Posts Tagged ‘self help’

Changing the Narrative

Posted on: July 29th, 2020 by Jessie Topalov

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

photo of a farm house at end of dirt road

Photo credit: Rochelle Mast (previous farm owner)

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

 

Xoxo,
Jessie

 

  • *I can’t bring myself to drop the F-bomb in my blog. Maybe I’ll get worked up enough someday…

Back to School Blues

Posted on: July 24th, 2020 by Jessie Topalov

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.

photo of a child holding luggageThis 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.

Xoxo,
Jessie

My Promise to You

Posted on: July 17th, 2020 by Jessie Topalov

In closing the last series I felt a sense of peace. Since March, like many of you, I’ve been struggling to sort out what’s happening in my mind and heart as well as process what is going on in the world. In Brene Brown’s podcast she mentioned that anyone who doesn’t answer, “how are you” with, “it’s complicated,” isn’t being honest. We are all collectively living in a time where we are scared, anxious, mourning and the like. Yet through our pain we are also offered the opportunity to heal. At least, I believe this to be true.

Prior to March this year I was still in a place where I believed negative emotions were something to be ashamed of and avoided like the plague. That I should just, “be happy.” While I was honest with honoring my own story, I wasn’t seeing pain as my messenger. I was just trying to make sure it didn’t happen again. I don’t know if this is true for other survivors but it is true for me. I’m very hypervigilant and can get overwhelmed by a lot of stress or noise in my environment. Each time I have a bad day I sit in my own head and wonder how I could do better and from that not experience negative emotions. I think we’re all taught this to an extent. If you don’t feel “happy,” the pharmaceutical giants are more than eager to write you a prescription. Now please don’t get me wrong, medication can be a wonderful thing for people who need it. I needed it during my postpartum depression. What I’m saying is that the messaging to be happy is very loud in our society.

One night during April I crashed. I sat in a bath crying to the sky. I couldn’t think my way into a happier day and declared, “what do you want from me?!” to who I believe to be God our Mother. Relief immediately set in. I felt so deeply that what was wanted was for me to feel. Feelings are meant to be felt. They are messengers telling us what is and isn’t Ok with us and our world. They aren’t meant to be silenced or problem solved away. I got it. No more planning to be happy, plan to live fully.

After realizing that my emotions were meant to be felt I’ve shifted into a very raw space. I’m being honest with you because I’m honored you log in every week and read what’s in my heart. I hope it serves you the way it serves me. From my rawness I’ve pretty well sat in vulnerability daily. It feels like being a walking bruise, no kidding. I’ve decided to give kindness to each wave of negative emotions, celebrate joy, and to live authentically from here on out. I know I’ve got a lot to learn about who I am, what I have to give, and what I want to share. I also know I’ve never been this excited or humbled in my life. I’m making every decision from my guide within.

In listening always to my inner guide I don’t know who I will find. Who will you find if you do the same? To me there is a lot of environmental conditioning and years of learning how to be in our society. I want to find my truth without that noise and in the same way I want you to find yours. I feel that if all of us took the time to lean in and find out who we were before the world told us who to be, our existence would change overnight. We could find our joy. We could listen to the pain of the world, hear it’s story, and provide guidance. I don’t know about you but I can’t hear when I’m not me.

Forging Ahead

Here is my promise to you. I promise to dig in and find me. To share my story as I undercover the conditioning that made me and the strength I hold beneath it all. From my strength I want to change the experience of children with autism. I want to eradicate gender norms. To be the badass woman in business I am. Just publicly now. I want to live largely and freely. In sharing my story I want to shine a light on your strength too. Who are you? What do you want? What’s holding you back?

I’m changing the narrative. I’m going to begin writing for those who are on a path to healing. For those who know pain. For our children. For the lost. For those who are willing to show up with an open or curious heart. So that all of us know we are enough, can raise our children to know their worth, and live freely. Because collectively, if we do this, we can change the world.

Yes baby, you are enough. I’m oh so glad you’re here.

Xoxo,
Jessie

The Release of Perfect Parenting

Posted on: July 9th, 2020 by Jessie Topalov

Over the course of the last month and a half I’ve written to you all about imperfect parenting. Honestly COVID-19 has been a do or die for me. Prior to COVID-19 I was spending too much time on the seesaw of authenticity and perfection. It was exhausting. Since I’ve been home I’ve written to you about lying and stealing, putting down busy and picking up peace, understanding anger, and daddys. Yep, that’s it. That explains my COVID experience in a nutshell. Blog done. Just kidding. Today I want to end the series with a small essay on embracing authenticity.

Parenting Memos Are Shifting

photo of outdoor garden and flowers

Photo credit: Rochelle Mast

Currently I’m reading “Untamed,” by Glennon Doyle. She says everything better than I’m going to but please let me try (also please read this book)! One of her chapters writes about parenting memo’s. In the 1950’s the memo was birth your baby then make sure they are seen and not heard. In the 1980’s the memo was birth your baby and continue on with wine spritzers and cigarettes. Fast forward and today our memo is birth your baby, then engross yourself with their every waking moment, and even in doing that you’re failing.

It’s a rat race. We are all losing. I remember when I had Henry I felt overwhelmed by him. Now a big piece of that was my own postpartum depression but another piece of that was feeling that I had all the scholarly knowledge in the world and could not keep up with the Joneses. There was/still-is so much societal pressure to be a perfect mama. But who are they? That stupid Jones family? Why the hell are we all trying to keep up? Personally I’m done.

In being home with my children since mid-March I was given gifts I will always be grateful for. The first gift is that by stepping into Shelter-in-Place I could not keep up my pace as perfect mama and authentic mama simultaneously. That struggle had to stop. The second gift was I was able to step away from the noise of society to think about what I truly wanted for my children and myself. My new reality was surrender. And when I thought I’d surrendered, I surrendered more. Through not having a society to keep up with or standards to measure myself against I was able to show up. Truly show up.

Here’s what I learned

The day-to-day decisions and rules I made for myself and the children didn’t matter. Really. How many grams of sugar consumed, screens seen, or books read did not make or break my children. Furthermore the “social” environments (music class, swim class, story time, etc) that I was beginning to run them around to also did not matter. Also, for me, social standards don’t really matter either. I’ve got some really wonderful core friendships and if I never see a cocktail party again I’m good. Really. In sheltering without my own “rules,” I found my children have natural interests. I knew this prior to sheltering, but only honored it when I wasn’t trying to be a perfect mama. This looked like observing them on a prairie path vs. structured art time. Sheltering took me into observation mode daily as I surrendered. My children know what they want to do and what they are curious about every minute of every day. I don’t need to create this for them.

In our home what matters is being seen and loved for who we are; my children, my husband, and myself. It’s my job now to honor who I am and be a model for showing up as myself. Not showing up as I’m told to be. By doing this I’m allowing my children to show up for who they are supposed to be.

I do not know what this looks like yet beyond messy. I know we’ll have to say, “no,” to a lot of old, “yeses.” I know I’ll continue the good fight to raise my children closer to nature than technology. I know that before I discipline I’ll seek to understand. And I know that I’m here to listen to my own soul so my children can listen to theirs. What we find on the other side of this journey is unknown. But us Topalov’s? We’re going to live fully.

My hope is that you and your family live fully too. Collectively, that we can all say goodbye to the rules that tamed us and show up for our authentic lives. That through this authenticity we can in fact bring healing, joy and a new future to our children and thus the world.

New birth memo: birth your baby, love them with your whole heart, let them fly and let them fall, while flying freely yourself.

Xoxo,
Jessie

Mama Knows Best: Letting Dads Have a Seat at the Table

Posted on: June 30th, 2020 by Jessie Topalov

Before writing today, I asked my husband’s permission to write a piece of our story. You see, I wouldn’t be able to write about dads without writing about Martin. Martin has lovingly given me permission to write this blog (with the promise of a preview!).

Martin and I are two very different people who love each other very much. Prior to becoming parents, we were still figuring out who we were as a married couple (spoiler: we’re still figuring it out). Martin is from Bulgaria and had only been in the US a year before we married. He was working on an American degree, acclimating to society in the US and, eventually, a new marriage. I was building a business and was really the only independent woman he’d ever met. His romantic and playful nature drew me to him and my fierceness drew him to me.

My husband also grew up in a very poor country that holds zero space for men to feel. Martin was traumatized in ways I believe many men are and, unfortunately, this deeply impacted our marriage.  But Martin is brave, kind, and loves our family with all of his heart. Martin is doing the work of healing his own heart to live his best life for himself and our family. This means I’ve got work to do too. I need to make more space for him here.

Parenting and Gender Roles

Mama Knows Best: Letting Dads Have a Seat at the Table blog featured image. Photo of a father holding his newborn son.Last summer when I was at the height of, “this shit won’t fly,” (in regards to being the primary caretaker of our kids and “emotionally woke” member of our family) I read “All the Rage.” I was lost and confused as to why as a modern woman, married for my fierceness, I was still the only one who planned meals, read sugar content on labels, sorted whites from darks, actually knew what drawers clothes went in, so on. I was a full-time mama and a full-time businesswoman. I only signed up for one of those titles yet here I was holding both. 

In reading, “All the Rage,” I have to be honest; I wasn’t reading it for Martin, I was reading it for my sons, Henry and Declan. I was going to raise good husbands. Their wives or husbands would thank me someday and tell me both parents were equal contributors to their children and marriages. No socks on their floors! In an equal marital situation, the damn whites would be sorted! What I didn’t realize is that in future planning for our children by myself, I was signing up for 18 years of continuing to carry the full load at home.  Not cool. No way. So I had to take a hard look at our marriage and parenting. I had to be brave. I had to shake it up.

Discussing Parenting Roles

This past October Martin and I had a very serious discussion about how we had gotten into our respective gender roles and why he was so angry all the time. We dove headfirst into finding a new way to be great parents. A new way to build a life together we could both be proud of.  We’ve been doing work every day since that discussion. It’s been ugly and beautiful all at the same time. The ugly part shows up because we’re human. A lot of emotions come out. The beautiful part is the fact we are both willing to honor who we are, what we need, and how we want to show up–all as individuals.

I knew this was true for me. I couldn’t continue to be the martyr and knower of all things for my children. I’ve always wanted to be a model of how to live authentically. Martin knew he needed to begin the journey of unpacking his past and understanding his emotions so he could learn who his authentic self is. My husband did not participate in our marriage and child-raising because society ingrained in him to man up. “Man up” is a swear word in our home now.  We don’t label genders, period. Tell one of my sons to “man up,” and I will find you. I’m serious!

For the better part of 25 years, Martin was taught to let women do the housework (he’s Bulgarian but, come on, it’s happening here too) and push down his emotions at all costs. For reference: Martin, my husband, will giggle at puppy and baby videos all day. He’s a softy with a resting “um, you know what” face. I was taught by my own independent mother how to nitpick male inadequacy.  My mom was frustrated in many ways about the mental load she carried and still does, and rightfully so!  We were her daughters and so she confided in my sister and me.  What she didn’t do, however, is call bullshit on my dad for letting her carry the load. Honestly, she’s too kind to call bullshit on family members; that’s what I’m for. So, for the last 3 years, since we’ve had children, Martin pushed back on domestic life and I nagged him to death. I couldn’t be more proud of my “bullshit call” last October.

Sharing the Parenting Load

Research shows that babies are attached to the caregiver who responds to their cries more quickly. It’s a simple stimulus to the response equation. Yet everyone believes that the baby just wants mommy. Nope. They want the person who will meet their needs. Don’t we all? Yet if women continue to be the “knower” of all things in the home, and men continue to stay emotionally repressed, we will make no progress towards an equal domestic life. We just won’t.

This brings me back to the reason for writing this blog: men need a seat at the table without us tearing them apart. Men and daddies everywhere need to be allowed to choose what is best for their children without constant feedback from us mamas. Mamas then need to know that daddies are leading from a place of love and emotional support for their children. Even if it’s Dad making mac and cheese for dinner 5 nights a week, our children need to be seen as the beautiful beings they are. Mistakes and all.

In my family’s home, this is still a work in progress. I’m currently on a weeklong criticizing hiatus. It’s a hard habit to break! I’m trying really hard to let Martin do things his way and unconditionally remove myself from being a martyr in our home.

Yes, I asked permission to show him how to put up a baby gate this morning. No, he doesn’t want to see and we walk away. It’s uncomfortable but freakin’ worth it! I’m not willing to continue to complain about how my husband can’t “fill in the blank,” because I decided it was my job. This also means I have to keep accepting imperfection–even my own imperfections.

Ladies, mamas, women: let’s stop this madness together. Let’s ask our husbands what hurts (I’m guessing it’s a first for many), listen to them, give them space, and give up the goddamn dishwasher stacking war! Let’s raise good men (and women) together.

 

Thanks, Marty, for letting me write this. You are an amazing papa and brave man.

 

Xoxo,

Jessie

The Rumble; The Challenges of Anger

Posted on: June 25th, 2020 by Jessie Topalov

Last week I wrote about my own journey during COVID-19 as an over functioner in my imperfect parenting series. If you missed it check it out. It’s good stuff. This week what I’d like to expand on how anger shows up as I’ve written a lot about anxiety.

Anger is no stranger to me. It’s also the emotion that I experience that I feel a ton of shame over. In the moments that I’m angry I feel pretty much like the scum of the earth. I go into a cycle of feeling like a horrible person and mom. Over the past year with two young children I’ve had a good amount of these shame spirals.

photo woman sitting in forest

Dealing with anger

Dealing with anger is personally very hard for me; I’ve had a long journey with anger. As a survivor of domestic violence I see an outburst of anger as a warning sign. I either feel like a person around me is becoming a threat or am fearful I will become a threat. In my early years and through young adulthood I used anger to protect myself (get bigger so I wouldn’t be hit) and to express the internal hurt I was feeling. Through my 20s as I stepped away from violence I healed my wounds and told myself, “never again.” In my 30s a new form of anger has come into my life as a wife and mama of young children. That is where shame popped up big time for me. While I have never hurt my children physically and never will I have experienced anger with my children and it kills me. I tell you this because I had forgotten until recently that anger tells a story that needs to be seen.

I know as a practitioner that anger is a secondary emotion. This means that anger is present when there is something else going on emotionally. Tara Brach did a recent podcast on anger and she reminded me of this. While in my head I knew this to be true for some reason it didn’t stop my own shame cycle as anger popped up for me these last three months at home. It wasn’t until a fight with my own dad in Ohio that I realized why I hold anger and what to do with it.

One afternoon he took our boys to a spot I couldn’t see them. I asked next time he gave me a heads up. He blew up, feeling I didn’t trust him and I got about as big as I could verbally until he walked away. It hurt like no other. It was the first explosion in 15 years I’d seen. But this time I did something different. I walked away and held myself in my heart for about 20 minutes. This looked like breathing through my belly and washing light into my body with visualization. Then I walked to my dad and asked him what hurt. That’s when I found out my dad was having an awful time adjusting to us because he too had been alone for three months and was over functioning prior to our visit. Through this interaction I was able to honor my own trauma story.

I had realized as a trauma survivor that when anyone (including my kids) screams or hits I felt like I needed anger to make myself big and protect myself. While it doesn’t seem logical that a screaming, hitting toddler would trigger me, my limbic system doesn’t know the difference. In seeing my story clearly I have melted the shame and know personally self care (walking away) is absolutely necessary for me when I’m overwhelmed. It feels silly to say I can’t see the difference between Henry kicking me hard and being physically beaten. But feeling silly and shameful does nothing to serve my soul.

My story may be your story

This is the story of anger. It holds on to each of us until we can find the core. What is your story with anger? When do you explode? What do you say to yourself? I believe wholeheartedly that anger is a messenger. Only when you listen to the message and provide yourself radical love will anger melt away. From the exhausted parent going about it in a way that brings shame, to a nation crying for change, anger is speaking to us all.

So what can you do? What can we all do? I don’t think everyone will have the same privilege I had to confront my dad and my own anger together. While it hurt immensely the night it was incredibly healing. I do think each and every person can ask their anger, “Why are you here? What do you need to say to me?” This can look like journaling, walking in silence, and reading wonderful books (try Harriet Lerner “The Dance of Anger”). Most important is to get curious while you are compassionate with yourself. Through your curiosity and kindness anger will speak and then melt away. When you learn the lesson anger leaves.

My darling ones, we can all fly free.

Xoxo,
Jessie

A Juggling Act; Putting Down Busy & Picking up Peace

Posted on: June 17th, 2020 by Jessie Topalov

It’s been a few weeks since I’ve written in my imperfect parenting series. The world has been hurting and it turns out so was I. I’m grateful for my own personal struggles and awakening this past week but man it was hard. I’m going to put down perfect (remember I promised I would?) and tell you my real deal.

Sheltering in Place 2.0

photo of woman sitting on large porch relaxingA week ago Saturday we were all packed and ready to head to Ohio where my family is. After almost three months at home we decided we could shelter with family verses sheltering by ourselves. In the days prior to the trip I had run a marathon. I’m sure it sounds familiar to a lot of moms. I ordered groceries for the car, a Target pick up, met the dog boarder for Simon, took Simon to the dog boarder, laundry for everyone, bags for everyone but Martin, car activities, iPad charged, extra sunscreen, and a stack of books for me. We got in the car at 7:00 am and I was exhausted. My husband turns to me and goes, “thank you (I pause ready for praise!) for remembering to get gas,” in utter sarcasm. My heart sank as it usually does in these scenarios. I grabbed my laptop and buried myself in our family budget.

Our first stop was my uncle’s Lake House on Lake Erie. Sounds like a dream after 3 months at home. We got to the house and I did potty, diapers, lunches, sunscreen, and swimsuits. I’m already exhausted, remember? The kids get packed up again and we’re off to a secluded section of the beach where my uncle has jet skis. We’re unpacking three kids and one dog (Teddy is too old to board). Henry and Declan are like flies to the light once they see the water. Martin? Jumps on a jet ski and rides away. For a god damn hour and a half. Luckily my cousins were there and saw my panic with my children and the water. They jumped in to help supervise. Me? I was livid. Here I was exhausted after three months feeling like the primary caregiver with the addition of prepping for traveling and my husband was nowhere to be found. I’ve also successfully ran a company and prepared it for some awesome growth forward to serve more people. I wasn’t just physically exhausted on that Saturday, I was mentally done.

Now don’t get me wrong. I understand my husband needed to chill out. He’s also been trapped for 3 months in our home. I’m sure enough women have been through this scenario enough times that it’s easy to blame my husband for his inaction on getting ready for the trip then riding away. Leaving me with the burden of responsibility is equally our responsibility. Let’s dig in.

I’ve often referenced Brene Brown and her amazing work. I hope I’m lucky enough to someday say thank you in person to her; she’s changed my life more times that I can count. Her latest work is a new podcast, “Unlocking Us.” After moving through the tough emotion of feeling very alone about the responsibility I bear at home I needed this. I plugged in “Brene on Anxiety, Calm + Overfunctioning.” For the next 40 minutes I listened to Brene call my bullshit while giving compassion to the anxiety I held during COVID.

COVID-19 and Self-Care

I’ve written to you all many times about self care during COVID. I also personally wrote about over functioning and underfunctioning. I took surface steps (like a bath at night) to calm down my over functioning just to jump out and start my cycle all over again. I was writing these words to you while calling myself awful names (bossy, controlling) and feeling helpless stopping the process of managing our home. It took me actually stepping outside of our home and getting a break with the kids (this came later at my parents house) to see what I was up to.

Going into and during Sheltering in Place I turned on over functioning to volume 100. I was so scared of the virus coming into our home and grieving the life we had before the virus. I was worried about Henry, Declan, and especially Dametrius being new to us. Martin and I were also on a journey to a healthier marriage. And I was also deeply worried prior to the PPA Loan about my employees.

In my work I was and am the luckiest woman in the world; truly. My team honors my heart and leadership. They bring these amazing skill sets and systems to support my vision. Instructional ABA Consultants is a space I no longer over function. God bless my team. Home? No one calls my bullshit and I went to town running this house like a navy ship. My husband is a classic under functioner and slinked away.

When I’m not in a stressful place in life I still struggle with over functioning at home. Like I mentioned before Martin and I are still figuring out what our partnership means to both of us including how that plays out day to day. It’s a journey. A piece of that is that when I get anxious I immediately move to control every outcome and Martin prefers to hide when he’s anxious. We’re a perfect storm. In listening to Brene I saw myself and my husband so clearly. These three months and the visualization of the jet ski’s incident was the message I needed to hear.

Originally when I was going to write about the juggling act I’m guessing I was going to write about putting down your home projects that don’t serve you and find time to be present. On the surface that’s great but if underneath you’re still screaming it won’t serve you (or me). Here’s what I suggest to everyone. Rest. No really, rest. There is no way to come out of over functioning or under functioning if you’re exhausted. Or to even identify if you were doing it to begin with. Very personally I was able to do this through our trip and am now working to call my own bullshit because Martin’s not there yet. In the same sense he can work on saying when he’s overwhelmed versus hiding in the Iphone. We both have work to do but through it we can pick up peace.

The world is hurting right now. Me too. I’m guessing you too. If we can collectively reset and be kind to our body & minds peace is on the way.

Xoxo,
Jessie

Imperfect Parenting

Posted on: May 13th, 2020 by Jessie Topalov

Over the last month, I’ve written about my own personal journey during COVID to shine a light on fear. This week, in honor of Mother’s Day, I’d like to write about parenting during COVID. Personally, I’ve gone through highs and lows. Some days, I’m so grateful and proud. Other days it’s a completely different story. Through all of it, I’m learning to love myself and my boys in the midst of imperfection.

Intentional Parenting

Prior to COVID, I liked to think of myself as an intentional mama. I made a lot of calculated decisions about how I wanted to raise my boys and had some pretty high expectations of myself. I’ve shared before that when I had Henry I suffered from postpartum depression. As a trauma survivor, I had an added layer of not wanting to do anything to harm my child. Not harming my children in a physical way, I don’t worry about that, but in not wanting to make a mistake. From there I spent the better part of 18 months being 100% attentive to Henry when he was with me.

I mean, I was that Mom we all hate. Calculated floor time, zero TV, homemade meals every night, cloth diapers, no electronic toys. I was perfectly happy doing all of this but I didn’t do anything except this. I gained being a mama in my heart and at the cost of myself (a bit). Enter Declan (my second boy) and keeping up at this pace was just not achievable at the same rate. I went through an angry phase, being angry at myself for not being able to keep it up. Then I realized while I could love all the different ways I could parent my children, the most important was having a full heart. That I needed to find time for Jessie and not just the mama in me. I’ve quoted it many times but truly, “How Not to Lose Your Shit with Your Kid,” changed me.

Changing Your Parenting Style

After I realized I couldn’t keep up the same pace of my “perfect parenting,” and with two children under 2, I gave myself a hell of a lot of grace. I let myself fail, break my own rules, and most importantly spent time taking care of myself too. I was able to keep the things that were important to me for Henry and Declan. This looked like eating whole foods, limited TV time (none for Declan he was not yet 1), being present when I was with them, and allowing myself some alone time when we were home together. This felt good. Really good. Enter Shelter in Place. Without my village, it all fell down.

I had gotten into this groove with my children because I allowed myself access to support. I made sure I didn’t expect myself to be with my children 110% of the time. My children went to who I consider their second mom’s house (Dana!) three days a week. Martin and I were rocking date nights at least every other week. I was going to the gym. I was regularly cooking at home (while still appreciating occasional restaurants). I was balanced. I was happy with myself, my parenting, and so grateful for our new son Dametrius finally coming home. Then, overnight, it was just our family and our responsibilities increased as a family increased exponentially.

I’m pretty lucky in the sense I had already laid the foundation with myself that it was OK not to be perfect as a parent. That to be a mama didn’t mean to be on point every second of the day. But a big piece of this was letting myself have some alone time. With sheltering in place, alone time is SO much harder to achieve. My husband works 40 hours a week from home with little relief from his work to help with childcare. Owning my own company means I have to be the flexible one with fitting my work schedule around the kids. It also meant I’m with our boys way more than my husband. I’m learning how to teach our new 8th grader. Dametrius just moved into his new home, so I had no idea what he knew academically.

Add my own hippie heart of loving organic foods (but not able to go to the store), limited technology, and being present to everything else and you’ll realize this was a tall order!

So I did something radical. I’m serious, this was big for me. I threw away my script. Seriously! I decided that the most important thing was something I already knew after healing from postpartum depression and parenting two very young children. It’s love. That’s it. Love is all my children need to grow and thrive.

Realizing What’s Important as a Parent

Don’t get me wrong. There are still things that are very important to me as a woman and mama. But if I kept up with my pre-COVID rulebook I was going to crash and burn. Honestly, looking back, I don’t know how I wasn’t crashing and burning anyways! Sure, I had help, but my expectations were sky-high. So now I expect failure from myself and my kids on a daily basis. We fail, we cry, we kiss, and we move on.

I still want my children to eat well but, honest to God, cooked my first boxed mac and cheese for them ever. I still want them to play in the dirt more than behind a screen but we have movie night every night. I still want to be present with my kids but I allow myself to check emails on my phone while drinking coffee each morning. Some days we have free days. This means jammies all day, movie mornings, coffee, and picking up a toy or something small in a pickup order. I’m resting for myself, eating as well as I can, and moving or getting any exercise when I have a few minutes for self-care. When I can’t do these things I give my heart a big hug.

Mostly, I’ve realized that while my village made my pace possible it wasn’t what my heart wanted. Being home with my children for this amount of time has taught me to follow their needs and my own together. I’m not the mama I was before COVID. I’m messier, louder, and I cry a little more. But you know what? In accepting imperfection I’m happier too. I hope through reading this that perhaps you can love your imperfections in parenting too. And hey, maybe you’ll become a bit closer to your authentic self.

Xoxo,
Jessie

The Bridge Back Home

Posted on: May 6th, 2020 by Jessie Topalov

A phrase I often use is “the bridge back home.” I’m not sure who coined it or if it’s just a phrase that I’ve used so many times it comes from me. What I call the bridge back home is really the way back to myself when I’ve been out of alignment with my authentic self.

photo of woman on porch thinkingLast week I wrote about what lies underneath my own fears and the need to control outcomes. I questioned if my own human experience rings true for others? Do we all engage in behaviors when we fear to avoid feeling the fear? After following the work of the amazing Brene Brown, I think the answer is a resounding yes! We’re human. To have a fear or fears that have transferred over into patterns of behaviors is so real I can touch it. These behaviors can be internal (things we tell ourselves) or external (things we do). Either way, they can make us feel better or worse in the short term and always make us feel worse in the long term. Let me try to explain.

The Only Thing to Fear…

When we are experiencing an emotion that doesn’t feel very good we typically exhibit either high or low energy behaviors. We then have an internal dialogue telling us all the ways we are not good enough. I’m a high energy gal when it comes to external behaviors. High energy looks like overachieving, micromanaging, perfectionism, and the like. Low energy behaviors look like eating high-calorie foods, sitting for long periods of time, lack of exercise, sleeping a lot, and so on. Each of these types of behaviors tells our brains we are anxious, stressed, or depressed. The more we engage in them, the more anxious, stressed, or depressed we become. It’s a loop.

To break the loop there are some really cool things you and I can do. This is what I call the bridge back home. Home is the way to me.

To begin, you need to know there’s no order with fear. Remember, being perfect is part of a loop so it’s going to get us nowhere. I’m going to write some different methods for you to try. I hope some of them resonate with you.

Identify Your Behavior

Identifying if you are in a high or low energy guy/gal is a piece of the bridge back home. What do you do when you don’t feel like you? And what can you do differently? For my high energy behavior readers, the key is to slow down. For my low energy readers, the key is to speed up. A key piece of this is knowing you are out of alignment.

Let’s go there for a minute. When we are out of alignment we engage in our fear-based behaviors. These are anxiety, depression, frustration, bitterness, anger, deep sadness, and the like. If anyone feels these stretches of emotions for more than a few days, I’d go out on a limb and say you’re out of alignment. If they go on for longer than a month I’d recommend reaching out for some clinical support. At the beginning or late stages of fear, a large piece of healing is to notice we are not ourselves. It’s another piece of the bridge.

The next piece of the bridge back home is to do something to realign your energy. This goes back to knowing if you are a high or low energy behavior type. For the high energy behavior types, a big piece of this is creating space in your day. Try to not book things back to back. Find a welcome rest, as well as time for self-care. I can tell you as a high energy person that this shit is hard for me. I have to make an active effort to slow my energy down when I’m in fear. I try to be careful with my schedule, limit my technology use,  try meditating, saying “no,” and doing a ‘home spa night.’ When I’m not in alignment I am not doing these things. When I am in alignment I do some of these things each day. Truly. I am careful because once I’m doing too much my fears kick in. Then I’m not my best self. Remember the loop?

If you are a low energy person a key to your bridge is little steps toward doing more and consuming less. This means making small efforts every day to do something active and to tone back things like high-calorie foods and technology (technology is not great for either of us!). If you’ve been stuck in low energy-mode for a while, you cannot expect yourself to run a marathon. But you could take a 15-minute walk outside or jump in a pool for a bit. Moving is key here because the more you slow down less and less serotonin and dopamine are produced by your brain. This is your loop.

Finding the Bridge Back Home

OK, so we’ve got some steps to build the bridge back home. We know to identify that we are not, in fact, ourselves. We know to classify ourselves as high or low energy and some steps to help heal our energy type. What now? Here is the most important piece of information: show yourself some serious love. It is not fun for anyone to be responding to our negative emotions or our operating in fear. It just isn’t. If you spend all your time tearing yourself down you are not showing the world or yourself any kindness. You are imperfect, you do shit that is embarrassing and mean, but you know what? Me frickin’ too!

If I tore myself or others down every time a mistake was made, what help is that? As a mama, I teach my children it is OK to fail. It’s OK to have bad days and act in ways that none of us agree with. Remember my oldest son Henry? He is learning this every day! From there I teach them to vocalize how they feel, give them a huge hug, and we move on. My kids expect the same from me. Seriously!

I can’t stay calm for a solid 24 hours. I just can’t. I’ve got two dogs, three kids, a husband, and a business to run. And I’m human. But when I lose my cool at home I will say, “Mama was mad, it was so noisy, I’m sorry.” We kiss and makeup. And you know what? I do this exact same thing for myself. “Jessie, my love, it’s OK darling. Breath deep. It hurts, but we need to try again.” I parent myself how I want to parent my kids.

I know I said there is no order but this is the key to the bridge: Treat yourself with love and kindness when you fail and get hurt. Then, from that space, stand tall again and come back home.

Xoxo,
Jessie

Underneath our Fears

Posted on: April 29th, 2020 by Jessie Topalov

Over the last six weeks, you’ve allowed me to provide you with guidance during the COVID-19 outbreak. I’m so very grateful to be able to give you my take as well as speak my own truth. Last week I wrote about fear and the stories we make up behind those fears. For me, well before COVID-19, this river ran deep. It took both facing my fears and pausing during Shelter in Place to truly shine a light on them.

In calling out my fears and the behaviors around them I was able to see myself clearly. I’d like to share some of my experiences with you. I’m hoping that by doing this you are able to relate, unpack your fears, and authentically show up for the beautiful ride we call life.

Calling Out Our Fears

Photo of woman in deep reflection and thoughtSheltering in Place has been hard for me for many reasons. We talked about my fears related to COVID-19 in my last two blogs. What I haven’t talked about is that during Shelter in Place I have been forced to sit with my own thoughts on a larger scale. Like everyone else in the world, I am stuck where I am, with who I am.

For me, the first phases of Shelter in Place produced anxiety due to fear of the unknown. I spent a lot of my energy navigating the new normal, both at home and at work. This piece of anxiety was hard, as I was unable to control or even predict outcomes. On a surface level, however, it was not a deep fear; it was a guide to larger fears that would come up for me.

I’m wondering if this is true for a lot of us? Do we all have surface-level fears pointing to deeper fears? And if we only ever respond to the surface fears, do the fears underneath live on?

Let me speak for me. My primary surface fear was being unable to control the outcome of COVID-19, both in my home and my business. My fears first bubbled over in my perfectionistic tendencies at home (and a bit at work). At home, this looked like keeping a perfect house. I mean, I love a clean home (definitely more than most people), but when I’m cleaning to be perfect… it’s different.

Usually, I’m just jiving and creating a space I enjoy. At work this used to come out in micromanaging. Thanks to our current team, who I could not be more grateful for, I can’t really jump in and do this anymore. They would call bullshit and thank God for that! So this is my surface. I’m afraid of what I can’t control, so I will try to overcontrol what I can. Does this speak true for anyone else? Do you have surface behavior you engage in when you’re afraid? Does your perfectionism come out?

Avoid Feeling “Out of Control”

Once I can see what I’m really up to, I usually find I’ve been doing a heck of a lot of things to avoid feeling out of control. Perfectionism is one of them. Numbing activities like too much chocolate, wine, or Netflix is another. Forcing myself to be overly busy is a third. I do these things in order to ignore what my make-believe fears are telling me. And make-believe fear is always telling us we are not enough. It’s a tricky, awful fear but also a piece of the human experience.

So, what came up for you? Looking at your past month during Shelter in Place, what have you found is beneath your fear(s)? Are you overachieving at home to avoid it? Or are you purposely underachieving to try and relax? Are you really OK with everything that is happening in your world? All of your answers are OK. What isn’t OK is to notice that fear is driving you and to continue to allow it to be in control.

What can you and I do to fight these fears? Honor them. Honor the fear and what it’s telling you because even make-believe fear can guide us all. Fear is telling us very loudly that we are not OK. We have to realize that something lives beneath our fears that needs care and attention.

In speaking for myself, I have felt very deeply, for a very long time that what I am doing is not enough–that somehow I am wrong. It took sitting in place during the COVID-19 outbreak to finally be able to say this out loud. This comes from a traumatic childhood and being a survivor of domestic violence. Harmful circumstances occurred around me for a very long time and I wanted to prove I didn’t deserve them happening to me. That’s why in times like these when I cannot control outcomes, my fear tries to tell me I’m not enough. That I’m not safe. But I’m grateful for this fear and here’s why.

Learning from Fear

When my make-believe fears are present and impacting how I behave, it’s a signal for me to pay attention. To discover what I’m really afraid of; how I haven’t been honoring myself. It’s hard to write this. To write that I struggle with perfectionism and am a survivor. But I know that by saying this I’m honoring the badass woman I truly am. That no one deserves to be at the hand of physical violence. That we are not stories narrated by our fears.

I know this to be true. You are perfect just the way you are. Human, full of failures & flaws, and maybe some awesome eclectic tastes. But you are worthy of love, belonging, and a life you adore. I hope by sharing this piece of my story that you are able to look at your own. To get curious and ask yourself why you are afraid. What’s behind it? That in naming your fear and owning your story you are able to honor the beautiful person you are. Perceived imperfections and all.

I hope this piece of my story guides you to honor yours.

Xoxo,
Jessie