Difficult Conversations with Our Kids…

I realized something today.

Well, I should say that I took ACTION on a realization today – I’ve had this realization long before today.

Despite the fact that my career is based on uncomfortable conversations, there are moments in my life when I do my best to avoid them. I’ve also noticed a pattern with my avoidance. I avoid difficult conversations with my kids. I know the impact that I have on their development as human beings, and frankly…it scares the shit out of me sometimes. Actually…all the time.

How do I explain, in the midst of an already unpredictable and emotionally chaotic time, that the Corona virus isn’t our biggest hurdle to jump right now as a country? As an entire world! So, I took my own advice this morning about the importance of HAVING the hard conversations.

I was eating lunch with the kids, and casually said, “I’m glad there’s a march happening downtown today,” as I scrolled through Facebook on my phone. To be honest, I set that up because I knew one of them would be curious and ask what the march was about. And they both did – almost simultaneously. So I began…

I asked if they knew what racism was. Their answer was, “Yeah, that’s when people say bad things for no reason about people who look different.” Mind you, they are 8 and 10, and I was content with their answer. However, I knew I couldn’t couldn’t chicken out and leave it there – and I didn’t.

I asked if they remembered learning about slavery. They said, “Yeah, that happened like…so long ago!”

“Yes,” I agreed, “…but unfortunately, people still believe that people with different colored skin are less than, or beneath people with white skin.” I waited…

“What?! Still?! But, I’m friends with (listed some of their friends who have different colored skin), and I don’t treat them bad!”

“Correct. You don’t. Unfortunately, there are still plenty of people who do.”

I started to get a knot in my stomach, because I knew damn well I was avoiding the event that sparked the most recent worldwide march. So, I leaned in and told them. I told them about George Floyd. I told them how there are bad police officers, just like there are bad people who aren’t police officers. I told them that even though we, as a family, just see human beings, the truth is, some of their friends will be treated differently SOLELY based on the color of their skin.

They stood there sort of blank faced – probably wondering what this had to do with them since they aren’t racist. Then, I remembered a post I saw about the difference between “not being racist”, and being actively “anti-racism”. Like most kids, they needed to know specifically how this impacts them.

I explained that it’s one thing not to be racist, and another to stand up AGAINST racism. I gave examples of how they can play their part in this world by speaking up if they hear someone make racist comments, or make assumptions about someone based on race.

The hard truth in all of this? I’m not sure who learned more from the conversation – my kids…or me…

Purpose in Pain: Controlling the Uncontrollable

Photo by Logan Fisher on Unsplash

One of the most evolutionary parts of being human is our instinct to survive. Back in the day, it was based on physical safety. A tiger would be near, your senses would heighten, and you would be able to fight the tiger (not the best decision), or get the hell out of there, running faster than usual. Pure survival mode. Humans avoid pain as a way to survive. It keeps us safe. The concept makes sense, and I really have nothing to argue there.

But what about emotional pain? I mean, we still experience fight or flight when we’re waiting for news about our sick pet, when we are about to start a difficult conversation, or when we think our partner is being unfaithful. None of those scenarios are inherently dangerous or threaten our lives, but our autonomic nervous system didn’t get the memo, apparently.

I often joke about being great in an emergency because, chances are, I’ve already experienced the damn scenario in my head multiple times. I’ve emotionally “lived through” some of the most horrific situations…without them ever happening. It’s a skill, really…(eye roll).

My rational brain (which is somewhere really freakin deep in there) knows that fearing emotional pain will not actually make it any easier to deal with, should it happen. That fear is our brain’s way of trying to live through the experience to eliminate the feeling of the “unknown”. You see, as human beings, we don’t tolerate the unknown or ambiguity very well. We would probably feel much more at ease if we knew we could control all of our experiences. However, for most things in life…we don’t have control. If that makes you anxious, stay with me here…

I’ve lived over three decades anxious about the unknown. As a child, I feared the sudden death of my parents. Why? Because they were my safe space (still are). They provided certainty, and a controlled environment. When I was engaged to my (now) husband, I had horrific anxiety over him dying as well (yeah, I know…total buzzkill.). Self-disclosure: I had a total meltdown days before our wedding, because I figured that, statistically, I would experience his death before he experienced mine, and I couldn’t fathom that pain. When we talked about kids, guess what I feared? Yup! The death of a child. At first, I didn’t want to have kids, because the fear of losing a child was THAT strong for me. Spoiler alert: I have two kids, and so far so good.

Are the fears gone now? Hell no. They are still loud and clear.

So, what’s different now?

Purpose. I’ve made seeking purpose a regular part of my life. I’ve literally taken one of the most internally controllable variables, and turned it into something to help me feel more in control of the…well..uncontrollable.

This isn’t anything new, folks. It happens around us all the time. Many parents who lost children in the Sandy Hook tragedy have taken their pain and developed a purpose. Whether it was spearheading the building of a new playground in memoriam of the children lost, or kindness programs being rolled out in schools across the country – the underlying theme? PURPOSE.

I consistently work (definitive word being WORK) to find purpose in whatever pain I’m experiencing. When I was struggling with Motherhood, I created a Facebook group for Moms that was solely based on off-colored, sarcastic, inappropriate memes about being a Mom. I have close to 1,000 members in that group now, and have developed amazing friendships. I also offered an in-person Mom guilt workshop that I am now in the process of making available online. When I recently found myself sitting in immense anxiety during quarantine, I started doing live shows on Facebook about any and all topics having to do with mental health and sexuality. I’ve discovered that the most effective way for me to heal myself, is by helping to heal others.

I know this time is surreal. I know it can feel like it’s never ending. It’s also a great time to use your uncomfortable feelings and direct that energy towards a purpose. Remember, you can have a million different purposes throughout your life depending on where your pain is coming from. When we find purpose in our pain, we remove ourselves from the victim’s seat, and become the victor. Our pain doesn’t have to be some empty dark hole that we continue to fall into. By finding purpose, we can propel through the pain.

The moral of the story is this: Finding purpose in pain allows us to be in the driver’s seat of our healing process. We may not always know what lies ahead, but seek solace in the fact that our hands are always the ones on the wheel. <3

The Power of Our “Different”

desires fear shame guilt box pandora

I may or may not be known for pushing our cultural envelope😬. It’s not because I like to stir things up; I’m a Libra – I like the complete OPPOSITE of stirring things up. It’s because I know what it’s like to be a prisoner of my own thoughts. I know what it’s like to wonder what others would think if they REALLY knew what I was thinking. I know what it’s like to feel like the world is going on around me, and as much I’d love to be “normal” like everyone else, it just won’t happen. 

I also know what it’s like to be on the other side of all that wondering. To have finally pushed far enough passed my shit, that I “get it” now. I know what it’s like to lean in to what I fear the most about myself. I know what it’s like to finally realize that nobody is normal. As a matter of fact – it DOESN’T. EVEN. EXIST. 

I speak about taboo topics for a reason. It’s because it’s in those conversations that people start to let go of their “not normal”. Mental health and sexuality are the two most silenced topics in our culture, yet it causes the most pain for so many of us. So, while I spent the better part of three decades trying to assimilate into “NORMAL”, I failed to understand the power of my “DIFFERENT”. Ironically, it’s not just something I have. So do you. Like I did for so long, many of you have just been hiding it, fighting it, and covering it up. 

Whether it’s mental illness, addiction, past trauma, or sexual fantasies and desires, it doesn’t matter. The foundational issue is the same. We’ve been taught that our “different” needs to be hidden and kept from the outside world. 

People may wonder why I am so candid about my “different”. It’s because I’ve learned that fear, shame, and guilt CANNOT survive in the light. For many of us, those emotions live in a dark room with the door locked – and they thrive in that space. 

Do yourself a favor – walk into the room and turn on the light. Oh – and if you want a hand to hold through it, I’m here. I don’t need directions…I’ve been there before ❤

(As always, feel free to share.)

The Other Side of Anxiety: What ALSO is…

When the outside world seems so uncertain, anxiety rears its ugly head. For those who already have underlying struggles with anxiety, it seems almost unmanageable. I wish I could say you’re the only one. I wish I could say I don’t know how you feel. Both would be a lie.

Living my entire life with OCD (which is usually accompanied by anxiety), I’ve learned coping strategies when times like these hit. No, it’s not easy. No, it isn’t a one size fits all. However, there’s a common denominator amongst us anxiety warriors. We focus on the WHAT IF, and only ONE SIDE of the WHAT IS. But what about the “other side”? The what ALSO IS. Allow me to explain…

Given the current emotional chaos that COVID-19 has caused, let’s use it as my first example. This may trigger anxiety, but try to trust me with where I’m going with it. For many of us, we’re afraid that we might get the virus, and furthermore…die from it. We’re afraid for our loved ones getting sick as well. Understandable? Of course. Because of our anxiety, we are focusing on the WHAT IF, and ONE SIDE of the WHAT IS that exists – people are getting sick and, yes, some are dying.

You want to know what ALSO is?

I have an extended family member (that I am not living with) that tested positive for COVID-19. Guess what? She’s alive, and on her way to recovery – as are many others. As I write this article, there are a total of 103,321 cases in the US, and 1,668 deaths (CDC.gov). So, clearly there are many infected who are also surviving the virus. Anxiety doesn’t want to focus on that, because it doesn’t affirm our fears – and that’s how anxiety thrives. So, it’s critical to not leave out the “What ALSO is”.

Now, let’s talk cancer – another fear of many. Self disclosure – it’s one of my triggers. My anxiety focuses on death, chemo, side effects, financial stress of being out of work, etc. Is any of that valid? Yup! But you know what ALSO IS? The fact that I have several friends and family members who have cancer, and are functioning. I know people who have gone through chemo, and somehow managed to ALSO get through their days – some even stayed at work. Most of those who I know who have had cancer, survived it and are still cancer-free. Anxiety won’t focus on that, though. It’s not scary enough. I mean, how can our brains protect us from what COULD happen, if we are only focusing on what actually IS happening? (rhetorical and massively sarcastic).

How about body image? So many of us have a fear of being viewed as unattractive if we don’t have that Instagram body. We look at cellulite, loose skin, stretch marks, and a lack of abs as if we’re automatically off the market for being attractive. Are there people who are not attracted to those things? Sure! You know what ALSO IS? There’s a gazillion different body types, and miraculously most of us are found to be desirable by someone else – even if we never know about it. But again, anxiety isn’t interested in focusing on what brings us peace – only what creates an utter mind fuck. Am I right?

We get it, anxiety – bad things can happen. Thanks for the heads up (eye roll). It’s human nature to fear the worst. However, I’ve learned that most of the time it’s more of a protective measure, than a productive one. So, even when all of this blows over…and it will…try to remember that there will always be a “What ALSO is”, and it deserves just as much, if not more, attention than anything else.

Dear Human Beings…

I see you. I hear you. I know you. I AM you. 

Dear human beings who suffer from anxiety-related mental health struggles:

Often times when events happen that make the news, or are splattered all over social media, we start to spiral – be it school shootings, medical emergencies, natural disasters, celebrity deaths, etc. Sometimes, what’s happening around us may not even be a specific trigger for us, yet we find ourselves struggling more than usual with anxiety, obsessive thoughts, or depression. 

You see, anxiety folks tend to have triggers – specific things that just “hit different” than others. Some have a hard time going to crowded places. Others may have restaurant-specific anxiety. Some might fear heights, clowns, spiders, dogs, flying, death, certain illnesses, etc. The list goes on. 

What can be confusing to those with anxiety (and certainly those without), is why a random natural disaster, for example, in another country would cause anxiety to someone here in small town USA? Let me try to help provide a visual that I explained to someone today. 

People who live with anxiety typically spend OONGOTZ (might be a fake Italian term?) amount of time subconsciously trying to keep their anxiety at bay. Picture your “regular anxiety triggers” protected in the middle of a circular brick enclosure. These are the things that you are used to causing you anxiety. No surprises here. 

When bad “stuff” happens in the world outside of the enclosure, it’s as if rocks are being thrown at the bricks. After a while of that enclosure being battered, it starts to crumble. This leaves your regular triggers vulnerable and exposed. 

You may not be responding directly to the event that happened in the world (i.e. the Corona virus), but the event caused your regular triggers to become exposed and irritated. 

So, if you find yourself experiencing your anxiety triggers more than usual, if your obsessive thoughts (even if completely unrelated to the world’s events) have sky rocketed, if your depression seems to be more painful lately than normal, understand you’re not alone. 

In times like these, I encourage self care more than normal. Step away from social media, binge watch Netflix, read a good book, color, write, self-pleasure (yes, I mean it), bake, or engage in any other activity that helps you REBUILD. 

It’s ok to get knocked down. It’s ok to not be ok. But then we rest, we wipe our tears, we dust ourselves off, and we ride again…

Xoxoxo 

Nina

I Guess I Wasn’t a Good Mom…

mom guilt wine crayons

I guess I wasn’t a good Mom.

Snow days on social media would wreck my soul. I would see parents doing arts and crafts, sleigh riding, and all of the other things that “good Moms” do. I couldn’t stand the thought of having to get all dressed up in a snow suit, only to come back in 5 minutes later. 

I guess I wasn’t a good Mom. 

Parents taking kids on vacations and day trips, and posting about how amazing it was. I would get stressed at the thought of even packing for a vacation, let alone actually enjoying one. I stressed about the possible car sickness, the fighting in the back seat, the 800th “Are we there yet?”. 

I guess I wasn’t a good Mom. 

Article after article about screen time and how “horrible” it was for brain development, yet that is how I was able to get work done, cook dinner, and frankly – exhale for a bit. 

I guess I wasn’t a good Mom. 

Kids going to the local beach every day in town, and I made up some ridiculous reason why we couldn’t. I didn’t want to deal with all that went along with the planning and execution of a beach trip with two young kids on my own (my husband was working). (side note – much easier now that they are older!)

I guess I wasn’t a good Mom. 

I was drowning in Mom guilt to the point where it was impacting my relationship with myself, my kids, and even my husband! I was a mess, and something needed to change. This couldn’t POSSIBLY be what was expected to be a “good Mom”. This is not how I grew up, yet I had fallen into society’s expectations of how I should Mom, and it wasn’t matching up with how I NATURALLY Mommed…you feel me?

So, I made a huge shift. I dug deep. I went to therapy. 

I. WOKE. UP. 

I woke up to how I wanted to Mom. I woke up to accepting how I showed up as a Mom, even though it may not look like anything I saw on social media. I woke up to the CRITICAL ways my own parents showed up for me, and saw that I am showing up exactly the same for my kids. And…I turned out pretty Ok.

Much love,

Nina

Why I Won’t Dull Myself…

jumping on bed laughing nina real talk coaching

I’ve been holding onto this message since she sent it yesterday morning – still with my heart in my gut. My close friend, Emily, was recently diagnosed with cancer, and she sent this to me. So many thoughts I pulled from this, and I wanted to share one of the biggest:

Do you know how many times I get strange reactions from people when I tell them I speak about mental health and sexuality? Do you know how many people have probably unfollowed me? Blocked me? Questioned my “moral compass”? Judged me as a parent? A wife? A human? Probably a lot. 

I also hear things like, “Omg, I can’t believe you said that on social media!” Or “Aren’t you worried what other people think when they see your content?”

To the people who are uncomfortable with my level of self-acceptance and raw ‘humanness’, to the point where they judge me – it’s ok. I’m not mad. It doesn’t hurt my feelings. I will never try to make you comfortable. That’s your story to read, not mine. That’s not my mission, nor my purpose. 

My purpose in life is to create a safe space for people to uncage themselves from shame and guilt. A space where people can take off every damn mask that life has mistakingly urged them to wear. A space where people can say HERE. I. FUC*%ING. AM, and be met with open arms NO MATTER WHAT. That’s why I’m here, that’s what I do, and that’s WHO I AM. 

I focus on sexuality and mental health because that’s what we fear the most about ourselves. They are the most vulnerable parts of who we are, and what we spend our LIVES hiding from. 

The underlying message isn’t about sex and mental health. You need to understand that. It’s about RADICAL SELF ACCEPTANCE. And if you can accept the two most innately human and messiest parts of who you are, then THAT is RADICAL SELF ACCEPTANCE – something that our culture clearly tries to stifle from all angles. 

So, am I concerned about others opinions? Will I temper my crazy ass messages to this world? Absofreakinlutely NOT. As a matter of fact, I’m really ok that I make dildo jokes, masturbation references, and share my OCD story. It created space for a dear friend to open up, and she will undoubtedly save her own life because of it.

Be a rebel. Be yourself.

mind body health sexuality human experience self help

It’s not “kinda” rebellious…it is INCREDIBLY rebellious in our world to be yourself. To openly discuss the sides of us that we’ve been taught to hide, seems to be some act of courage. My opinion? It should be the norm. 

Marriage can be tough, parenting can be tough, careers can be tough, money conversation can be tough, our sexuality can be tough, our mental health can be tough, our body image issues can be tough. The list goes on…

So many of us are lost in the ideal that we’re completely neglecting who we ACTUALLY are. By doing this, we attract those who we do not align with. We end up seeking out situations and environments that don’t even really speak to who we are and what we stand for. We settle. We settle as if we have an unlimited amount of time to seek what we actually are deserving of (which is some pretty awesome shit by the way.)

So, I’m going to just put this out there – Be a rebel. And if you’re looking for other rebels out there, I can assure you that you already know at least one 💁🏻‍♀️