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.


Running Philadelphia: Back on My Feet 5-Miler

The Stroehmann Back on My Feet 5-Miler fell on the same day as the Bearathon in Waco, which is the half marathon I have ran for the past two years. I was a little disappointed to not be running it again this year. The race, known as the “Toughest Half in Texas,” raises money for student scholarships, which is a great cause to run for especially for alumni.
This BoMF 5-Miler raises money for a great cause as well. I had read about BoMF a few years ago when I started running. The basic premise for this non-profit is to utilize running to help transform the lives of people who are homeless. It all starts with running and then they progress to getting jobs, homes and a new life.

I can certainly relate to the transformative power of running and fitness, which, as I’ve written in my first blog post, has been instrumental in my own recovery. I was thrilled to get the opportunity to give back in a small way to the local chapter. My friend Maria’s daughter is the Executive Director, so she is very supportive and encourages others, such as myself, to be as well.

After attending the annual fundraising event Back on My Feet Bash with Maria in October, I signed up for the 5-Miler.

As I usually do on race days, I woke up at 4:30am to have a small amount of caffeine and start my race day ritual. I’m not a morning person. I don’t even like running or practicing yoga in the mornings. I’m pretty sure these races are scheduled so early so participants aren’t thinking. They’re just running. I don’t start really thinking clearly until after the first mile or so, which is about the same time my body has really warmed up.

Despite the early hour, I was filled with excitement and anxiety before the race.  I was excited to be running in a new city, but felt anxious not knowing what to wear. I didn’t want to get too hot while running, yet I didn’t want to be so cold that I had a hard time functioning before I warmed up. I decided at the last minute to go with three layers instead of two once I stepped out of the car and felt how cold it was.

Most of the time when I run a race, I have two goals: 1) finish and 2) don’t be last. I run for the sake of running, which for me includes intervals of walking when it’s longer than a 5K. But after two years of running races, I decided that I wanted to push myself harder, which meant running the entire race and pick up my pace.

I really had to dig deep to get through the last mile. My legs and feet were worn out from running so hard. I kept repeating to myself “finish strong” like my baby sister told me to when I first started running. I was thrilled and relieved to see the finish line!

Running the streets of Philadelphia was interesting and felt like I was getting short tour of the historical city on foot. My favorite part of the route being the start/finish line was within view of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. I love that place inside and out!

Once I had a banana and water and rested for a few minutes, I made my way over to run the Rocky Steps that lead up to the museum since I was so close. Thought that would be a perfect place to take a post-race photo!

After running up the steps, which left me a little out of breath and even more fatigued, I gazed out to enjoy the view of the city and take a picture.

Just as I finished taking another picture, my phone rang. It was my Maria.
“Denita, where are you? Your name is being called out right now! You got third place in your age group! Come get your medal!”

“What? Okay. I’ll be there in a minute!”

Getting a medal is not something I even remotely expected. So I ran down the steps and crossed a few roads faster than I ran the race to get to the award ceremony and picked up my medal.

It was awesome getting a medal, espcially since this was my first time to run in Philly! I proudly wore it to The Bishop’s Collar, where we ate and I had my usual post-race mimosas! By this point my runner’s high had worn off and I was ready to crash.

At one point Maria looked at me and said, “I know that this is probably like asking a a mother who just gave birth if she wants to have another child, but do you think you think you’ll run it again next year?”


To learn more about this organization that gives back so much to the community and to donate go to https://philadelphia.backonmyfeet.org/baltimore-donate-now

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! 🙏❤️

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!

Disorderly Life: PTSD Recovery

Turning 30 was something I never expected to do. I assumed, as did most people who knew me, I would have killed myself or done something reckless that would have gotten me killed; considering I spent my late teens and 20’s spiraling out of control.

Living with undiagnosed Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) nearly destroyed me and destroyed most of the relationships in my life. It took a decade to repair the damage to my mind, body and soul caused from the trauma and the copious amounts of psychiatric drugs that I’d been prescribed over the years for treatment.

It took nearly 10 years to realize that the multiple medications my psychiatrist had prescribed, which included high doses of anti-psychotics, anti-depressants, benzodiazepines and sleeping pills, were doing more harm than good. I decided to try getting off of them. At that point in my life, it couldn’t get any worse, or so I thought. I was just existing and doing a terrible job of that. I was a shell of the person that I had once been and no longer recognized myself.

In hindsight, I shouldn’t have quit the anti-psychotics, benzos and sleeping pills at the same time, cold-turkey, but I’d had enough of life like that and was ready for a drastic change. And that is exactly what I got. Although, it wasn’t good. It didn’t take long for me to go into full-blown withdrawals, which included extreme irritability, anger, sadness, insomnia, no appetite and even gran mal seizures. It was a terrifying process, physically, mentally and emotionally, but there was no going back.

Fortunately, about a month after I initiated the process I attended a NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) meeting for the first and only time, which is where I met the therapist who helped save my life. I mentioned to her that I was looking for someone who was trained in a cognitive behavioral therapy technique called EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing), because it had shown great promise in the research I had done. To my surprise, she was trained in EMDR and gave me her contact information so that we could set up a consultation.

It didn’t take long before we were meeting at least twice a week to get acquainted and establish a safe environment/relationship to begin what turned out to be a 3-year journey of identifying, working through and reprocessing the bulk of the trauma that was interfering with my daily life. As Charles Dickens said, “it was the best of times and it was the worst of times.” The process was physically and emotionally painful and exhausting, yet incredibly rewarding and liberating. I had finally found a viable treatment to minimize the debilitating symptoms of PTSD that had crippled me since my teens.

Unfortunately, I experienced a very bad setback in the 2nd year when I was assaulted and nearly raped by a stranger, but with the help of my therapist I was able to work through that as well, which included prosecuting my attacker.

After 3 years, I started seeing my therapist about once a week and started trying to integrate back into normal life, which was incredibly challenging. This took several years and lots of awkward and uncomfortable trial and error.

In the meantime, I began to slowly withdraw from multiple antidepressants and then eventually made it to the very last medication, which was Adderall. Out of all of the other meds, it was the hardest. It was even more challenging to go through withdrawals since I no longer had the ability to constantly isolate myself like I had in the beginning of my recovery.  And after 15 years of continuous use, I was so physically addicted that I couldn’t even perform minimal daily tasks without taking the maximum dose of 80 mg per day. It took 2 years to wean myself off of the Adderall and still be able to halfway function.

By the summer of 2014, 2 months after my 39th birthday, I was finally off of all psychiatric medications for the 1st time in 18 years. That summer I slept a lot and ate a lot. After 3 months I started coming out of the mental and physical fog. Started to feel like myself again, although just a fragment of who I used to be. It was still something. I was no longer completely numb and dumb from the meds.

I felt alive.

However, I had put on 20 lbs in the course of 3 months. I felt awkward and heavy. There just happened to be a promotion for a local fitness bootcamp, called Camp Gladiator that my sister worked out at. She tagged me in a Facebook post for it and at the last minute, I decided to try it out. I was so nervous and scared. My mind and body were so out of shape. There were parts of my body and brain that were still waking up. I felt random nerve tinglings in my body on a regular basis. I had no idea what I was going to be capable of.

On that first day, I brought my pink 3 lb weights, yoga mat and made sure that my sister would be there. I didn’t even get out of my SUV until she arrived. It was ugly and embarrassing. I couldn’t even run 100 yards during the warm-up lap. I felt like I was going to throw up at least 3 times and I took countless breaks during that 1-hour session.

Nevertheless, I pushed through the pain, discomfort, awkwardness and downright embarrassment and signed for a 12-month contract. It was the best, most life-changing decision I had made in a long time. Especially with winter approaching, I was concerned that I would do as I had always done: withdraw, isolate and battle depression, except it would be worse since I was no longer on meds that I had been told I would never be able to live without. But it turned out to be the first winter since my teens in which that didn’t happen.

After 2 months of bootcamp I decided to take up long distance running. I started walking/running 1 mile and then progressed to running more. I had never ran been a long distance runner even as a high school athlete. By February 14, 2015, I ran my first 5K and by the end of March, I completed my first half-marathon.

About the time I started running is when I started making nutritional changes. I ate a lot of grilled chicken breast, quinoa/rice and steamed vegetables. I gave up sodas completely and drank nothing but water , unsweet tea and coffee. After giving up soda, it seemed so much easier to give up the junk food that I still craved on a daily basis.

Looking back, for several years I had hit a plateau in my recovery. I wasn’t a complete mess anymore, but I still wasn’t fully functional and integrated into a normal life. It wasn’t until I really took control of my health through fitness and nutrition that I finally started to live and make real progress toward building and creating a new life.

This was never how I expected my life to turnout. I never thought I’d survive this long.

Recovery isn’t what I thought it was going to be. I didn’t just do the work to fix the parts of me that were broken and pick back up on some path that I was supposed to have been on. A new and improved path was forged while I was doing the work.