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Put on your oxygen mask before helping others.

February 11, 2017

Put on your oxygen mask before helping others. // livelovesimple.com

I’ve been wanting to write this post forever. I’ve started it in my head countless times. I kept stopping though, I could never get it out. I want to say so much and I want to say it well.

It’s just that the message is so much more important than simply, “You have to take care of yourself.” And yet, that is the message. I hope that saying something will be better than saying nothing at all. I hope that you will read this and that it will touch you to make a change in your life, a change that you very much deserve.

It’s been a month and a half since I found my way out of the darkness, again. The past few years have been a roller coaster in every way. The only constant has been my lack of self care. Sure, there were a few times when I stepped up my game and did something positive or healthy for myself; but all of those attempts fizzled quickly.

The thing about self care is that it’s a massive undertaking. It’s not about one thing, or even a series of short term efforts. It’s about a lot of things: a permanent, holistic picture of healthiness, happiness, fullness, and balance. When I “woke up” at the beginning of this year, it wasn’t so much a matter of wanting to, as it was a matter of necessity. I was literally slowly dying.

Over the past six weeks, everything has changed. It had been so hard to take care of myself for so long, because I fell into the trap that a lot of women (and men) fall into–I believed that I mattered the least. It’s a natural belief, easy to fall into, especially when you are a mother or a caretaker. It’s instinctual to a degree, to want to put your babies or loved ones in front of yourself in every way.

The unfortunate thing is that ultimately, and almost always, it ends in disaster. When we do not take care of ourselves, we fall apart. Our health suffers and our mind suffers. We run ourselves ragged trying to do everything, and be everything, for every one; and even if that works for a little while, eventually, it always falls apart.

Sometimes we think that by neglecting ourselves, we are serving others; but that is not the truth. When we are broken, the love and the care that we give to others is inadequate at best. You cannot serve from an empty vessel.

I have found that there are five key areas of nourishment when it comes to self care. If we can meet these five areas, truly and completely, then we are, indeed taking care of ourselves. When we are our best selves, we can also care wholly for the people that we love. In order to effectively, love and care for the people and things in our lives, we must first love and care for ourselves.

There are five areas of nourishment for self care:

  • Emotional
  • Physical
  • Nutritional
  • Spiritual
  • Interpersonal

Emotional: First, we must be nourished emotionally. Self-love and emotional wellness are the very basis of self care. If we do not love ourselves, everything else in our lives will be out of balance. The challenge of emotional nourishment often comes down to our beliefs about what we, ourselves, deserve.

When I started my journey of self care, I struggled intensely. For a long time I would start only to stop again quickly thereafter. I finally found lasting success when I began using my self-love mantra, “I deserve to be happy and healthy.” When I feel like I can not (or should not) reach personal success, I repeat my mantra to myself. It empowers me to keep going.

Physical & Nutritional: These two go hand-in-hand. Physical and nutritional wellness are the bedrock foundation on which wellness is built. For some people, these things come naturally. Regular physical activity and a healthy balanced diet are staples in some peoples lives. For others, however, it’s just the opposite. Sedentary lifestyles equate to constant aches and pains. The diet consists of almost entirely unhealthy, processed garbage food.

I could write a novel on this bullet point alone, but for now, I’ll simply say two things.

Exercise–You must do something that stretches your muscles and elevates your heartbeat every day. A brisk walk, a dance party in the living room, a ten minute yoga video on YouTube. Any of these things will suffice. Further, you must exercise hard–until you sweat–between one and three times a week. If you think this sounds impossible, start with a mere fraction of what I am recommending and go from there. It is not impossible. Wherever you are today, just start. Even if you have long forgotten its magic, your body is still a wonderful, powerful temple. It is waiting for you to reclaim it.

Diet–Imagine that your body is a garden. If you want it to grow and flourish, it needs certain things. It’s very simple. We all know that gardens need water, sunlight, and rich soil to grow. Our bodies are similar. We need water, vitamins and minerals, protein, and fiber. There are many ways to achieve this, thousands of diet plans in the world. But most basically, what we need is real, organic food. Fruit, vegetables, lean meat (in moderation or not at all). It’s that simple. Everything else, other than the things that I’ve described here, is garbage. With very few exceptions, all processed food is garbage, loaded with chemicals and preservatives. Cigarettes, alcohol, and drug abuse–would you pour battery acid all over your garden?

Spiritual: Once we are emotionally, physically, and nutritionally nourished, we can turn attention to our spiritual lives. Spiritual nourishment comes from a whole host of areas, and for each person, it means something different. For many, religion plays a part in soothing the spirit. For others, time spent alone in nature is critical to spiritual health. Almost everyone can benefit from art–reading nourishing books, listening to touching music, visiting a museum, watching a moving play, and so on.

When it comes to spiritual nourishment, it’s really simple. Do whatever it is that makes your spirit come alive.

Interpersonal: Relationships are the final piece of this puzzle. Ten years ago, I was in an amazing place in my life. I had just overcome anxiety and depression. I had lost seventy pounds. I was living a life that I had always dreamed of living. At that time, I absolutely loved helping people. I was building my career on my ability and desire to help people. What happened next, however, I never could have anticipated. My desire to help people almost killed me.

I was so blinded by my desire to help that I dove into it headfirst without caution. Both in my professional life and in my personal life. I was so committed to helping and healing others, that I completely forgot about me. I fell so hard and so quickly into a trap and I never, for a moment, realized that in trying to help, I–myself–would be destroyed.

By the time I finally realized what had happened, I was so far gone that I was unrecognizable. My life had fallen apart into a million broken pieces. One day I looked in the mirror and I had no idea who I was. It’s taken me a year and a half to slowly crawl out of that hole. I can finally see the light again.

My point regarding interpersonal relationships is that you have to be extremely careful about who you allow into your life and how. Not every person can be helped. Not every person wants to be helped. It is critical that you choose relationships that nourish you, build you up, and empower you to be your best self. Do not settle for anything less–whether in friendships, romantic relationships, colleagues, or acquaintances. Never, never settle. You do not have to tolerate toxicity in your life, ever.

When I first started therapy, again, I received some of the best advice I’ve ever heard. She said, when you are talking to yourself, speak as though you are talking to your children or to your best friend–to someone who you love very, very much. It took me awhile to fully come around to it, to truly embrace it. I still stumble occasionally, but mostly I am here now. I treat my self with the love and care that I deserve. And thereby, I can love and care for the people around me with a full, strong, nourished heart–which is the greatest love that can be given.

Every morning when you wake up, think of the best compliment that you could ever receive–and then give it to yourself. Say it in your mind. Say it out loud. Say it again, and again, and again. Then say it again at lunchtime. And again when you’re getting ready for bed. Not just today or tomorrow, but every day. Then watch the magic in your life unfold. ♥

Put on your oxygen mask before helping others. // livelovesimple.com

Put on your oxygen mask before helping others.
You can’t help anybody when you’re dead.


Write Hard and Clear About What Hurts :: Part One

January 20, 2017

Write Hard and Clear About What Hurts // livelovesimple.com

The past three weeks of my life have been good. I am healthier and happier than I’ve been in a very long time. But rewind to the twelve months that came before this, and it was a completely different story.

A year ago, my life took a difficult & unexpected — but necessary — turn. My entire life got flipped over on its head. I will write about that eventually; but right now, I’m going to write about the consequences that followed.

* *

When my life got turned upside down, it was a perfect storm of disaster.

My stress levels were completely out of control for so many reasons that I can’t even start to explain. Again, I’ll write about it in the future.

Marina was still breastfeeding and she was waking up, on-average, every 45 minutes throughout the night to comfort nurse. Indeed, there was a solid three-month stretch where I didn’t sleep for more than 45-minutes straight. I was dangerously sleep-deprived.

To cope with the stress, I started drinking more than usual. Alcohol was a quick, easy way to forget about my problems and my pain, even for a little while.

Exercise and nutrition went completely to the wayside. As exhausted as I was, exercise was an impossibility. As far as my diet went, I did whatever was easiest, with no regard for the consequences. At that point, I simply didn’t have the emotional capacity to care.

There was my perfect storm. Stress. No sleep. Too much alcohol. Poor nutrition. No exercise.

It is no small wonder that eventually, I fell apart.

It all came to a head one morning when I found myself lying in the emergency room of an unfamiliar hospital, paralyzed by fear, waiting for a series of test results to tell me “what was wrong with me.” Because as crazy as it sounds, I was so lost in the mess, that I really didn’t know.

* *

That was a hell of an introduction. So what happened next?

My estrogen was dangerously high and my melatonin was dangerously low. I had gained nearly thirty pounds quickly. I had developed a large cyst in my left ovary. And finally, and most terrifyingly, my doctor found precancerous cells in my cervix.

It was a nightmare. I was so scared. I feel compelled to write that it was one of the lowest points of my life, but the truth is that the past few years have been filled with so many incredibly low points that they all blur together. I can’t be sure which point was really the lowest. There were so many.

My head and my heart have been completely shattered. I found myself in impossible situations and I had to claw my way out. There had been so much darkness and fear for so long.

As difficult as it was to hear those things from my doctor, I’d already been through so much that I wasn’t really surprised or hurt. The best word to describe what I felt then was: numbness. I felt very numb. I was so lost and ready to resign myself to whatever fate would take me.

Yet, when I came so close to giving in, somehow I grabbed onto the strength I had left and decided to fight back.

During those darkest of days, I had a conversation with my sister. I was completely down and out, I felt that I had no strength left. But she said something to me that I will never forget. She said that when it came to my children, I was the strongest person that she knew. I was fearless. And that I should take my strength from my role as a mother and if I couldn’t fight for myself, then I had to fight for them.

And so I did.

* *

I had a lot of false starts. I would gain some momentum toward turning things around, but then I would fall back. I would have a good week, followed by a terrible week.

My health was still on the rocks. I would get my diet right, exercise, cut back on drinking, and feel in control. But then as quickly as I gained the control I would lose it again. I would double-down on unhealthy habits, destroy my progress, and feel more discouraged than ever.

I prayed a lot. I prayed and I prayed.

And then one day, things actually started to turn around. This time, I knew that things were going to get better. I was going to make sure of it.

Slowly, slowly, some good news started coming into my life. While there were only promises, I held tight to the hope that those promises held — and I’m still holding on.

In order to regain control, I had to make enormous changes and I had to cut out all of the things in my life that were not critically necessary. I had to focus exclusively on my health and my children. I had to let go of every single other thing. I am still in that space and I will be for a long time yet.

As far as my health, it seems that things have stabilized in a way. A little over a month ago, I was asked to do a campaign with Jenny Craig which I’ll write a lot more about very soon. The Jenny Program has absolutely changed my relationship with food for the better. I’ve also started exercising regularly again and it feels amazing.

Marina finally started sleeping through the night about six months ago, and while sleep is still touch-and-go with two toddlers, it’s way better than it was before. I’ve stopped desperately using food and alcohol as a crutch to cope with my pain.

I will continue to have follow-up tests done to monitor the cyst and the cells. Right now, there are no immediate threats. I’m hopeful that getting back to my healthy, active lifestyle will allow my body to heal itself in time.

* *

It’s all very much a “work-in-progress.” When I look back over the course of my life, I could have never imagined that I would have wound up here at this point. I had a vision of what my life would be, and it turned out nothing like I expected. But ultimately, looking back, I can see how necessary all of these challenges have been. Now that I am finally on the right path, I’m just going to keep going.

“For what it’s worth: it’s never too late or, in my case, too early to be whoever you want to be. There’s no time limit, stop whenever you want. You can change or stay the same, there are no rules to this thing. We can make the best or the worst of it. I hope you make the best of it. And I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you never felt before. I hope you meet people with a different point of view. I hope you live a life you’re proud of. If you find that you’re not, I hope you have the courage to start all over again.”

I hope you live a life you’re proud of. If you find that you’re not, I hope you have the courage to start all over again. ♥ This. Always, always this.

Thoughts Upon a New Year…

December 31, 2016

Nature in Winter // livelovesimple.com

Disclaimer: I’ve been working on this post for a week. I’ve had a few bursts of inspiration, but there’s also been a lot of “dead air.” As has been the case every time I’ve tried to write for the past three-to-four years, it starts to come… but then it stops. And now, it’s 7:00 pm on New Year’s Eve, and knowing the way things usually go with me and my babies, I will be fast asleep very soon. The changing of the year will come & go, and I will be dreaming through it all. And so, I’ve decided to share this post exactly as it is, an unfinished draft.

"The Journey"
 By Mary Oliver
One day you finally knew
 what you had to do, and began,
 though the voices around you
 kept shouting
 their bad advice--
 though the whole house
 began to tremble
 and you felt the old tug
 at your ankles.
 "Mend my life!"
 each voice cried.
 But you didn't stop.
 You knew what you had to do,
 though the wind pried
 with its stiff fingers
 at the very foundations,
 though their melancholy
 was terrible.
 It was already late
 enough, and a wild night,
 and the road full of fallen
 branches and stones.
 But little by little,
 as you left their voices behind,
 the stars began to burn
 through the sheets of clouds,
 and there was a new voice
 which you slowly
 recognized as your own,
 that kept you company
 as you strode deeper and deeper
 into the world,
 determined to do
 the only thing you could do--
 determined to save
 the only life you could save.

I know that poetry isn’t everybody’s “thing.” And so even though it has been a huge part of my life since I was about seven years old, I’ve always hesitated to share it here. Still, on occasions when it’s really appropriate, I’ve shared a handful of poems or so in this space. Because sometimes words alone fail me and the only thing that allows me to feel like I am expressing myself at all, is poetry.

Today is one of those days, or I should say, now is one of those times. So at the top of this post is a poem. You might see them here more often. I’ve decided that for the next while, my writing here is going to shift. While I intend to continue sharing useful content and mommy-style blog posts, much of my life-focus is turning inward. As always, this blog will reflect the changing tides of my life. This is my space to share my heart, whatever that might mean.

Nature in Winter // livelovesimple.com

Nature in Winter // livelovesimple.com

That said, for today a few things–

First, there is the poem. It’s something that I discovered in the autumn of 2015 that happened to coincide perfectly with the journey that I had just started at that time. I won’t offer much further explanation than that right now. I’ll say simply that if you appreciate poetry, then I hope that it touches you in the deep, profound way that it touched me. And if you don’t appreciate poetry, then I hope that you found it easy enough to skip right over.

Nature in Winter // livelovesimple.com

Nature in Winter // livelovesimple.com

Second, I want to speak about my “Words of the Year.” For the past two years, I have ascribed a word to each year at its start. In 2015, my word was Survive. In 2016, my word was Bravery, accompanied by two quotes:

➳➳➳ “Fortune favors the bold.”
➳➳➳ “By acting bravely, we become brave.”

In 2017, my word will be STRENGTH, accompanied by three quotes:

➳➳➳ “Be the strongest person that you know.”
➳➳➳ “You have a spine like a sequoia.”
➳➳➳ “Never grow a wishbone, daughter, where your backbone ought to be.”

Nature in Winter // livelovesimple.com

Nature in Winter // livelovesimple.com

Third, let me take a moment to speak about the images in this post. It’s winter here. Most of the plant-life died awhile back. The temperature usually hovers around freezing. When we go out for our walks these days, we are usually bundled and rushed. We went for a walk earlier this week. I had a desire to bring my camera and snap some photographs. But I stopped, thinking, “There will be nothing beautiful to photograph in this awful time of year.” Suddenly something came over me, a streak of rebellion against that thought. My mind challenged back, “Take your camera. Try to find the beauty hidden in the awful.”

Nature in Winter // livelovesimple.com

And so, I did. I bundled my babies up and I took my camera out on that bitter-cold, gray afternoon. The photographs that you see in this post are the result. They reminded me that there is beauty to be found, always. Even in the ugliest, most awful times. It’s always there if we look hard enough.

Happy New Year, my dear friends. Here’s hoping that two-thousand-seventeen is full of every love and light for all of us. xo


Autumn Splendor: The Gift of No

November 29, 2016

livelovesimple.com // autumn walk

livelovesimple.com // autumn walk

The autumn that is ending has been one of my favorites to date. It’s always been my favorite season, full of magic and warmth, but this one was more illuminating & empowering than any that have come before it.

This past summer was a tumultuous one for me. Through all of that, I prayed hard for a sign from God. Then one day, I looked behind me and I saw this. There it was, loud and clear, exactly what I needed: Slow down. As summer came to a close, the tumult began to fade and peace set in. I had my sign.

And so,

slow down,

I did.

I took the autumn “off” in a lot of ways. I rested. I reflected. I prayed. I walked slowly through nature. I took photographs. I laughed. I cried. I listened. I shared.

In the silence of what came next, in the reflecting, I found wisdom.

I realized that there are two types of people in the world: people who are afraid to say no and people who are not afraid to say no.

I spent my entire life being the former, always afraid to say no; afraid to disappoint; afraid to upset — even when it came at my own expense. And then, one day, I said enough. What a thing it is to feel empowered to say no, any time, any place, to any one. It is a gift, a gift to myself and now I will walk happily through the rest of my life carrying no in my hands, never afraid to use it whenever I need it.

And most importantly, now, when I say no, I never, ever feel guilty. For my no is my gift to myself and I trust myself to know well-enough when it is the right time to say it.

livelovesimple.com // autumn walk

livelovesimple.com // autumn walk

livelovesimple.com // autumn walk

livelovesimple.com // autumn walk

livelovesimple.com // autumn walk

livelovesimple.com // autumn walk

livelovesimple.com // autumn walk

livelovesimple.com // autumn walk

livelovesimple.com // autumn walk

livelovesimple.com // autumn walk

livelovesimple.com // autumn walk

livelovesimple.com // autumn walk

livelovesimple.com // autumn walk

livelovesimple.com // autumn walk

livelovesimple.com // autumn walk

livelovesimple.com // autumn walk

livelovesimple.com // autumn walk

livelovesimple.com // autumn walk

I hope that you are well, friends. Here in northern New Jersey, autumn is quickly turning into winter. The bright, warm colors in these photographs are quickly fading, even in my memory. Winter has never been an easy thing for me, as you well know if you’ve been reading here awhile. Yet, this week all of the autumn decorations have been coming down and in their place Christmas has been popping up and bringing fresh hope with it.

Last night, the children and I were driving home. The sun had set and Christmas lights were glowing brightly in the front yards that we passed. Candles were burning warmly in the windows. I felt a surge of warmth in my heart, a deep, profound gladness for all of the people sitting safely & happily inside of their homes. Most of all, I felt an overwhelming gratitude for my own multitude of blessings. Perhaps this winter will not be as cold as the ones that came before it. Perhaps magic will live on and shine bright. Perhaps peace & love will reign supreme. ♥

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