, and or how well we play with others.  But we are evolving beings who are consistently learning.

I suggest taking some time to look back on 2015.  What worked?  Where did you grow?  Where are you continuing to grow and are seeing some improvement?  Where did you surprise yourself?  In what areas were you stronger than you had realized?

Start this new year off feeling proud of what you learned about yourself in 2015, and excited about where you will grow in 2016.  (Look inward, by the way, outward appearance is too often a focus of resolutions.  How boring.  Am I right?)

I plan on taking a little time before the 1st of the New Year to reflect on what I learned.  Because while you and I may not have kept our resolutions, that doesn’t mean we were stagnant this past year.  Life happened and we were present in it.

Take care of YOU.


Trying something new…

This past week, I tried something new.  I had been itching to give stand up a shot for awhile, but fear of failure kept getting in the way.  I’ve said this a couple of times on the blog, but I truly believe we are better caregivers, when we take care of ourselves.  Taking care of yourself can take many forms.  I think the goal is figuring out what taking care of yourself looks like, to you.

To me, (among other things) it means getting involved in creative projects that use a different part of my brain than my career does.

This blog has been helpful to me, as it’s forcing me to write regularly, something I rarely do.  But the thing is, comedy has always been important to me.  Comedy is what has gotten me out of nearly every funk I’ve been in and it’s how I decompress.  But ultimately,  I just love to make people laugh.  It’s that simple.

Two weeks ago, I shared with a friend of mine that I wanted to start doing stand-up open mics starting in the new year.  I practically whispered this to her, because I had barely dared to say it out loud.  It felt too ridiculous. Who was I to say I’d even be funny?  What if I bombed?!  What if everyone could see I didn’t know what I was doing?  She listened to me talk it through as she typed away on the computer.  Suddenly she said, “Ok great, so I just registered you for a show…in two weeks.”    WHAT?!?!?

*WARNING:  If you say your dreams out loud to others, they will ask you about it.  Regularly.  This is a GOOD thing.  There is no way I would have been on stage yet if it hadn’t been for my friend.  She could hear all my excuses for why NOW just really wasn’t a good time, but rightly chose to ignore them

*NEWSFLASH: It’s never the RIGHT time.  The stars will never perfectly align.  You won’t get a letter in the mail that says, “Today is the day!”  Nope, you just have to do it.

As the day started looming closer here’s some of the sound advice I got along the way….

1.) Stop acting so precious about it all, just get up there.  (If you’re not into tough love, ignore this one.  But for me it was just the kick in the pants I needed.  I wasn’t going to be delivering a speech in front of the UN?!  I was going to be doing an open mic in a dirty club.  So yeah, I needed this reminder…every 5 minutes)

2.) No one is “seasoned” right off the bat, every single comic had to start somewhere.

3.) Don’t make it your goal to blow people’s minds, make it your goal to simply get up on stage.

4.) Have at least one friendly and familiar face in the audience.

5.) If you “fail” miserably, you can only get better.

6.) Are you going to stand on the diving board all day?  Jump in!

7.) Regardless of how it goes, you will learn something if you are open to it.

8.) All I had to do was show up.

Eventually the day arrived, and I went on stage.  And I was…not bad!  I got some laughs.  But more importantly I enjoyed myself and was proud of myself.  It also was a major help that I had a group of supportive friends in the audience who were there for me the whole night.  When I went home that night,  I signed myself up for another open mic.

Take from this whatever works, and ignore what doesn’t.  Personally I am all for telling people your dreams.  We need the support and friendly faces in the audience.  In the past I had only told my journal my dreams, and it turns out your journal won’t sign you up for an open mic.  Your friends will.

Take care of YOU.





Is more responsibility a good thing for you?

I’m about to say some unorthodox opinions here.  So I remind you these are just my opinions based on my own personal experience.

Years ago I was giving an injection to a woman who had about 3 weeks left of medical assisting school.  She was 25 years older than me and was excited to be switching careers.  She told me she was loving school and was looking forward to working in the medical field.  She shared that her instructors were all pushing her to become a nurse and eventually a nurse practitioner.  They said she was a natural!  Her response blew my mind…

She told me she no longer let compliments from others rule her life decisions. (That was my first “mind blown” moment- just because people thought she’d be good at something did not determine she WANTED to do it).

And then she said that she didn’t want any more responsibility beyond the role of a medical assistant.  She said she knew she could give excellent care in that role and would thoroughly enjoy and make a difference in her work.  This would also allow her to maintain her quality of life because she wouldn’t have to take her work home. (Second moment of “mind blown.”)

Now, I am not stating that if you want a role that carries more responsibility this is a bad choice.  Not at all.  This woman knew herself and despite the copious compliments she was given by others, she made the best self-care decision for her.

I will never forget that day.  At the time I was putting so much pressure on myself to go back to school to further my nursing career and yet I really didn’t want to.  I had been wooed by compliments and felt “well if other people think I should go back, I probably should.”  But as my dad would say, “That’s horse pucky!”

The should’s will get you every time.

For me, going back to school would have meant that my creative pursuits would yet again be put on the back burner.  And yet having creative pursuits in my life, have made me a better nurse!

So while it’s wonderful to get compliments from others don’t be wooed by them.  What do you want?  Will it make you a better caregiver?  Will you do better work with more responsibility, with less?  Decide for yourself based on what you want to do, not on what you should do.

And above all, take care of you.







What you don’t know WILL hurt you.

We’ve all heard the phrase, “what you don’t know won’t hurt you.”  In many cases that’s true.  And in terms of self care that phrase could probably be used in your favor or not.  But today I’m going to talk about when it does hurt you to not know.

As caregivers, how many times have you taken care of someone who knew something was wrong with them health wise (whether it be mental, physical or emotional) but were too scared to do anything… until it was too late.  We all have stories.  A heartbreaking number of stories.

Yet despite these examples, caregivers are still often the last people to go get something checked out when things aren’t right.  Some would argue we know too much, so our minds always go to the worst case scenario.  Others would argue we are too busy taking care of everyone else to even pay close attention to what’s happening to us.  But those are both HORRIBLE excuses.  The truth is regardless of what field you’re in, you are NOT an expert in everything. Also you can’t insist that everyone you care for should take care of themselves, if you’re not practicing what you preach?

Fortunately more often than not, that scary thing we are afraid to look at, is not as bad as we thought.  And…sometimes it is, but then you can start taking action because you will know how to proceed. I will use an example that doesn’t have anything to do with my physical health, but definitely my emotional health…

The other day I was eating with friends and we were swapping student loans stories.  I was horrified to learn I was paying way more than anyone else (on a monthly basis) and became convinced I was being bamboozled by “the man!!”  I got home from our dinner, checked my email only to discover a class about paying off student loans was being offered the very next day, (seriously).   I was forcing myself to look at something that had (borderline) haunted me since graduation day.  I was convinced I would be paying off my loans well into my 60’s.  Turns out, (thanks to info from that class) I’m paying more because I’m on  a payment plan where I have about 3.5 years left on my loans.  I had been steadily and painfully plugging away over the years.  In the scheme of things, I’m nearly there!

Do you know how many conversations I’ve had about my debt?  How many migraine headaches?  Too many.  But I had never looked at the actual number.  It was all created drama, (as if I needed any more). Sheesh.

Now I know that student loans are not the same as having a potential health crisis.  It’s just a metaphor folks, but I know you follow.  This world needs you.  You are doing good work, so regardless of what haunts you, stare it in the eye, and attempt to deal.  Create less drama and anxiety for yourself by being in the know.

Take care of YOU.