Over the past several weeks I’ve noticed a recurring topic of conversation within my tribe; “I’m exhausted from the last year and a half.” Each person that I speak with is talking about the COVID-19 pandemic and is in disbelief this is still our life. I keenly remember the start of the pandemic and how high all our emotions were running in fear of a threatening virus entering our world.
To still be dealing with that same stressor, with case numbers approaching levels from a year ago, exhaustion is an apt way of stating how we all feel. We’re not just dealing with a virus, we’re dealing with living our lives through an active, dangerous virus.
Trying to Find Peace During the Pandemic
With no end in sight, it’s hard to feel chipper and happy, let alone grounded. Peace can feel far away. I’ve heard a lot of “rinse, lather, repeat,” and “same shit, different day” comments in reference to what we are all walking through right now.
In the early days of the pandemic, Brene Brown spoke on her podcast, “Unlocking Us,” that she was just waiting for a checklist of what to do and once she had the checklist her recovering perfectionist could rest. Well, Brene, we have our checklist and the treatment fidelity is low. In scientific terms, this means we are not near containing the virus, which is incredibly frustrating.
As the virus carries on in all of our personal lives it can start to feel hopeless. The heart of the matter is this; we can provide good, accurate information and it’s up to each and every one of us to choose to follow it or not. We simply cannot control other people’s behavior.
Thinking About Others
I am going to pause here to let you know that not being able to convince a person to make a logical, kind decision (even in non-pandemic times) has been the bane of my existence. Truly. I have an aunt and sister who operate the same way. We see the systems for what they are. We see human life as incredibly worthy of equality and get frustrated (OK, sometimes livid) when decisions are made that move us away from equality and logic.
I am still on a journey of realizing that no matter how much I believe in making kind decisions that I cannot control other people and make them drink my preferred brand of logical, kind Kool-Aid. People are, in fact, allowed to make their own decisions and it’s incredibly frustrating when those decisions can potentially cause harm to others (please see the ongoing pandemic).
In light of being given a magical wand of authority, what spell could we possibly conjure in the midst of this climate of adversity? What can we do when a real stressor or danger is presented day after day with high and divisive emotions being publically shared?
It is easy to lash out at others, question their beliefs, invoke shame, or simply shut down into our own little world. I have been guilty of both at times. Neither has provided any long-lasting relief. But something else has and I’d like to share it with you.
An Attitude of Gratitude
I’ve recently written that I have been in the process of divorce, which is stressful enough by itself. The stress from the divorce on top of the pandemic took me to my limit. Early on I started following the work of Lee Harris. At the time I did not have more good days than bad, quite the opposite. Lee recommended a gratitude journal as part of a healing journey.
At first, this suggestion annoyed me. I’ve followed many different spiritual teachers for well over a decade and thought to myself, “I know, I know–an attitude of gratitude.” It felt like one more thing was being added to my checklist while my mindset was basically “what is there to be grateful for as my world is burning down?”
Lee gave a scientific reason, which at the time was just enough, that convinced me to begrudgingly start a gratitude journal. Lee explained that when you have experienced trauma your neurochemistry is depleted and leans more towards negative emotions. He went on to explain that writing five gratitude statements a day can change your brain chemistry. I was in need of rewiring and had already started acupuncture to rewire trauma inside my body. It felt right to rewire my mind so I started the journal.
At first, I wrote very small things like “I’m grateful for a Henry kiss goodnight,” “I’m grateful for Declan belly laughs,” and “I’m grateful for a dinner with my three boys.” I wrote moments each day that started to become a tiny light. As I leaned into this tiny light, I truly did begin to see more things to be grateful for regardless of the world around me.
I was able to move outside of the tiny gratitudes and see bigger things to be grateful for; a huge one being the incredible people that surround me. I call them my tribe but my family and friends are unmatched in their ever-present love of me (and my love for them). I am a lucky woman. In writing gratitude statements I was able to see that even when the world looks like it’s burning down around you, there is still more good than bad. Truly.
Staying Positive & Looking at the Good
My own external circumstances have not changed. I am still living in a pandemic and still dealing with a divorce while recovering from domestic abuse. I am still running a company during a pandemic. I cannot speed up any external circumstances beyond my control. They will stay, just as yours will stay.
I do not know when the pandemic will end. What I do know is that we can take care of our own hearts and minds even in stressful times. Especially in stressful times. I know what it feels like to want to wrap yourself in a blanket and cry the day away. I know what it feels like to scream in frustration at the top of your lungs. It’s OK to ride these feelings out. As they subside noticing what was beside you all along will shift your internal world. I promise.
The world outside is messy but I bet you have a few things to be grateful for. So, maybe even today, instead of arguing with someone for the millionth time about your stance on (masks, vaccines, the economy, etc) you could take a deep breath and call your mom. Tell her you love her. Can’t talk to your mom? That’s OK, call dad, a sister, a brother–make a phone call to someone you love. Say thank you. Then pick up the pen and find what you’re truly grateful for.
It’s been a little over a year since I started blogging. I was asked to start blogging by my marketing team to bring relevant information to our families. I was secretly waiting for this invitation because I’ve always wanted to be a writer and felt ashamed while thinking about “proper writing.” The invitation to write for you all quickly became therapy for me. The perfectionism that was holding me back was put down and writing has quickly become my favorite part of every week (outside of basement snuggles and coffee…).
When I began writing the blog I was focused on the services provided by Instructional ABA Consultants to support families of children with autism. I also wrote as a mama of two young children and one adopted teenager to let all mamas (and papas) out there know they are not alone. That even someone like me, an experienced clinician and CEO, has struggled with motherhood, tiny humans, and teenagers. Raising other humans is no easy feat and it takes a village of support and love. My hope was that my writing created a space of belonging for parents of both neurotypical children and children with autism.
Finding Myself During the COVID-19 Pandemic
As the pandemic hit in early 2020, I was not only burdened with running a company through a pandemic. I was also burdened with sheltering in place, taking care of my children, domestic violence, and the end of my marriage. I’ve alluded to the fact that I am a survivor of domestic violence. What I have not told you, however, is that I am one of the too many women who were (or are) not safe at home.
For a long while, I did not want to write this because I was ashamed. It’s not easy to identify domestic violence, let alone leave it behind. I was also fearful that anything and everything I wrote or said would be used in court against me. That by speaking up about my situation I would damage myself. There is much I will not say until I am ready, but please know this: I was not safe in my marriage. Neither were my children. I hold no ill will toward my ex-husband, but I absolutely believe abuse deserves accountability and that we all deserve to be safe. Writing about healing, alongside a community of support, helped show me the way out. I hope someday my writing will be a candle for others.
Shifting into a mindset where I can speak up (after 6 months of trauma-based therapy and more love than anyone can ask for) showed me that my current focus is shifting away from the original focus of my writing. I want to be able to continue to explore my own writing while not forgetting the part of my tribe who need online support for their children with autism and parenting. In a gentle way, I found it to be true that the content surrounding autism and parenting should be given to a writer who is currently more aligned with this topic. I also wanted to continue writing personally as a way to heal from trauma and live a life built in joy.
How did I decide what to do?
New Writings and Blogs
As usual, when I don’t know what to do, I went first to my gut, then to my team (tribe at home) and asked what to do.
This month my company will be splitting the blog section into two tabs. The first section will be for autism-related topics and family support. The second will be my writing, wherever that takes us. It is my hope that both blogs serve each community that receives them by being relevant to their respective topics.
Professionally, I continue as the CEO and owner of Instructional ABA Consultants serving children and adults with disabilities regardless of funding source. We have a clear mission and a badass team. Personally, I’m embracing the author I’ve always wanted to be and hoping my words bring peace, hope, joy, and connection to others.
May we all be happy, healthy, safe, and free.
It’s Monday morning and I’m sitting in my office, outside of the house for the first time since March. I also dropped off my son, Dametrius, at in-person school at 7:15 AM today. After three weeks as my son and 10 months of e-learning, my baby finally walked into school. Up until a year ago, I thought the first baby I would give away to school was Henry; it sure doesn’t get any easier, even when they’re 15.
So it’s a new chapter in our lives; Dametrius is out of the house for school and I’m finally strong enough to pick up my writing on a Monday morning and leave my little sons with their grandparents. As many of us are recovering from trauma, leaving the safe space we’re created is hard stuff. It’s also incredibly brave.
The last time I wrote to you I shared that collectively we are all walking through trauma during the pandemic and that when trauma comes change is born. In re-reading “Untamed,” over break, I was reminded that there are two different types of pain. Glennon writes that the first type of pain is the fear that is born from working against the truest form of ourselves and the second type of pain is choosing to burn a life keeping us from the truest form of ourselves to the ground. This resonates with me deeply, I’d like to share more.
Dealing with Types of Fear
I’ve written to you about becoming a love warrior over the past six months; a person who knows in their bones they are good and true despite what the world is saying about them. I don’t know how much this still sits well with me today. I think there is such a truth to this, yet so much more to uncover.
You see, the first pain that Glennon writes about are the fears we all get lost in throughout our lives. It is the fear that propels us to abandon ourselves for the sake of others. The fear that tells us that fitting in and being accepted is the goal of life and once we finally listen we’ll be happy. This fear is a Goddamn liar. I listened to it for far too long.
As a woman, I’ve been raised to believe many lies and am lucky enough to have parents who never treated me differently because I was a girl. My mom is a feminist through and through and my dad is a champion of women. This gave me the courage to know that I was born equally but it didn’t give me the knowledge I needed to fight society as I entered into it.
I think that was part of my fear of sending Dametrius to school today. You won’t meet a wiser, kinder soul than my son Dametrius and my child has walked a path many of you cannot imagine. He’s still himself every day. “Don’t you lose you in there baby” I told him, “don’t fit in.” Me? I know school is where I began to lose myself and built up a series of lies from society from there on out.
Overcoming Personal Fears
Growing up, I believed from a young age that how I looked was the first key to acceptance from my peers. I developed an eating disorder in high school to lose the weight I thought was holding me back from fitting in. I believed that finding the perfect boyfriend-turned-husband would show the world how lovable I was and that marriage was the ultimate community and personal goal.
There’s more. I believed that I needed to be polite, accommodating, and put my needs second to everyone, including my children. I believed that the more I looked and behaved in a way that matched society norms the happier I would be. This is the first fear, this is what took me down the road of abandoning myself for so long.
I wrote to you all that I made the choice to buy a farm in Ohio this past summer in order to follow my true path. In reality, this choice was delivered to me from the universe to burn every fear I had to the ground and build a life worth living. My farm, family, and God have saved my life. When I couldn’t choose it for myself the second pain was chosen for me.
This past fall-into-winter I have done something I have never done before; I felt every single piece of pain I was walking through. I held it, felt it, breathed it in, and let it have a place. It was not pretty. At best it was animalistic. I spent hours crying on the floor while my babies slept, screamed to the skies while walking in my pasture, and succumbed to the raw pain that was needed to come back home to myself. I’m just now starting to see the clearing through the trees, and this clearing is not from the world: it’s from myself saying, “welcome home.” I’ve allowed this pain to shake me to my roots and began believing that the only thing that brings true joy is belonging to ourselves.
Someday I’ll tell you about the life event that has caused such a change in me. I’m not ready yet. What I am ready to do is tell you all that we can in fact do hard things. That this past year has been a collective of grief through the pandemic and personal pains. What pain will you choose?
Choose Your Pain and Come Home
Will you choose the pain and fear that tells you to succumb to the expectations of others? Or will you choose the pain, no matter how raw, that brings you home to yourself? If you continue to follow me, know this; I do not give a damn about what others think of me anymore and will ask myself “am I losing myself,” every second of the day I make choices. I will not put myself second just because I was born a woman or question the skills, talents, gifts, and passions that pulse through my veins. And I will not care if I make you or anyone else uncomfortable because I refuse to be uncomfortable with myself ever again.
We all have collectively been stopped in our tracks because of the pandemic. I believe I asked myself the question “Jessie, are you going to keep living in the fears of the world or come home to yourself?” Right now I’m coming home to myself and leaving the pain behind.
Readers, what about you? Will you walk with me? Would you like to try? I can help you to stay true to yourself. I have walked through pain that I thought was deep enough to kill me and through feeling it I was born. It’s worth it, coming home.
In loving dedication to my sister-in-law, brother-in-law, mom, and dad who have all held me in their arms these past three months.
Last week, I wrote about our collective back to school blues. I’m still living through this; grief is a process and I don’t know that I’ll be fine for a while. In learning about all who are impacted by COVID-19, including my own children, I feel grief. Last night, I spent almost two hours on the phone with my aunt talking about homeschooling. In my heart, I want to pour every inch of my soul into Dametrius’s education. Also in my heart, I’m grieving that he may never know “normal.” From this paradox, I actually see a piece of myself. I’m going to share it with you.
That Nagging Feeling
Throughout my lifetime I have always had a nagging inside of me. The nagging says to me, “this isn’t it,” as I navigate life. While many people may equate this to anxiety and unsettledness, I know differently. This nagging inside of me is a combination of my knowledge and experiences and when I follow it I always unturn a new truth. The truths I find run the gamut from personal to professional but all of them guide me.
You see, I see the world differently, and when I follow the nagging feeling I can unpack both the loving-kindness and the lion inside of me. I think everyone has this nagging feeling inside of them and when I read “Untamed,” by Glennon Doyle it was confirmed. You may not be a lion but you know what is inside of you far better than anyone else in the world.
If we collectively listened to these nagging feelings, we could challenge ourselves and our leaders to unwind from a world based on fear and build a new one based on love.
So, back to my nagging, that piece of me that pushes me. My internal nagging has moved me through every stage of my life. It’s like a path I walk along, stopping for a while at a few spots to enjoy, fight, question, and then move on. I often meditate and see myself on a path with a deep light at the end. I know I’m walking toward that light in this life and not towards death.
During the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis, my nagging had me under its thumb. I sat in the middle of my beautiful home, with my dream career, 3 beautiful children, husband, and dear friends and I was utterly confused. How could this not be it? I had to sit and take a critical look at my situation to discover what was ‘wrong.’
What is Normal?
I was living in suburbia because the world had told me this was the goal and I listened. The world doesn’t know have my knowledge or experiences, so it occurred to me that I have been listening to the wrong authority for most of my life. Shit. Well, once I knew that I was listening to the wrong authority, a mental pandora’s box was opened in my mind. What else had I been believing as gospel because society told me it was so? Shit. Again. How can I unpack what is truly me and what the world is telling me is me? How can we all do this? And if we all do this, can we actually build a new world?
Deep inside of me, I believe the answer is “yes.” We can change the narrative. We don’t have to keep living in a world built on the foundation of broken systems and systemic disadvantages. There are solutions to our problems and those solutions are in our hearts. Believing in the goodness of people as a whole is the light I see in my meditations–where I want to go. And I want you all to come with me.
In order for me to honor my own nagging feelings, I had to thoroughly unravel my life. I sat with myself and asked, “well what now?” Answer number one? Get the hell out of suburbia, you hate it here. While a great many people love the suburbs, I am not one of them. I need the country like I need air to breathe.
I also need my sister and my family. Like, I really need my sister and family.
I buried both of these truths while I built a business out-of-state and settled into the suburbs. So, I asked my team at Instructional ABA Consultants, “Can I move home to Ohio and still be a good leader?” I got a resounding yes, followed by a fabulous discussion about what all my leaders needed in their own environments to thrive. They shared their feelings. I had no idea what most of my team really wanted!
I hope with all my heart Ingrid makes her way to Paris while running our company! I know that woman can do it. Once I got the resounding message of “it’s OK, we’ll support your dreams because you are honoring ours,” I told my husband. His feelings aren’t there yet, but he’s working hard to find his own truths so when I change things up it won’t be too hard for us. He told me (lovingly) that if Ohio makes me happy and I need the country he’ll follow me there. I know we’ll struggle through this as he finds his own truths and I am so, so grateful that he’s standing beside me.
Saddling Up & Moving to a Farm
Once I realized these personal truths, that life could go on, I started looking for farms. And do you know what happened? We bought a horse farm. A fricking horse farm!* A realtor was supposed to line up properties for us to see when we traveled in June. One night we got sent information on the farm we ended up buying. I pulled the info up and if I had drawn a dream home when I was five years old this was it!
The universe honored my newly discovered truths and literally planted a 3-acre horse farm in my lap. The kicker? It’s only twenty minutes from my sister’s home! My dad agreed to drive over and see the property and within 24 hours, against all logic, we bought the farm (literally). It makes no sense! I can’t explain it to anyone, yet my heart is telling me loud and clear to go for it. For the first time in my life, I’m saying yes to my true feelings and believing that honoring them will guide me through all odds.
After we made the choice to move, a lot of other factors have come into play, as other factors tend to do. When you make a big decision it impacts everyone around you. I will deeply miss my dear friends here in Naperville. I’m grieving for my dear friend Dana who has been raising Henry and Declan for the last three years while Martin and I work. I don’t think kinder soul than her exists in our world and when she finds her true feelings I’m sure angels will sing.
Living two states away from her won’t be easy, yet I know I’ve gained a sister through our time together. It’s hard to change course, to follow a knowing beyond ourselves, but I know that the light promised by following my true feelings is real. Yes, I’m sad to leave and yes, I know that in following my path I’m honoring myself and getting ready to light the world on fire. To do this I need the country, quiet, and family.
On my farm, I’ll get to truly be myself. I will joyfully get eggs each morning, grow a garden, can food for the winter, sew, sit on a porch swing each night, and swim in the love of my family all around me. I will get closer to nature because I don’t like the accepted ‘speed’ of the modern world. I might even write letters to my friends. It’s a mystery to me what day-to-day activities will look like, which makes this unplanned future even more exciting for me.
I know to be true; when I honor myself I honor the world and the same is true for you. Your truth is probably not a horse farm in Ohio. Your truth also isn’t what the world has been telling you to do.
My aunt in Colorado sent me a quote, so I’ll leave you with this, “Never, ever be afraid to make some noise & get in good trouble, necessary trouble.” – John Lewis
- *I can’t bring myself to drop the F-bomb in my blog. Maybe I’ll get worked up enough someday…
Last week I wrote about a new chapter in life for me. I’m so excited to be able to share this with you as it unfolds. I’ve got a lot to unpack, reveal, and share. This week for my blog I want to take a side step into my work and experience as a mama as we all make decisions for the fall.
This past week has been a collectively hard week for every mama I know. Across our country schools are announcing what they are choosing to do in the midst of COVID. Emotions are high for a variety of reasons. No emotion is invalid and yet for the space of this blog I want to be clear on one thing. If you are in an emotional space where your fear is expressed by lashing out at others this blog is not a space for you today. Unfortunately, I’ve been on too many Mom Groups who have behaved unkindly to each other and teachers because they are operating in fear. We are all afraid at some level. These are new times. I’m asking that my readers take a collective deep breath and hold space for each other’s fears and don’t take those fears out on each other.
Okay. Whew, now that we’ve cleared that up, I’m ready to write. As I’ve said this past week has been a rough one. A lot of what I’m seeing is defeat and despair. We’ve all been collectively navigating COVID since March and I think the true wish is that we would be farther along. I know a lot of people are wishing that all the efforts made during Shelter in Place would have taken us back to a reality closer to pre-COVID. Our truth today is we are not going back, and neither are our children any time soon. That in itself is such a hard pill to swallow.
Now there are a great many valid things to be frustrated about as to why rates of COVID are not contained in the United States. I honor those deeply. However, I don’t believe me listing them will help anyone personally. My reality is, alongside many, that Americans collectively could be making some better choices and those who do not have the ability to make their own choices (think shut in’s in assisted living facilities or our children) could benefit from our better choices. Until we’re able to get to a spot where we are collectively dealing with the virus, we’re left to individually navigate a world with new limitations. It’s scary and sucks plain and simple.
A large part of what I see weighing on the hearts of so many parents is what to do in regard to school this fall. District by district different choices are being announced. The choices so far that I’ve seen are entire remote learning, partial weeks, or full weeks in school with the option to opt out for remote learning. There are vague statements about face coverings and sanitation procedures. What we all want is certainty and I’m sorry to be the one to write this; I don’t think it’s coming. This year is going to be all about making the best decision possible for our own children or grappling with the reality that the decision is beyond our control.
My simplest advice is give yourself and your friends grace
So, what can you do? What choice can you make for your children in a pandemic? I wish I could tell you the best answer, to give you that certainty but I can’t. I don’t have this for me. I can give you my advice, the best I have today as a mama and educator myself. My simplest advice is give yourself and your friends grace. To realize we are all in this together do the best we can. My next advice, if it’s at all possible for you, is to choose the education plan that creates the least amount of change for your child. I say if this is possible because there are many families who have no choice in this. There are schools that are announcing all e-learning regardless and families who have to send their children to school because they are working. If the choice is beyond your control, then focus on what you can control. And, for the families that will financially suffer through this, I am so sorry. I wish this was not the case for you. I realize I’m incredibly lucky to be able to choose what I want for Dametrius this fall because he’s an older child and I can still work if he does e-learning. I’m also lucky because if he were younger I could afford extra childcare. I know this is my privilege.
Ok, so back to choosing the least amount of change for your child if that’s possible for your family. I believe that in coming out of Shelter in Place what we hoped for was some normalcy following the restrictions. Currently that isn’t happening and so our nervous systems are overloaded with the ever changing information and choices. It’s wreaking havoc on all of us. I literally just told my husband he couldn’t ask me to do things today because I’m overloaded, then I asked him to cook dinner. Martin responded, “so I can’t ask you anything but you can ask me?” I paused, then a deep sigh, “yes that’s exactly what I’m saying & I have therapy at noon.” God love him.
If we chose an education plan for our children that would remain the same regardless of restrictions ever changing, we can eliminate this nervous system overload (hello anxiety) and create some calm. By choosing a schedule that you will least likely have to change for your child you can eliminate some nervous system overload for your whole family.
Keeping children with ASD in mind
I also want to take a moment and speak for children with autism. Because, you see, constant change is harder than it is for neurotypical children. My recommendation to create a stable schedule triples when it comes to children with autism. The ups and downs of every changing schedule is a ton for them to process. If you are a parent of a child with autism I would strongly recommend to rely on therapy schedules and clinic settings as the primary structure for your children. We are ramping up our own programs in Castle Rock, Naperville, and opening up a South Side Chicago location this fall to address this need. These won’t change in the midst of COVID and will provide a wonderful way for your children to continue to have structure, socialization, and make progress. This was true prior to COVID but even more so now I think these clinic structures are important.
Okay, so now we’re gone through the choices. The limited ones we have. You’ve heard my recommendation to limit changes the best you can. Now what? Grace, grace, grace. These are not easy times. Collectively and individually we are all grieving. Downplaying what is individually hard for you does nothing to help us all through 2020. Remember I wrote about this before? Personally I’m incredibly upset that Dametrius won’t be going in person to high school. He is a beautiful person, new to our family, and I want nothing more than for him to make new friends and play football on Friday night. It’s not coming. I’m going to need to grieve this. Henry will not be making new friends, he’s stuck with us. I’m grieving this too. Declan, well, he’s 16 months (today!) and for that I’m thankful.
All individual fear big and small matter. Make the decision best for your family, give your great big heart a hug, and feel those feelings. Then call someone making a choice different than you and let them feel those feelings too.