Feeling Brave

The first time I tried to tell my story in my own voice with my own byline, I was a journalism student writing a piece about depression for my college magazine.  While I was encouraged to share my story because it could help others, I was discouraged from attaching my name.  My advisor was concerned about how I would be perceived by my peers.

I reluctantly agreed.  I was nervous about speaking out so publicly and having my advisor discourage me from the get-go only confirmed that I would be seen differently.  I didn’t want to be looked at with pity and sadness the way my advisor looked at me after reading my final draft.  Once my story, “Feeling Blue,” was published in “Focus” magazine in the Spring of 1998, I immediately regretted seeing MY story without my name attached.

That magazine with my story inside now hangs above my desk as a reminder that not only does my story matter, but I should not be afraid or ashamed to tell it.

Twenty years later I still remember the shame and fear I felt as I tried to speak up and share my story.  Back then it wasn’t called stigma like it is today, but it affected me the same.  After that I continued to write my stories, but as fiction in third person or through poems.  I still had stories to tell, even if I didn’t feel brave enough to say they were my own stories.

I could say that it was just my advisor’s discomfort or even what I believe were good intentions that kept me disconnected from my story, but it was also me.  I didn’t have to concede to publishing anonymously.

I allowed his fear to become my own because I too was afraid of what my fellow students were going to think about me if they knew that I was struggling with my mental health on a daily basis.  Stigma really is contagious and influences our thoughts, feelings and actions in ways we don’t even think about until the harm is done.

Since then I’ve done the work to recover and know how to cope with my mental health in a way I didn’t know how to back then.  Writing about that recovery is how I started sharing my story in my voice again, which I shared in my first blog post, Disorderly Life: PTSD Recovery

I no longer feel compelled to hide behind an anonymous byline to share my story.  I won’t be anonymous again.  It’s MY story and I’m no longer afraid to tell it, which is why I also started writing stories for my memoir, “Disorderly Life,” which is about what I experienced living with and recovering from PTSD.  The genesis of getting this project started is covered in an earlier blog post, Writing Jersey

When I first discovered This Is My Brave, I was immediately drawn to the inspiring work being done through storytelling to spread awareness about mental health and to fight the stigma associated with mental illness.  Their hashtag #StorytellingSavesLives speaks to my own experience over the years.  Reading other people’s stories, people I didn’t even know, helped me to not feel alone even in the scariest of times and inspired me to keep going and keep searching for a way to heal and recover.

I knew this could be an opportunity for me to share my story.

Back in March, auditions for a show in Philadelphia were being advertised.  I really wanted to sign up, but felt a little conflicted and let’s be real, I was afraid.  For a few reasons.  One of which was the public speaking part, which is not one of my strengths anymore.

Writing my story in solitude or while with my writing group is one thing, but speaking in front of a crowd of people is entirely different. I’ve been interested in in public speaking, yet I wasn’t sure if I was ready. After a colleague encouraged me to audition, I signed up and started writing an essay to read at my audition, which I did two weeks later.

The day one of the co-producers called to welcome me to the cast, I was initially taken aback.  Seemed surreal that this was actually going to happen.  After the shock quickly wore off, I was thrilled.  I was going to use MY voice to tell my story.  Twenty years after the first time I tried to share my story publicly, I can say that I am no longer feeling blue, I’m feeling brave.


Exploring Jersey: Long Beach Island

Life has gotten pretty busy since I’ve started to settle in to life up here in Jersey. Especially since I’m writing and trying to find a job.  But I did have the opportunity last Saturday to drive down the shore with one of my writer friends to Long Beach Island for paddle board yoga.
While I was over the moon about trying paddle board yoga, I had so many questions! How do you paddle board? What happens if I fall off? Will I be in deep water? What if the board drifts away before I get to it? Will I be able to get back on the board? What do I wear? Yoga pants? Bikini? What’s it like to practice yoga wet? Will I slip off of the board?
Despite some questions and reservations, I put on my bikini and made the hour drive with my friend. Once we arrived at the location I started feeling more nervous than excited. But I still wanted to do it.  
There was a group paddling in, so we had to wait for them before we could do anything. The light blue boards looked pretty big, had an anchor tied to them and had a special yoga mat top.  
After the instructor introduced herself, and gave us a brief demo on how to move on the board so that we were balanced and how to actually use he paddle, we headed to our meeting spot. I volunteered to go first. Sitting on my knees I started paddling. I was all over the place, but started to figure it out pretty quickly. The only adjustment I made was to sit on the board, because it put too much pressure on my knees to stay in the position. I would’ve stood up, but our instructor said it was pretty windy, and she wouldn’t recommend doing so since we were new.  
Paddling out took longer than I expected and made me wonder if I’d still have energy for an hour of yoga. It took several minutes for the others to paddle out, but the instructor swooped right in to where I was at. She hopped off of her board and connected us while she relocated me and put the anchor from my board down.  
Once we were all lined up, we started our practice in a seated position. We were instructed to close our eyes, which I reluctantly did one eyelid at a time. I thought she was crazy for asking us to do that. We were 100 feet from the shore, on a paddle board. I felt exposed and vulnerable. And scared. I had to force myself to trust that I would be fine and nothing would happen.  
As soon as I let go of that fear that something bad might happen like falling off of my board, or a bird pooping on me, it was liberating and peaceful. Feeling the heat of the sun and the wind on my skin as I heard it blowing, along with hearing the movement of the water around me was surreal. I felt like I was deeply connected with the world and not just the people I was practicing with. 
Standing up on the board was a little unnerving at first. We started with sun salutations. It couldn’t have been a more perfect setting.  
We went into familiar poses as well as a few new ones that I didn’t even know that I could do. It was exhilarating to accomplish these poses on a board that was sometimes wobbly from the water, wind and my own sometimes unstable balance. There was a few times I thought I might fall off, but I would slowly adjust or back off of a pose until I was stable again.  


I felt like it was a huge achievement that I made it through the entire hour without falling off of the board!   
Afterwards we sat on the beach at LBI, which had a different feel and look from the other places on the shore that I’ve gone to. But I still enjoyed it! Love the sand, sun and salt water!
Along the way we picked up some chocolate and marshmallow fudge at Country Kettle Fudge since I’d been told it was a must since I was going to LBI. They hand stirred it with large wooden spoons in these big barrels right there in the store! It was so good, that I ate every bite of it!
The last stop on LBI was the Barnegat Lighthouse, aka “Old Barney.” It was the first time I’d been to a lighthouse. My friend wasn’t interested in climbing to the top since she had already done it years ago. I was a little disappointed, but once I got up a few flights of stairs, I totally understood. And realized she was the smartest one of us both.  
My heart was beating so hard and was labored and loud. I started regretting my lack of running the past few weeks. My life flashed before my eyes a few times… I wondered why lighthouses don’t have elevators. That would be a great upgrade and much appreciated!
Hitting the halfway mark was by far the biggest relief and motivator! I looked forward to reaching the top of each section of yellow metal stairs, where there would be a sign that noted how many steps you’d climbed and how many left to go. There was also be signs sharing the history of the lighthouse that you could read while you caught your breath, which I thought was very considerate.  
At the top I took a moment (probably a full minute or two or more) to catch my breath. I was worn out!   
I stepped outside and was blown away by the view and the wind! I walked all the way around taking it all in and taking pictures. I lingered a bit because it was breathtaking and I also wasn’t quite ready to go down those 217 stairs!  
Didn’t have trouble sleeping that night!

Exploring Jersey: Aerial and Acro Yoga

One of the ladies in my writers group thought I might be interested in trying out Aerial Yoga. I’ll admit, I had never heard of it before and probably looked at her dumbfounded when she mentioned it to me. I asked her to repeat what it was called. Twice. 

Once I got home I googled it. It is a thing! I kind of felt stupid that I had never heard of it. I’ve been practicing yoga off and on for several years now.  I started while I was recovering from PTSD, because it’s it’s very healing for the mind, body and spirit.  But I had never taken it to this level. Literally.

Aerial Yoga uses a silk hammock (or swing) that hangs from the ceiling to help support your body as you go into various poses. There’s an eloquence and grace to this type of practice, maybe so not much when I’m doing it since I’m like a bull in a china closet most of the time.  

My friend showed me a few poses to warm up with and get comfortable. Boy, was I awkward at first (which isn’t really new since I seem to be a little awkward in general). Wasn’t quite sure what to do with this fabric dangling in front of me. Do I run and jump on it and go “weeeee,” while I’m flying in the air?  Because that’s what I wanted to do, but I didn’t. I’d save that for another day.

We started out by straddling the fabric and moving our bodies and fabric until we were in a cocoon. Couldn’t see anyone. The only sounds I heard were from our instructor verbally guiding us and the It felt isolating, yet peaceful. As we progressed into more advanced moves & poses, I kept having this sinking feeling in my stomach that I was going to fall on my head and not be able to catch myself, and someone would have to call 911.  

During the second week of classes, I began to relax and feel more comfortable. Even letting out a “weeee!” as I was wrapped up in the hammock swinging, which made our instructor chuckle. Even though it was a level 2 class, we went into some more advanced moves. When our instructor asked if anyone knew what “flipping the bird” meant, I said, “probably not in this context,” which made him laugh. Again.

Flipping the bird was pretty cool. Started out by sitting on the floor, gripping the silk with both hands and pulling my body up and over the silk, doing a back flip and landing with my stomach/hips on the silk. I got it in my first attempt. Although it probably wasn’t very pretty since it felt like my legs were flailing around to kick over. But I did it!   

While I thoroughly enjoyed the Aerial Yoga, I absolutely fell in love with Acro Yoga! It was like cheerleading for adults! But without the pom poms and megaphones.  

The class began with all of us sitting in a circle, which felt like a huddle before a game. We all introduced ourselves and stretched. The stunting started out with bases on the ground, feet in the air. Flyers, pressed their hip bones onto the base’s feet and went flying.  We were quite simply playing airplane, like I did with my nephews, but for the first time ever, I was a flyer. It was so awesome!   

The other stunts grew more complex and challenging. Most of them, I had no idea what I was doing. But the bases and spotters were very gracious and informative, verbally and physically guiding through the moves. Some of the moves where I’d flip upside down felt a little disorienting. Couldn’t tell where I was. I felt like I was underwater and not quite sure of how or where I was positioned. But it was so exhilarating! The biggest adrenaline rush I have ever felt practicing yoga or any other fitness activity, which is perfect for me since I’m such a thrill seeker.  While I get an intense adrenaline rush, I also have to slow down and move into poses with a gentility that does not come natural to me. 

 I had no idea my body was capable of doing the things I’ve been able to do in Acro Yoga. Can’t wait to see what else I can accomplish! There will definitely be more Aerial and Acro Yoga classes in my future!
Namaste y’all! 🙏❤️

Exploring Jersey: Grounds For Sculpture 

I had driven by the signs on 295 showing where to exit for this place called Grounds For Sculpture.But what really caught my eye was the two massive bronze heads (one blue and the other red) off to the right side of the of 295 that look almost like something Picasso would’ve done.

I used google to find out what this place was. And learned that it was a 42-acre sculpture park! First thing I thought was, wow, that’s a lot of walking so I better wear some tennis shoes.
Of course the day I decided to go, because I had the time, I wore sandals. They were super cute, but not comfortable. Nevertheless I decided I’d suck it up and deal with it. It’s art AND and it’s outdoors! How perfect is that!

After I exited 295, I was immediately captivated by all the huge, larger than life sculpture that seem to be strewn about alongside the road as I made my way to the park. The 1st one was a giant tooth that looked like it was the size of a small house. (Seemed like it would make a fun playhouse for kids or dentist’s offices).

Thought my mind might be playing tricks on me. For some reason, I started blinking my eyes trying to refocus and process what I was seeing. But there were more. Didn’t matter how many times I blinked, looked away and looked back, they were all still there. There were so many of these sculptures that I can’t even remember them individually (except for the tooth), but I do remember that some were exaggeratedly large (I felt Buddy the Elf and wanted to exclaim these things are ginormous!  But I didn’t.  Loudly that is.), while others were true to scale. The life size ones were typically posed in some way that made them look uncannily real, while others were posed and facing the sculptures admiring them.

The lines between reality and fantasy were starting to blur. I started to feel like I was Alice I was going down the rabbit hole. (I’m sure I’m not the 1st person to feel like this, nor will I be the last.)

I followed the signs to the welcome center and paid the $18 for admission (for the whole day), although it did give me pause since I’m on a tight budget, but this was already turning in to an extraordinary experience that I didn’t want to miss!

I toured the indoor exhibits 1st, which are all creations of the artist, visionary Seward Johnson, who is the founder of this place (and also an heir to the Johnson & Johnson fortune).
This part included the most moving 2 pieces there, which was the 9/11 tribute. I was brought to tears just viewing it, and then reading the back story and watching some video clips next to it, I was brought to tears (and wished I had a tissue with me).

Seeing those two pieces brought me back to reality real quick, but that didn’t last for long.
I enjoyed seeing the popular Forever Marilyn statue (of her famous pose where she’s trying to hold down her dress). I used to be a huge Marilyn fan back in my twenties (and still have a large print of her iconic pose)so that was kind of neat to see.

But what took my breath away was “Welcome Home”, which was Johnson’s 3D interpretation of Van Gogh’s “The Bedroom” that was vibrant and whimsical. Even the brush strokes are 3D and there is an actual chair, table and bed for you to touch and sit on! It’s literally a bedroom! I could totally take a nap in that bed if they’d let me! I did sit on it through, because that is ok to do (next time I’ll have to ask someone to take a pic for me).

Once I stepped outside to begin exploring, I started to feel like Alice did in Alice in Wonderland, that is if she were real (but reality is a matter of loose interpretation at this place so I think that’s an irrelevant point).

There were so many sculptures scattered about the 42-acres and I knew I wouldn’t be able to see them all in one day, so I picked something on the map that seemed the most interesting, which was Monet’s Bridge, and started taking the path (as much as I could tell) and head in that direction. Kind of felt like it was a treasure map and I was going on a quest.

I wandered for a bit, because I got lost (no surprise there) and enjoyed all of the lush greenery and flowers that fill this park with an enormity of fragrant, natural beauty. In stark contrast to all of this softness and delicacy are the hard, bronze statues that are scattered about. Some are colorful. Some are not. Some are true to life, while others aren’t.

One of my favorite discoveries was a 3D version of Edward Munch’s “Scream” that covered an outside wall on this one exhibit.
At some point I stopped for a snack. I couldn’t help but think that I might grow big like Alice did when I took my first bite of popcorn. But I did not.

Eventually I did find the area surrounding Monet’s Bridge and was blown away by how beautiful it was. By this time I was hot and tired and ready to head back.

After getting lost a few times, I returned to the indoor exhibit to take a break and just soak in those exhibits one more time, so I sat down on a couch. I must have been really still because I look up and this couple is staring at me. They jump a little and gasp when I look up and say, “Oh, you’re real!” We all laughed. They looked back a few more times, so I got up and took that as my cue to leave!

Exploring Jersey

Getting out and exploring Jersey is something I wanted to do as soon as I got here. I just love to explore, discover & experience new things when I have time.  
But I was a little hesitant to get out on my own. This whole state is new territory & I have to rely on google maps for everything.  Most everything that is. I can get to the park, library & grocery store without Siri telling me what to do now.  Woohoo!
And then it occurred to me, this is NEW TERRITORY! New territory for me to EXPLORE and DISCOVER! I don’t have to wait for anyone to go out and do it. While I enjoy sharing experiences, schedules don’t always line up. There is so much I want to see and experience here! I’ve been making a list as I think of things.
While the idea of getting out and exploring the area thrilled me to no end, I was having some reservations. I’m sure to the people here in Jersey it seems silly. But I was really uncomfortable with the idea of getting gas here.   
Here in Jersey (& apparently in Oregon) you can’t pump your own gas. At all! Ever! It’s a state law. That was a mind-blowing revelation to me.  
I am a little embarrassed to admit that I tried to limit my driving when I got here, because I didn’t want my gas to run out. I know that sounds ridiculous and unrealistic. A tank of gas doesn’t really get you very far. So it was inevitable that my gas gauge started getting lower and lower. I kept feeling a sense of dread the lower it went.  
Finally I had to get gas. I didn’t have to, but I wanted to go to the boardwalk to run & that is about an hour drive.  
I remember feeling all awkward when I pulled into the station. Felt so uncomfortable that some strange man, whose name I didn’t even know was going to be pumping gas into my suv for me. I’m sure that sounds weird to Jersey people, but I’m sure they think it’s weird that people in TX have to pump their own gas. (And we don’t mind, well I don’t. But I like to do things myself & not wait for someone to do it for me.)

 When the attendant walked up to my door, I felt like I should introduce myself (but I didn’t). I held $20 up and told him I wanted unregular gas (because I’m frugal). I kept holding it up expecting the man to grab it from me, but he didn’t. Instead, he walked off & started my gas.  

While we waited, we started talking. You know, just gas station small talk, which I will have to get used to. We talked about me being new to Jersey & that I was headed to the boardwalk to run (but I didn’t say which one because that wouldn’t be safe). He suggested I try Point Pleasant beach. About that time the gas pump clicked.  
Apparently that’s when you pay for your gas. Afterwards. Which is weird to me, because in TX, it’s all pre-pay. I handed him the $20, but I felt like I should’ve handed him more. (I’ve been told you don’t tip the attendants only because I asked about it). He did provide a service. Since I didn’t tip him, I did thank him. And I really wanted to shake his hand when I thanked him, but I didn’t because that would’ve made it even more weird I’m sure.
As I drove off it occurred to me I hadn’t cleaned out my suv or cleaned my windshield which I usually always do when I pump my gas. Guess I will have to readjust that habit & figure it out later. But that could wait until after I got to the beach & ran on the boardwalk for the 1st time ever!
On the upside, I’m sure that I’ll really appreciate not having to get out of my vehicle & pump my own gas when winter hits or even when it’s pouring down rain (because that would mess up my hair).

Running Jersey

When I first got here, nothing was familiar. It felt a little disorienting considering I’ve never really lived anywhere outside of Texas. Even I felt unfamiliar. I looked the same, except for my frizzy hair (which I detail in a previous post).
Was I a Jersey girl now? Was I still a Texas girl? Can you still claim your state if you don’t live there? And how long do you have to live somewhere before you can claim that state as your home?
But one thing I knew was still certain, I was a girl who loved to run (Although I wouldn’t call it true love. It’s more of a love/hate relationship instead of a full-blown love affair with running. Think of it as a “it’s complicated” relationship status on Facebook).
I’m not fast. I’m actually probably the slowest, laziest runner you’ll ever meet. And I’m ok with that. I’m not trying to PR (achieve a Personal Record) or win medals at races.
When I run a 5K, 10K, 15K or a half-marathon, I have 2 goals (keep in mind I’m not an overachiever when it comes to long distance running & probably never will be):

1) finish (& do so before the people on golf carts pick you up because they’re closing the course. That actually happens. I call it the ride of shame, because everyone is staring & judging. Fingers crossed I haven’t been picked up yet).

2) to not be last (now I can be next to last, I just can’t be dead last, because that would be embarrassing).
Finding a park to run in was my first priority. Because running is such a great way to process information (& I have a lot to process)! There is an incredible park here in Hamilton called Veterans Park. It almost feels like an honor to run there. And I feel a deep sense of patriotism just being there.
I’d only been in Jersey for about 4 days before I ventured out to the park (which I had to google map to get there even though it’s right down the road). My intent that first time was to just to run a few miles, 2 tops since I hadn’t ran in a few weeks. But I got lost in the park. On the inside I panicked a little. And then I took a deep breath & kept running until I could find a map or a road or a parking lot.
Luckily I found a map 1st. After studying it, I figured out how it was set up. It’s one mile from one side to the other with intersecting paths designated & marked by the different branches of military service, Army, Air Force, Coast Guard & Marine Merchant.
I put one earbud back in (which is the only way I run for safety reasons) & found my way out. Although, I did stop along to the way to take in the sounds of children playing on the playground, the leaves on the tree blowing in the wind…
I immediately fell in love with this park. Not only does it pay tribute to all who serve & have served in the military like my brother, my dad, my uncles & cousins. It also feels like I’m in the country with its shaded trails that are asphalt (although I like to run along side on softer ground). It’s almost like trail running! For a girl that grew up in the country like me, it’s feels like I’m home even it’s just when I’m going for a run!

Tasting Jersey

I’ve been asked what I’m missing about not being in Texas. Of course I miss my family and friends, but it’s the food! Specifically BBQ & Mexican food! Mmm.
There is just something about brisket. It just hits the spot! Doesn’t matter whether it’s sliced or chopped, on a bun, (even a slice of bread), in a salad (yes I said salad), or in a taco, which is my favorite with some guacamole & salsa. It just melts in your mouth like a piece of beefy heaven.
Fortunately there is this ONE local place (because they’re not on every corner in Jersey) called Local Smoke that we ate at a few weeks ago that had brisket that tasted like it came straight off of barbecue pit in Texas. When I took that first bite, I swear I saw a star (the lone star from the Texas flag).
While BBQ is pretty much a staple in my diet, I usually enjoy having Mexican food at least every week or two.
It’s been 5 weeks. 5 weeks since I sat in a Mexican restaurant & had chips & salsa & guacamole while I wash it down with a Corona or margarita! And that’s just the appetizer, which I’d follow with beef enchiladas smothered in queso with beans and rice or chicken fajitas.
On the flip side, it’s been a culinary trade off. There are pizza and Italian restaurants everywhere (like BBQ and Mexican restaurants are back in Texas).
Chicken parmigiana is my absolute favorite Italian dish! And I’m not just saying that because I stumble over reading Italian words & not sure how to pronounce some of the words like arancini (which is the baseball-size risotto balls I ordered at a place called Ninuzzo’s & they are absolutely amazing)!
Although I have gotten looks of disapproval when I order it without pasta. (Because I just don’t care for pasta & as much as I’m trying to embrace new things I don’t really see that changing). And that’s how it’s served.
One of the more interesting restaurants we went to is Rossi’s (which is rich with history & had memorabilia like Joe DiMaggio’s jersey on the wall, that it felt nostalgic just being there). They serve their chicken parmigiana over a type of pasta called pencil points, which is apparently a Trenton thing (because that’s where the restaurant originated before it relocated to Hamilton). So I ordered sweet potato fries instead. Totally worth it!
But the pizza, or as they call it here, tomato pies, is simply divine! It really does taste different here. The crust is thin & crispy, yet pliable. Everyone here folds their slices like a taco and eats them like that. At first it felt weird to do that, but when in Rome (or in this case Jersey)…
So far, I enjoyed the tomato pie at Palermo’s the best. I ended up splurging and having 3 slices, which I never do! And that was after having the Palermo salad, which was the most decadent and savory salad I’ve ever had. It was romaine lettuce mixed with grilled zucchini and eggplant, artichoke hearts, and slices of mozzarella that looked like white medallions tossed with olive oil and vinegar.
Needless to say, I’ve had to run a little extra (ok a lot more actually) just to offset all of the incredible food I’ve been indulging in. That being said, time to get up and for a run!
Until next time y’all! ❤️