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Thursday, April 27, 2017

Bringing it Back to Square One

Anxiousness is a bitch. Planning can be difficult. Ruminating can be painful. 

Hold up. 

Take a moment. Breathe. Everything will be as it’s supposed to me. 

Sometimes I write these to remind myself of things. Always with the hope that it will resonate with someone. 

Take a moment. Breathe. Redirect those thoughts. Give in. Don’t push or pull too hard. Whatever you do is for the benefit of others. Oh, yeah … and take a second to look up. The scenery, or some moment is usually pretty sweet if you take the time. 

Lots of love - J

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

The i'Mpossible Project (53) with Jeanine Hoff

This is the fifty-third edition of The i’Mpossible Project: A series where anyone can share a personal story of inspiration or an event in life where they overcame tremendous odds. Everyone has a powerful story to tell and something to teach the world. (See HERE for guidelines on how you can write for The i’Mpossible Project.) Here we have Jeanine Hoff with Finding My Sunshine

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I love rain. I love storms even more. Clouds, thunder, sideways droplets. It calms, soothes, and inspires me to do simple things like read, paint, or bake. But we all know, it doesn’t rain forever and eventually the sun comes out. Oh, the sun. Whereas the rain cleanses the soul, the sun returns to reveal it. And although I prefer gloomy weather, there is nothing more profound than the moment my life began to revolve around sunshine; internal sunshine; sunshine from my soul. I often share my journey in bits and pieces, giving the listener only what they need, but I always give them this; sunshine symbolizes the journey through a challenge, especially if that challenge is your own mind.

In the midst of the darkest days of my life struggling with anxiety and depression, I questioned what defines personal happiness and how does one master it. I always put my emotional worth into something tangible—a work project, new concept, recipe, creating a new graphic, composing a song, not just for me to see, but everyone else as well. After all, that was the only way I understood people to validate themselves. If there isn’t something “to show,” then how could it be real? Think about how many individuals define their validity through monetary displays: home, car, clothing, vacation. Despite this, something was terribly amiss. I began to internalize everything and focus on what happens when you appear to have it all and still lack inner self-worth—that sunshine if you will.

At the risk of sounding cliché, I thought about the song “Tomorrow” from the musical Annie. “The sun’ll come out tomorrow,” but as I waited for it, tomorrow continually felt further out of reach. I tried to “snap out of it,” or “not think about it,” and the more I did, the worse I felt. I realized everyone around me had the ability to just move on, while I had the ability to do the complete opposite. My “gift” was thinking about things over and over again. Going through every scenario, every possible outcome, relentlessly analyzing every word, thought, expression. Experts call this rumination. I call it self-inflicted torture.

The hardest part about this emotional tumult was that no one else seemed to understand and rightfully so. How exactly does one explain they feel awful, insignificant, useless and expect the average person to make sense of it? In my mind, everyone around me had something of value to contribute to the world and I had nothing. Even I didn’t understand it. What was wrong with me? When I looked at my life on paper I knew I had a wonderful family, beautiful children, a lovely home, enjoyed great vacations, was educated and was physically healthy. On the outside, I was the embodiment of the girl who had everything. On the inside, I was a swirling tornado of unending worry, anxiety, sadness, and despair. As this mixed bag of emotions continued to eat away at my spirit, my fears began to intensify. What an uncomfortable dichotomy; feeling simultaneously worthless and fearful of practically everything.

As I continued to doubt and second-guess everything, I wrote a list of all the songs I could think of where the lyrics focused on the sun. As a musician, my knowledge of sun-themed songs was unsurprisingly vast. What I noticed was almost all shared the same idea. The sun is a constant and will eventually shine through the toughest of times. But where was my sunshine?

And like that, it appeared. I thought about what I loved to do most. Writing, graphic art, photography, educating people, rallying my community, sharing my voice and speaking on behalf of those who fear to do it themselves. Then I thought about “What am I really good at?” I’m a singer, event planner, and fundraiser. And right there is was. My sunshine. If I can create something that could help people who are at their lowest, then we can heal together.

I originally began “Where is the Sunshine?” as a means to bring people some positive inspiration. It soon evolved into something so much more. I realized this when I began tweeting my senators telling them to support mental health legislation. Within days I was blogging about things that most people keep to themselves. I knew that I could be a reasonable voice in mental health and advocate intelligently while never losing sight of those I’m trying to help. I have voiced my thoughts on mental illness and gun ownership, on mental illness, and terrorism and so much more. I knew I did not want people with mental illness to be seen as criminals, dangerous, or unreliable. I knew I wanted to educate those with mental illness, their loved ones, and the general population. I knew I wanted to speak to students, veterans, lawmakers, and corporations. In less than six months, I went from depressed to sharing positive thoughts to becoming the founder of the non-profit organization, where I work with local organizations to better support mental health.

The darkest days of my life, brought me to my brightest. My family and I have never been happier and more whole. In finding my sunshine, I found simplicity, beauty in the mundane, and the meaning of true love of family. My storm washed away my former soul and sun revealed the real me.

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BIO: Jeanine Hoff is the founder of Where is the Sunshine?, a non-profit organization and social media resource dedicated to positive mental health advocacy through education and community collaboration. Jeanine is a TEDx presenter on mental health, a certified presenter for the National Alliance on Mental Illness’ (NAMI) Peer-to-Peer program, helped create Mental Health America’s nationwide Peer Specialist Accreditation Certification team and is certified in Mental Health First Aid. She is a classically trained musician holding both a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree from Arizona State University. She and husband Mathew are the proud parents of three boys.

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You can find more stories like Jeanine's in The i’Mpossible Project - Volume 2: Changing Minds Breaking Stigma Achieving the Impossible, now available for pre-order (click here). 50 authors. 50 inspirational stories of managing and overcoming mental health obstacles.

The first 200 people to pre-order will get a “thank you” in the front of the book, a free ebook copy of the book The Gospel According to Josh: A 28-Year Gentile Bar Mitzvah, and a free ebook copy of The i’Mpossible Project - Volume 1: Reengaging With Life, Creating a New You.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Flight Delays, First Class… and a Really Awkward “Progressive” Racist

Okay… so the title of this post is super weird and pretty much an oxymoron. But there’s a quick story behind it and a pretty damn interesting takeaway. So…

Two weeks ago, I was on a two-leg flight from Boston to Chicago and Chicago to Omaha (final destination, Council Bluffs, Iowa). On the first leg of my flight, since I’m such a road warrior and have premium status with a few airlines, I got bumped from coach to first class. Score! Free food and snacks, a hot towel for my face, and a less-busy bathroom. Except I sat next to a woman who, at first was pretty hilarious, then overly chatty, and then racist and xenophobic and a few other “ists” “isms” “phobes,” which became annoying, and unsurprisingly the loudest (mostly one-sided) conversation on the plane. 

Whenever someone says, “you know I’m not racist but…” or “I’ve got nothing against the _insert group_ but…” you know you’re in for some trouble. This woman had a daughter that she loved, who also happened to be a lesbian, and despite being “supportive” of her daughter; she had some unsavory things to say about the LGBT community. She also had lots of xenophobic things to say about people from other countries who were, “stealing our jobs, and blowing up and killing our citizens.” Pretty much everything she said was based in fear and after getting into a disagreement with her and grilling her on the facts, it was clear that she had a lack of education on the topics she was mouthing off about. 

After my attempts to shut down the conversation were ignored, I asked her, “What is it that you want when you say these things? The terrorism, the ‘bleeding heart liberals,’ the ‘good gays and the bad gays’ — when it’s all said and done what do you want as a result of everything you’re talking about?”

Racist lady: “I want our country—my country—to be safe. I want people, especially young people to take on a sense of responsibility like you are with how you’re helping people. I want a better future for our kids.”

Josh: “Holy s*%t lady! That’s what I want, too. I vehemently disagree with how you want to get to that place. But I love it. We want the same thing.”

The racist lady and I hi-fived and bro hugged, after which I found an opening to finally shut her down. “I have to finish some work and listen to some Biggie,” I said with a smile and then put in my headphones. 

My takeaway from this obnoxious situation: With people who are not like us, who don’t share the same views—look for the root of what they actually want, and then find what you can agree on and strengthen that.

My scenario with the racist lady may be an extreme case, but with any committee, relationship at home or at work, or even with politics; it’s important to find common ground rather than bitch and moan at each other about your disagreements. In the board room, a 30 min plane conversation, the grocery checkout—these are not places to change hearts and minds. They’re places to find camaraderie (if possible). If you find that your core values are not in line with the other person’s, there are other times and scenarios to go after hearts and minds. It usually has to do with descriptive stories and storytelling—a la “The i’Mpossible Project.”


People are strange, interesting, and certainly complex. Most people aren’t all bad or all good, super dumb, or incredibly smart but a mix. You are the company that you keep, but sometimes unwanted company shows up at your doorstep (kinda like cousin Eddie in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation), which you’ll have to be prepared for.
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The i’Mpossible Project - Volume 2: Changing Minds Breaking Stigma Achieving the Impossible, is now available for pre-order (click here). 50 authors. 50 inspirational stories of managing and overcoming mental health obstacles. I'm so proud of these people I can hardly contain myself!! :) 
Read a few sample chapters HERE.


The first 200 people to pre-order will get a “thank you” in the front of the book, a free ebook copy of the book The Gospel According to Josh: A 28-Year Gentile Bar Mitzvah, and a free ebook copy of The i’Mpossible Project - Volume 1: Reengaging With Life, Creating a New You.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

The i'Mpossible Project (52) with Benjamin Tyler

This is the fifty-second edition of The i’Mpossible Project: A series where anyone can share a personal story of inspiration or an event in life where they overcame tremendous odds. Everyone has a powerful story to tell and something to teach the world. (See HERE for guidelines on how you can write for The i’Mpossible Project.) Here we have Benjamin Tyler with The Past. 
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If you could go back in time, what would you change in your life?

Often I am asked this very question. Upon inquiry an inventory of memories begin flooding through my brain.

Would I erase that evening at twelve years old begging for my mother’s affection, which I was denied—the point where I defined myself unlovable.

Or the dark period where I was showering with a garden hose in my dirty New Orleans apartment—a period in my life that was plagued with shame, disgusted with the man that I had become.

Maybe I should remove the time in New York City with my six-figure salary? Grinding away at soul sucking work twelve hours a day. Highlighted with frequent anxiety attacks knowing that I had a larger purpose that couldn’t wait.

People always want the definitive moment—a scene that if erased, I would have never have embraced a world of drugs, alcohol, sex, porn, and gambling. And without that definitive moment or scene, I never would have relied on these vices to fill the loneliness and lack of self-worth that consumed my life.

What people forget is that they are doing exactly what that question was asking—and what I was doing for many years—they are removing my past.

Being the youngest in a household filled with backstabbing and manipulation—I saw everything. To cope, I created four rules for life:
           
1.     Emotions will only hurt you. Shut them off.
2.     Love and admiration comes from perfection. Build a life others envy.
3.     Always, always stay busy.
4.   When at home get to the basement as quickly as possible. The basement is where one can be alone.

Alone was safe—an internal haven where nothing could hurt me. Connection made me disconnect. Touch made me quiver. Love was nauseating. Unfortunately, “alone” never works for the soul. So, I found comfort and connection in the things that made people define me as an “addict.”

At the core of my intentions was a continuous need to run. Keep relationships superficial. Always be switching cities and neighborhoods. When things got “real,” I got out.

The result of always running away was a chronic need to chase something down. To fill the ego with validation for what I had become, I wanted to create a mantel-place filled with trophies for everyone to see. “Look at me! See what I built all alone!  I don’t need anyone!” 

That was unless we were talking about the bottle. I always needed that. My Cleopatra. When she held me I could bear my soul to her. Tell her how alone I felt inside. How shameful and ugly my existence was.

Unlike my mother she always listened. Told me that I was beautiful and smart. That I would always be loved. All I had to do was keep coming back.

And coming back was exactly what I did. Every chance I could. While there was a voice inside telling me to loosen from her grips—I couldn’t. Like Caesar, Cleopatra had seduced me to the point where I lost control.

The most powerful force in life is defending the person you believe yourself to be. For me, that was being a lone solder. My ego thrived on this notion. My ego. The protector from two things: not feeling worthy, and not being loved.

To break free from the ego and the vices fueling it I knew where I had to go—my story. The very thing that I was desperately avoiding. The tales I told myself and allowed to define who I was for years.

So instead of running away from the story, I decided to run into it. I got present with those past events. Relived each scene multiple times to feel the pain, regret, and shame that came with them. Had the necessary conversations with its characters. Built a community that helped me find the truth when I still wanted to listen to the lies I was telling myself.

The result was a rewritten history. A story that was more truthful, more realistic, and more uplifting. I was loved. I was beautiful. I was worthy. The story that I hated more than anything I began to love. All of its moments. All of its characters. All its pain. Who I really was and, more importantly, what I was becoming.

Through this process I was able to take control of my life. Put the power back in my hands. Life was no longer riddled with shame, but intoxicated with joy. I began walking through life not fearing who was going to hurt me, but started embracing the opportunities that come from leaning into uncertainty.

It was at that point that I could let Cleopatra go. Long before she could become the catalyst to my death. Unlike Caesar, I didn’t wait too long.

And by letting her go I reclaimed life. Clarity and purpose started to fill my soul. I left that “great” job to pursue my passion of inspiring others to live bigger in their own. I left the city that attracted me for its money and women to move back to my hometown to be with family. A place I ran away from for ten years.

Snapping back to the initial question, “If you could go back in time what would you change?”

Not one thing.


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BIO: Benjamin Tyler is a transformational speaker and creator of Unleash Yourself—a program that has changed the lives of people across the world to stand in their potential. He believes that the path to living a fulfilled life is found through the meaning you derive from the work you do, relationships you build with others, and the relationship with one’s self. You can learn more about Benjamin and his work by heading over to Benjamin-Tyler.com.


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You can find more stories like Benjamin's in The i’Mpossible Project - Volume 2: Changing Minds Breaking Stigma Achieving the Impossible, now available for pre-order (click here). 50 authors. 50 inspirational stories of managing and overcoming mental health obstacles. 
Read a few sample chapters HERE.


The first 200 people to pre-order will get a “thank you” in the front of the book, a free ebook copy of the book The Gospel According to Josh: A 28-Year Gentile Bar Mitzvah, and a free ebook copy of The i’Mpossible Project - Volume 1: Reengaging With Life, Creating a New You.