This post has been years in the making. It was written over the course of the past two and a half years. I’m choosing to finally share this, because it’s my dad’s birthday today.
When I speak of how I’ve found writing to be therapeutic, this is what I mean:
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I met with my psychologist almost a year ago (2014). I shared how I was having this nervous/tense energy and constant anticipation that something bad was going to happen. This anxiety has been fairly consistent since 9/11. Today, I know that this anxiety is likely OCD / Intrusive Thoughts.
The feelings of course all lead back to core negative beliefs that I am not good enough. (In this case, not good enough to protect myself or my family because I am weak and powerless).
My fear – and the narrative I keep running through my head is being at the scene of a terrorist attack. What would I do? Where would I run? Where would I hide? Would I be brave – or strong – enough to fight? I play this out everywhere I go, searching for how I would save myself, my husband & my son.
Back in December (2015) I was honestly shit scared to go to the Mall of America here in Minneapolis. But part of the process in dealing with anxiety is to actually push yourself to face the things that make you anxious. The first time, I made it to the mall parking lot & waited there while my son slept in his car seat and Sameer ran in to the mall to run an errand. The next time I was braver, but still very cautious as I walked through the mall. But, hey, I did it.
In session, my psychologist & I talked about how no matter how many times I play a scenario in out in my head, it’ll never be how it actually happens. So why waste that mental energy over & over again? We came to the conclusion that I have the power to not only choose the internal narrative, but change it too. Instead of letting my mind wander to these “bad things” I can choose to concentrate on the present moment. A lot like hair pulling (trichotillomania) in a way…I just need to have the awareness, which brings the power to choose a different action, like deep breathing, or a new train of thought.
With the help of my psychologist, I learned a new perspective and strategy: Rather than fearing something that may not happen, focus on what is actually happening and be in the present moment. And if something bad does happen, I still have a choice. I can wallow in self-pity and focus on the trauma/tragedy or I can be grateful for the treasures that emerge.
“Tragedy can be the bridge to something positive.” I wrote in my notes from that appointment as my psychologist divulged her own personal tragedy of how a recent car crash was actually a blessing in disguise. She shared how by changing her perspective, she was able to overcome it.
And from there I decided to look back on a tragedy that for so long hurt so much: losing my dad to cancer when I was 17. The discussion with my therapist changed forever how I remember that time. To shift away from the sadness, tears and pain, I decided to make a list of all the good things that came out of my father’s sickness and death.
It’s only because of this newfound outlook, and my active decision to give this “homework” a try that I’ve been able to come to terms with it in recent years. It took hard work to shift the focus onto the good that came from the bad, but it’s doable.
So what good can come from sickness and death? A lot actually:
(1) I met one of my best friends, Shilpa.
When my dad was sick, we went searching for the smartest doctors to help us navigate the murky waters of sickness and health insurance. A family friend introduced us to a doctor in the next town over. His daughter was my age and one of the funniest people I had ever met. I remember thinking “I want to be Shilpa’s friend!” I can still picture that first time at their house. All through high school, it became a second home. It was where I was the day I found out my dad passed.
Shilpa is still to this day one of my best friends even though we now live miles apart. My favorite days are when we get to catch up on our commutes!
(2) I took control of my career path
When I was in high school, I was automatically placed in an accounting class because the photography class I signed up for was full. I was BUMMED. But I sucked it up. And a funny thing happened: I was really, really good at accounting. And it was really good for me and my anxiety and it was so calming to balance those T accounts.
So that’s what I focused on through college and for the 3 years thereafter as a staff auditor at Ernst & Young.
Around the 3 year mark, something changed (a heartbreaking story for another day!). I was unhappy, in a depressive spiral and I needed to get out. I looked within to a time when I was happy (when I was a kid) and realized I simply missed being creative.
The way I figured out my next step was with a napkin. My auditing client at the time was Time Warner. We worked out of their offices, on the marketing floor. In their kitchen I found this napkin (yes, I kept it all these years!). With my curiosity piqued, I went to the website and saw an ad for my next move: Miami Ad School.
(3) I met a boy
My initial intent was to attend Miami Ad School’s Madrid campus. I had fallen in love with Madrid when I studied abroad in college.
But last minute, I decided to study advertising at the Miami location instead – and here’s where things get interesting. Shilpa also knew someone from her college days that was moving down to Miami for work and she introduced us. It was a friendly introduction, but that boy quickly turned into my fave person to hang out with.
His name is Sameer and he is now my husband, father to our two sweet boys and CEO of HabitAware! It was as if it was planned, as if my dad was guiding me to Miami for this purpose, and more.
(4) I moved to Minneapolis
Sameer’s career brought us to Minneapolis in 2011. By that time, I had been working in advertising for 3 years. I was loving being part of the creative process, and though not designing (because of my own lack of self confidence & insecurities), I was utilizing my business-minded skills as a client manager & digital project manager to make sh*t happen on a daily basis.
Minneapolis is a bustling city with a hot advertising scene – and equally hot tech/startup scene. I was able to quickly continue my ad-life at Fallon, where I met and worked with their Director of Innovation & Technology. It wasn’t long before I got the startup bug – or more accurately the “I want the time I spend working on this earth to truly make a difference” bug.
(5) I shared a life-long secret
Trichotillomania was another “gift” my father left me. During his sickness, I turned to hair pulling as a soothing mechanism. It hadn’t felt like a gift until recently though.
3 years into our marriage, Sameer caught me without eyebrows. I finally divulged my hair pulling secret. That led us on this journey to invent our Keen smart bracelet, with John and Kirk.
Today, not just I, but countless others use Keen to take back control of hair pulling, skin picking, nail biting, or all 3 and get back to what life is all about: LIVING.
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There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think about my dad. But I don’t miss him anymore. Instead, now, I thank him for the gifts he’s given me over these years…For the protection, for the guidance, for the chance to live.
He’s “in the sky,” as my 4 year old says. Watching over us all.
with love, strength & awareness ,
HabitAware makes Keen, a smart bracelet that helps manage nail biting, hair pulling, thumb sucking, and other subconscious behaviors. Customized gesture detection brings you into awareness and helps you develop healthier habits.
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Together with Abbe Greenberg and Maggie Sarachek, of the Anxiety Sisters, and Lauren McKeaney of PickingME Foundation we recorded a podcast to share treatments for body focused repetitive behaviors like trichotillomania and dermatillomania, along with our mental health stories.
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