My Body, My Self-Esteem

The other night I put on my pajamas to get comfy to binge watch the last three episodes of “Master of None,” because, well, I’m a fitness nut and nothing spells getting in shape like sitting on your couch watching TV.

I actually do work out a fair amount - yoga, cardio, weights and the dreaded planks. Oh how I do not enjoy them. I’ve tried everything to make those interminable 1-2 minutes fly by - movies on my phone, podcasts, may laugh, but truly that minute and a half can feel like three hours. I’d worked my way up to a little over two minutes, but inexplicably I fell back to a minute and 40 seconds and can’t get back to the two. My daughter on the other hand can do a ten minute plank. If I didn’t love her so much I’d be very resentful.

So back to the pajamas. I was brushing my teeth and lifted up my tank top to survey my abdomen and I swear, in that particular light, I saw it -  muscle definition. I think it was a two-pack, or at least one. I was stunned. I stood there for a while, turning, twisting and wondering if it was a shadow or perfect lighting that I will never fall into again, but finally I accepted what I was seeing as real. Wholly moly, I have abs! A mom of three thirtysomething kids, and I, for the moment have abs. I fully expected them to be gone by morning.

It’s not right or good that for many of us our day (or evening) is very much affected by weight, hair, name it., I’ve felt bad about it. I know I’m not alone. Of course there is the occasional rare bird who doesn’t worry a bit, runs out of the house sans makeup or angst and is very happy. I’m very envious of that woman. Wherever she lives. She probably has a lot more time for looking for cures for diseases and creating world peace than me - the one studying her abs in the mirror.

My body has gone through many transformations over the past year. Due to illness and medications, like prednisone, my weight has fluctuated by up to thirty pounds, leaving me at times skinnier than I’ve even been, and not in a good way. That said, once I was past being severely ill and not emaciated, I kind of liked being very thin. It was sort of seductive., like many things that are not good for you. There’s a certain emotional reward for being thin.

We live in a culture where we’re not supposed to wrinkle, gain weight, or heaven forbid - age. Quelle horreur! I cannot begin to imagine what it’s like to be an actress. At least where I live there’s not a whole lot of pressure to have plastic surgery, actually I imagine if one did go under the knife in my small New England town, they would be the talk of the local coffee shop.

While I toil away at my work, and at what I hope will eventually become my work, playwriting, I think a lot about what a blessed waste of time it is to obsess about my body. Of course we all want to make sure to eat well, get a reasonable amount of exercise and sleep, those are givens and good. What’s not good is the judging of yourself and others based on what the scale says that day. I am so much more than this vessel I walk around in. I am pretty smart, kind of funny, a good friend, mom and partner, and kind to most everyone I meet. I am worthy, no matter if I have cellulite on my thighs, or a c-section scar.

Basing how we feel solely on how we look misses the point of why we’re here. Yes, we all (well, probably most of us) want to be considered attractive, but whether or not my plays are produced and people enjoy them has nothing to do with whether I’m a size 8, 10 or 12.

At this point in my life I do not anticipate becoming one of those rare birds who doesn’t focus on looks, but I am hoping that it matters to me just a little bit less. I know I’ve come a long way from my teen years, throwing myself on my bed when I thought I looked fat. I haven’t done that in at least two weeks. No, that hasn’t happened in years, thank god.

My goal is not to not care about how I look - I know that’s never going to happen, and frankly, I don’t want it to, but that who I am and what I do will always be more important that my dress size. If I’ve learned anything over this last year, it’s that nothing is prettier or more fashionable than good health.

And if you get nothing else from this, make sure to watch “Master of None” on Netflix. It’s fantastic.



Five Ways to Be Happy, Yes, Just Five


It’s been raining where I live for what feels like 100 days. Of course it really hasn’t been 100 days, but the perpetual gray has become a way of life. Combined with the road construction that’s been going on in front of my home it feels like it’s all a big conspiracy to make my life a bit less than blissful. But despite all this, I’ve been feeling pretty good.

Part of it after months of being ill I am feeling well and strong. It’s true that we all tend to take good health for granted when we have it. I no longer do that. Who knew that going to the bathroom like a normal person could be so exciting?!

We’re living in such divisive and stressful times takes a toll on our well-being. Both mental and physical. I have found it’s soooo easy to fall into a pit of despair and get incredibly discouraged. Many of us are! These are scary times. Will I lose my beloved healthcare? Will people I love be deported? Will we descend even more deeply into being a culture of racism, anti-science and hate-filled rhetoric? These are the things that worry me. But, as we know, worry does nothing to help us. Or the world. My solution? I do my part - I am part of an Indivisible group, I contact my elected officials regularly to voice my concerns, and I keep informed. And then I do my best to distract, decompress and disconnect. We cannot marinate in the woes of the world 24/7. We just can’t. It’s too much, and if we burn ourselves out we’re of no use to anyone, especially ourselves.

 Below are a few things, five to be exact that I’ve been doing to help myself feel better. Remember though, it’s also okay to not feel happy. No one is chipper and blissful ALL THE TIME. No one. But, we can do things to keep us from perpetually feeling miserable and hopeless. If though you have big life issues happening, do seek professional guidance. I don’t know where I’d be without the support I’ve had, and continue to get. It’s just good mental hygiene!

 So here are a few things I have found extremely useful. Try one, or try a few.

 1. Breathe! Yes, of course, you breathe, but do you BREATHE???? For three years I’ve been practicing yoga three times a week, and never did I realize how much breathing impacts the way I feel. There are lots of breathing practices, but what I find most simple and very effective is making my exhales twice as long as my inhales. By slowing it waaayyy down you release the relaxations response. Here is a great little video on relaxation. I also use Headspace on a daily basis as well. You can try it for free initially. I’m betting you will find Andy as calming as I do.

 2. Spend time with people you love. Hug them. Tight. Research shows that getting at least eight hugs a day is very beneficial to your well-being.

 Another great part of spending time with people you love, or just like a whole lot, is connection. We all need to feel connected to others. As a bit of an introvert I need a fair amount of time alone, but I also need others. I need to share, to laugh and be in the company of others. Make sure you take the time to do that. In this gig economy, lots of us work alone which is great but don’t forget the importance of reaching out.

 Do fun things! Laugh and be silly. Silliness is a great antidote to feeling sad.

 3. Exercise. It’s been proven over and over how the release of endorphins makes you feel better. It truly does. Find something you really like to do, if you make yourself do something you hate you won’t keep up with it. The key is to be consistent. Working out twice a month won’t do much for body, spirit or mind. For me it’s been finding yoga classes I love, along with three days where I also do cardio, weights and other exercises like planks to strengthen my core. Music and podcasts keep me inspired and distracted! Songs like this, which I listen to every time I’m on the treadmill help. It happens to be a song my son co-wrote and produced, which makes me very happy!

 4.  Pursue things you love. Maybe your job isn’t what you love, but it pays the bills. That’s the reality for many, but make sure you have something else of some sort whether it’s writing, music, reading, gardening, volunteering… whatever it is that fills you with joy. A joyless life is not a happy one. Find something you get lost in. And I don’t mean just watching TV, I’m not talking passive. I;m talking active engagement. We all have something we love. Discover it and do it regularly!

 5. Be Aware - Notice the people and things around you. Take the time to go to the woods and enjoy nature, go walk a beach and look around you. Too many of us are asleep. We need to wake up and ben engaged in life. In our lives. I turned 60 last November and it’s shocking to me how fast 10 years goes by. Go, do and be engaged! Don’t sleepwalk through your life always thinking, “Yeah, I’ll do that tomorrow.”

 Carpe diem, folks! Seriously, stop procrastinating and live your life. Be alive and be awake!

 Okay, so your challenge is to do at least one of these things and report back to see if it helped.

 If all else fails there’s always this.



A Simple Prescription for Happiness

When my oldest son was newly in recovery he told me one thing he did as part of his daily practice was every time he went to the grocery store he’d bring at least one cart from the parking lot in with him. It was a small gesture of doing something for others, and helped him get out of his own head.

That stuck with me and I have tried to do the same. I also happen to live in a place that has many retirees, some out shopping with canes, limps, and other physical ailments that make it challenging to put groceries in the car. About three times a week as I am either coming or going from the store I stop to help people, primarily elderly ladies, unload their groceries into their cars and bring their cart back to the store. It’s no global peace treaty, but it’s something.

I’m not sharing this to sound somehow holier than thou, believe me I am far from perfect. No, I share this because what I have found is being kind not only helps others, it helps you.

Today as I was having an NPR moment in my car before heading into the local Stop and Shop, an older woman set off her alarm in her car. As she struggled to find her keys I got out and came over to help. She stopped the alarm from blaring on her own, and then I noticed a cane in her cart. I offered to help put the groceries in her car, handed her cane to her, and chatted as I put her bags on the backseat. I learned her son comes frequently from upstate New York to help her, and how grateful she is. We compared incidents of hitting the alarm button on our car key fobs and how embarrassing that is. Then I wished her a happy rest of the day and wheeled her cart back into the store. And I felt good. I felt happy.

Like many people I am on a continual quest for success, financial security and sense of purpose in my life. And in a world that at times feels out of control small gestures add up.

It can be quite overwhelming to balance it all and not let the seeking overtake contentment. There are days when I admit I lose sight of what I already have and how lucky I am as I strive to achieve more. But what I have found is that clarity, balance and happiness can be found in the most simple of acts. Like helping someone in need with their groceries.


When Option A Blows Up, Don't Discount the Hidden Gifts of Option B

Chances are during your life things have not gone as you planned. Your marriage ended, you lost a job, you’ve struggled with illness...It’s part of life. Almost none of us get to live our Option A forever.

I’ve been reading the new book, “Option B” by Facebook CEO, Sheryl Sandberg, and psychology professor, Adam Grant, and it’s gotten me thinking about all the times in my life I’ve experienced myself, and been witness to when things didn’t go as planned

I remember when my daughter graduated from college several years ago. She worked so hard to get into the school of her dreams - Wellesley, worked hard while she was there, and even had a job lined up by November of her senior year for after graduation. She had everything planned.

As an economics major from one of the best schools in the country, she had been snapped up by one of the country’s largest banking companies who moved her out to California soon after graduation. She didn’t love the job - a junior VP position in wealth management, but she planned to stick it out for the year long contract she’d signed. The only problem was this was 2008. A few months after taking the job the economy collapsed. By January they had scheduled layoffs as they shut down her entire division. At 22 her Option A had flown out the window.

She came home, regrouped, and decided to move to Korea for a year to teach English. As a Korean adoptee she was excited to have a chance to spend time in the country of her birth that she’s left at three-years-old when we adopted her.

Emma ended up spending two and a half years there, met the American man who has since become her husband, and they now own a Korean restaurant in Montana. Her Option B has turned out better than she ever could have imagined. Ends up she was an econ major who hated banking and needed a more creative career.

As I wrote previously, over the past year my life was turned upside down by health challenges. Four stays in the hospital and countless hours recouping on the couch gave me lots of time to be thinking about how to deal with this reality. I have had to face the fact that I’ve gone from someone who was always healthy, save the normal ills we all grapple with, to someone who was really sick. What would life with a now-chronic illness be like? I’ll be honest, I haven’t stepped gracefully into this new life, I’ve been sad, angry and scared. I’ve worried too much and been fearful. Reframing this challenge into an Option B has given me hope and helped me see, life isn’t over, it’s just...different. None of us goes into anything thinking, “Oh boy, I hope this doesn’t work out so I can live my Option B!” But chances are we will all be faced with many, many times where we will have to reframe, restart, and build our resilience muscles to start over.

I would never have wished for divorce, a family struggle with addiction, or ill health, but each of these challenges has indeed made me grow and strengthened me in ways I could never have imagined.

Living our Option A may look like the ultimate achievement to all of us, but Option B comes with a lot of benefits if we just allow ourselves to embrace it and give ourselves the chance to grieve the loss of what was, while stepping into what can now be.

If you’d like to just sample a bit of what Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant are talking about, check out one or both of these fantastic podcasts. This one, from On Being, or this interview they did with Katie Couric. I have a sneaking suspicion you will be glad you did.


Looking for the Good When Everything Looks Bad


When I was in my twenties I didn’t really get it when people talked about how tough life could be. Sure I had my challenges, but they had thankfully not been too terrible.

But, as we go along in life often the challenges get bigger and harder to understand, nevermind deal with.

A friend posted this link on social media about the one question that can help get you out of a funk, and it got me thinking.

Recently I wrote about what I’d learned from having been seriously ill, but this question, “How is This Good?” is totally something else.

I think about dealing with my oldest son’s addiction, and now ten years out I can think of many good things - I’m less judgemental, my son and I are closer than ever, I now have experience to help others, I have more gratitude… I could go on and on.

But...if you asked me what was good back then, I would have found nothing.

There is a famous Mark Twain quote that goes, “Humor is tragedy plus time,” the same is true of seeing the good in a challenging situation. You’re not going to find the good the day your car gets stolen or you lose your job. But give it some time. If you practice this way of thinking you will eventually find the good in almost everything.

I’ve got a few situations that I’m patiently waiting on, but I have faith that soon I will see the good. And maybe, just maybe I’ll even find the humor.


Ask a Grown Woman - Wait, Am I One?

A recent episode of “This American Life” got me thinking about when I felt like an adult. They were discussing the topic, and referenced the Rookie Magazine column, “Ask a Grown Man.” Which by the way is awesome.

I was listening to this as I was doing errands, and had one of those NPR parking lot moments where I ended up sitting in my car for a good ten minutes waiting to hear what happened.

As I strolled the aisles of my local Stop and Shop, I kept pondering, thinking, when did I feel like a grown woman? Was it when I first had sex? No. Went to college? Um, no, as evidenced by my frequent, teary calls to my mom wanting to come home. Was it when I moved in with my boyfriend? Got married? Had my first baby?

What I realized as I kept thinking, was all these things made me think I was an adult, but I wasn’t nearly as grown up as I thought. When I got married at the ripe old age of 20 I thought I knew everything. Don’t most 20-year-olds? You don’t have to look far beyond a fight with my then-husband where I threw my favorite frying pan across the floor (forever denting it) and then tearfully began packing a suitcase to go home to my mom to see I certainly was not a grown woman.

I truly don’t think I felt like a grown woman until my 40s. Does that make me pathetic? And looking at it as objectively as I can, which means not at all, it was the difficult times that made me an adult. It was the situations that no one could fix that grew me up.

When my marriage ended when I was 41 I was terrified and at the same time slightly exhilarated. The floor next to my bed, thanks to Oprah, looked like a self-help lending library. Pre-podcasts I listened to cassettes of writers like Carolyn Myss who helped grow me up and take a hard look at who the boss of my life was. I was becoming an actual adult.

Lest you think I was this irresponsible dolt raising three children prior to this growth spurt, I was not. I was responsible, loving and there for my kids. This growth was internal. From the outside I looked the same, but I was growing into someone who had a deeper sense of self, something that I don’t believe comes until you’ve been knocked around by life a bit.

A year before my mom died she and I were out having coffee one day. My cellphone kept ringing and I kept going outside to take the calls. They were from my oldest son, who at the time was a heroin addict, out in Colorado, wanting to come back to get help. He had no money, was strung out and asked me to help get him home. The calls were all about the details of me wiring him money, and making plans to get him home. As I drove my mom and I to a nearby supermarket that had a Western Union counter, she told me she could never have handled all I’d gone through with my son. I hadn’t ever thought about what I was doing then, or the year prior that was all about rehab, overdoses, and trying to get him well. I just did what I had to do.

I believe those are the moments that make you an adult. When it’s no longer about you. You don’t really even factor in. To me being an adult is being able to put yourself aside for the good of someone else. This doesn’t mean it never gets to be about you, that would make being an adult completely suck. No, it means it’s not always about you, and you’re okay with that.

There are days where being an adult kind of stinks and I wish someone else could take care of the things I don’t want to. To be taken care of. But it’s also pretty awesome too. Like being a grown woman enables me to speak up, to say no, and feel (mostly) good in my own skin. It means not needing everyone to like me (mostly) and feeling happy in my life.

I no longer have a mom to run home to when the going gets rough, and I sometimes miss that. But, I have a team, people whom I love and who love me who are there. Being a grown up doesn’t mean you have to go it alone, quite the contrary. Being a grown up isn’t always easy, but I must say, I have not dented a pan in a really long time, heck, I haven't even slammed a door.

So I’ll ask you, when did you feel like a grown up?

The Big Lessons from the Big Sick

For almost all of my life I have been blessed with great health. It was easy to take for granted when you have never known anything else.

This run came to an abrupt end this past spring when I began to have digestive problems that over time escalated into a situation that couldn't be denied. A colonoscopy later I was given a diagnosis of ulcerative colitis. A malady I had never even heard of.

A cousin of Crohn’s disease, UC (as we afflicted affectionately call it) causes recipients to have lovely symptoms like copious amounts of diarrhea, making living a normal life a bit...challenging.

Since that diagnosis I’ve been hospitalized four times - the latest in December, which was dramatically ushered in with an ambulance ride from Cape Cod Hospital to Boston Medical Center on Christmas Day. Needless to say it was not my best Christmas.

I won’t bore you with details of my illness. There’s nothing worse than listening someone prattle on about their malady. I’ll just say that post these hospitalizations it’s taken weeks for me to regain my strength and get back to my life of yoga, work, having a relationship not based on dealing with doctor’s appointments and helping me, and feeling happy and whole. It’s hard to feel happy when your body is rebelling.

Somewhere within all of this I did manage to begin to tap into the resilience that thankfully always eventually returns, and asked myself many times over these months - “What am I learning from this?”

Once I got past some expletive laced, angry thoughts on how I didn’t want this f***ing lesson, I began to see I was learning a lot. And they were lessons that you didn’t need to have an illness to appreciate. All of us face challenges and we all feel like we’ve had the stuffing knocked out of us from time to time. And it stinks. But at the risk of sounding like Pollyanna, these times do equate to growth if we let them and don’t fall into a pit of despair. Don’t get me wrong, a certain amount of despair is normal, I’d say even necessary, the trick is not to stay there because, well, that will just ruin your life, not to mention alienate everyone around you.

So what have I learned?  Let’s break it down into some very official looking bullet points.

  • We are all much stronger than we think we are. I won’t say that awful, “that which doesn’t kill you…” trope because, I don’t want you to punch me, and frankly, it makes me furious. That said, we are all much more capable than we realize. I never thought I could handle the tests, the pokes, the assaults to my peace of mind, but I have. Albeit with some tears, and railing to God, Universe, whoever I thought needed to take the blame. After you’ve cried and railed, you will come out on the other side and see that you survived. You. You did it. Don’t ever forget what a hero you are.

  • One of my my biggest lessons has been the hardest to get - learning to accept and ask for help. I find this is notoriously a hard one for women in particular. We’re used to taking care of everyone else, admitting we might need help is tough. But the thing is, we ALL need help sometimes, and allowing others to help us makes them feel good - as good as we do when we do for others.  I have stopped with the negative self-talk (that led to negative spouse talk) calling myself a “burden” and “useless.” Thankfully I have a spouse who won’t put up with me talking that way about myself, and made me see that needing help didn’t make me a failure.

  • Acceptance. This was another big lesson. As someone who’s been lucky enough to enjoy mostly good health throughout my life being diagnosed with a chronic illness felt unacceptable. How could this happen to ME?! I ate well, I did yoga several times a week, I thought I was bulletproof. Alas, I was not. None of us are. It’s taken a lot of work, some tears and anger as well, to get to the point where I (mostly) accept that this is what I have today. Who knows what miracles of either science or nature lie in the future, but for today I have UC, and have to either accept it, or wallow. I chose acceptance.

  • Self-care isn’t just a luxury, it’s a necessity. My yoga and meditation practices have taken on a new meaning to me. They are now important wellness tools that I have in my toolbox along with the right medication, a diet that works for me, and working at reducing stress. These things are now a priority, not something I do when I can find time.

  • There are of course illnesses that one does not recover from. I realize I am lucky that as crappy as this has been I have been able to return to a healthy state (though I’ve had many setbacks.) We all have the capacity for resilience. It may take a while to kick in, but knowing your ability to recover to the best of your ability is there helps immensely. This last time I was sick I began to doubt it, and for the first time wondered if I’d ever feel well and happy again. But like a crocus pushing through the snow, it emerged, slowly at first, but once it started before I knew it I was back. It’s hard when you are down either physically and/or emotionally to remember that light at the end of the tunnel but it is there, just have some patience,

Life is hard. You might not have a chronic illness, but maybe you just lost your job, your relationship ended, or you are trying to figure it all out and nothing is working. All of these lessons are applicable.Really! Ask for help, know you can handle more than you think you can, accept your present circumstances knowing they won’t last forever, take good care of yourself and know that you are resilient and will rebound. You’re a survivor just like me. The journey may not always be pretty, but eventually you find your way back.