Author Archives: leahabarrett

About leahabarrett

I'm a psychotherapist, nutritionist and personal trainer. I've been in private practice working with individuals, couples, families and groups for over 17 years. My passion is helping people feel better about their lives. Life can get bumpy in spots. I think it gets smoother when you know how to reach out and ask for help. I'm also a teacher, a mentor, a speaker and a motivator. Not only do I get to use these pieces of me in my Private Practice, but I also work with nonprofits in my community as well as teach for the School of Social Work at Colorado State University. And, lastly, I've joined the club of Cancer Survivors. I'm a young 47 years old and am committed to continue to give back, to pass it on.

I Don’t Want to Let Go

I used to think I was pretty good at living in the moment. And, then I got cancer. My world got small. My moments got clear. I realized I hadn’t really been living in the moment at all. I learned to let go. It wasn’t easy. I kicked and screamed along the way. I found that living in the moment was all I had. It got easier.

Suddenly, it got hard again. My eight-year old golden retriever, Ginger, got sick. It happened suddenly. On a Friday, we went for our routine morning jog. The next morning, she didn’t even want to go for a walk. I knew something was wrong. My heart sank. After a week’s worth of vet appointments, she had surgery to remove her spleen. They found a mass. I am all too familiar with that nebulous word. She’s still in the hospital. Test results aren’t back yet. It’s most likely an aggressive form of cancer with months to live. There is a small chance it’s not. I’m not living in this moment. I don’t want to be in this moment. I am kicking and screaming again. I suck at this.

I love hard. I grieve even harder. It’s the price I pay.

For now, she is still with me. I’m not ready to let go. I plan to hold on tight.

My Pants are TOO Tight and Why I’m SO Happy About It.

IMG_0855

Cue the Jimmy Fallon Tonight Show clip (check it out on youtube). Ok, I’m not referencing Jimmy Fallon’s hilarious skit. But I am dancing around in my tight pants. Why? I have achieved my goal of not being thin. Come again? Yes, you read me right. Ever since going through treatment for cancer and getting scary skinny, I never want to be thin again. As I sit here typing I can feel my belly roll of fat oozing over my waistband. And, while slightly uncomfortable, I am reminded that I AM HEALTHY! We live in a thin-obsessive culture and it has gone beyond being rational. Don’t you find it a bit ironic that our nation has rising rates of obesity while being bombarded with the growing lists of foods we should avoid and diets we must try? And, did you know that a much underreported study suggests that people who are overweight (but not obese) may live longer than people with clinically normal body weight? (here’s the link).

While I typically shy away from conspiracy theories, I can’t help but think that the multibillion dollar diet industry and the multibillion dollar pharmaceutical industry have everything to gain by convincing us that being overweight is BAD. Don’t fret. They have just the solution for us. This is why we don’t hear about those study findings. The results may put a dent in their bottom line.

Here’s what I am going to do with my tight pants. As soon as I get home tonight, I am going to peel them off and put them in the ever growing “to be donated” pile. Then, I’m going to eat dinner, drink a glass of wine and have chocolate for dessert! I have some more weight to gain. Cheers! Here’s to our health, a little extra fat and tight pants!

 

What Do You Stand For?

4501a623f79dc52cf8f3e4e81f20cc7a

I am working with a Coach, a Life Coach. It’s one of the best decisions I’ve made. It’s an investment in self. My major focus has been to gain guidance and support as I come through being diagnosed with cancer and now on the other side of treatment. Lately (and mostly), the work has centered around better understanding my Fear (yes, with a capital F). What am I afraid of? What triggers the fear? What helps me feel safe? In this looking inward I have come to realize that Fear is all around us. I realize my epiphany is not some big “ah-ha” for most. Yet, what is new to me is how challenging it is to not live in fear when we are surrounded by messages that tell us we are supposed to be afraid.

Case in point. I was diagnosed with advanced ovarian cancer. As I have been trying to find my footing, I do what I always do: RESEARCH. Yep, I have this habit of leading with my head. Well, that back-fired. What I found is that almost every organization with the mission to raise money to advocate for supportive services and basic science research looking for promising treatments kicks off their campaigns with the statistic that over 50% of the women diagnosed with ovarian cancer will die. Scary. Does this motivate you to do something about this awful truth? Or does it make you want to run for cover?

Think of the numerous other examples that invade our consciousness on a daily basis. Here’s what I came up with and it’s the Short List (in no particular order):

  1. ISIS
  2. Global Warming
  3. GMOs
  4. Vaccines
  5. Red Meat
  6. Cell Phones
  7. Trans-Fat
  8. Gluten
  9. Sitting
  10. Stress
  11. Immigration
  12. Food-Borne Illness
  13. Donald Trump
  14. The Big One
  15. Aging
  16. Abdominal Fat
  17. Technology
  18. Sugar
  19. Cancer
  20. Cancer Treatments

I am not declaring that I am “for” or “against” any of the aforementioned subjects. What I am declaring is to stop proselytizing Fear. I can’t log on to my computer, turn on the TV or the radio without hearing that the sky is falling. We are wired to respond to fear with our unconscious Fight or Flight response. It works. It’s adaptive. We perceive a threat. Stress hormones are released. We get ready to run away (flight) or fight like hell. Perpetual fear means a perpetual fear response. That means chronic stress hormones flooding our bodies. Which ultimately leads to a suppressed immune system. Which sets us up for illness. That’s what happens in the body. Fear breeds fear. That’s what happens in the heart. Fear creates an “Us” vs. “Them” dynamic. That’s what happens in the head.

So, the next time you find the urge to Fight against, instead, consider Standing For something. We can make a point, raise awareness, educate others by Standing For Hope, Optimism and Solutions. I challenge all of us to proselytize a different message. Dare I say, “Let’s Fear fear.”

Take a Stand.

Life: It’s a Chronic Condition

tumblr_lolsoafy4F1qzcn8zo1_500.jpg

My first blog, post-cancer treatment and prophylactic double mastectomy with reconstruction, was a call to find Joy in the midst of Pain. Well, here’s yet another way to look at living a full life: Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.  You may beg to differ given the global state of affairs and what seems to be the unceasing deluge of seen and unseen Pain and Suffering . I am not arguing that truth. What I am suggesting is to recognize and embrace what little control we really have over life’s circumstances. Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional. To choose not to suffer can be incredibly difficult. I, by no means, want to convey that all you need to do is try the power of positive thinking and “poof”, no more suffering. It’s not that easy.

Yet, what other options do we have in this thing called “life”? Take it or leave it, we are the only animals that are capable of insight. We have the ability to be self-aware. This is a blessing and a curse. Our perception of our experiences defines our interpretation of our experiences. Choosing to interpret pain as suffering is natural. Choosing to interpret pain as anything other than suffering takes work. Researchers have studied the resilience of those who have survived unimaginable trauma. They are resilient because they do not view themselves as a victim of their circumstances. Assigning blame for what happened may bring temporary relief. It distracts us from looking at ourselves. Accepting what “is” requires coming to peace with the reality of the situation. It’s only then can we choose to suffer or survive.

After

IMG_1160

It’s been almost two years to the date since I last posted in my “Find the Good” blog. It was somewhat prophetic. The topic surrounded “Growing Older” with appreciation. A few days later I was diagnosed with cancer. I haven’t posted in THIS blog since. I created a new blog to document my experiences with cancer. I guess I haven’t felt ready to revisit my “Find the Good” blog until now. When I did, it felt like I was witnessing a life that no longer existed. Today, I’m on the other side of hearing those words, “You have cancer”. Today, I can say “I had cancer”. I’m still appreciative of growing older, even more now than I was two years ago.

My business tagline is Life is Hard. Find the Good (hence the name of this blog). I don’t want my first entry back “post cancer” to be a diatribe about how hard life really is (insert finger wagging). No, I’ve come to realize that having lived through surgeries, chemotherapy, hospitalizations and so on, that life is only as hard as you make it. Before cancer, I was making life way too hard. Silly me. Don’t get me wrong. There are some sucky moments in this “being alive thing”. However, there are way, way more moments of beauty and joy. Why don’t we notice?

We have tunnel vision. We spend our time and energy making sure we are ok in the world. This ranges from ensuring our basic needs are met such as food, shelter, and clothing to feeding our ego-driven needs by accumulating stuff, power and prestige. And, more often than not we fall short. We are left with a constant craving. We self-medicate with food, alcohol, pills, and people. We learn to dull our senses in order dull our pain. It works. But, it comes with consequences. We miss noticing the beauty all around us even in the midst of the all-encompassing pain.

Last week, I had my regularly scheduled three-month oncology follow-up. This entails having my blood drawn for a tumor marker that indicates the presence of cancer. I waited for my test results in the aptly named and standing room only waiting room. In moments like these my nervous system goes from Defcon Green to Defcon Red. As I was sitting there, I noticed an African-American woman, maybe in her 60s, also waiting. She looked distressed. She rubbed her forehead. She fidgeted in her chair. She contorted her face in pain. I moved closer to her and asked, “How long have you been waiting?”. “A long time”, she replied. “I’m going to be late for my infusion.” She went on to tell me that she has been living with cancer for over 10 years and it has now spread to her brain. She shared that she had a driver’s test that afternoon and she was worried she would fail. She realized that she certainly didn’t want to endanger others and yet she lives alone and not being able to drive would pose a whole host of problems. How would she get to the grocery store? How would she get to her doctor’s appointments? And, as I was getting ready to attempt to say something supportive, her name was called. I watched her get up and follow the nurse to the blood draw station.

As I sat with her, listening to her story an eery sense of calm came over me. This waiting room was filled with suffering. Yet, in that moment, all I could see was the human spirit at it’s very best. At that moment, I was no longer frightened. Instead, I felt consoled. And, then I heard my name being called. “Leah? Ms. Barrett?”. I got up and followed the nurse to the exam room thinking life is beautiful.

Growing Old, Gaining Wisdom.

Image

Part of me cannot quite believe I’m writing about my aging process. Yeah, yeah, yeah I know the cliches. “You are only as old as you feel.”, “Age is just a number”, etc., etc., etc.. Except, I cannot deny that I’m officially (most likely) past the half-way point of my life expectancy. I mean, I might live until I’m 94, but probably not. Now, I’m not complaining. Just the opposite. I’m relieved.

As the Irish Proverb states, I am relaxing into growing older. I feel privileged to experience this life with all of it’s ups and downs. With age comes perspective. And, with perspective may come wisdom. I say “may” because wisdom just doesn’t happen. It’s cultivated. One definition of wisdom references “insight”; ability to discern inner qualities and relationships. (“Wisdom.” Merriam-Webster.com. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 29 Oct. 2013. <http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/wisdom&gt;.) 

Ok. Let me not be so quite esoteric by putting these thoughts into context. Just to review, you probably know by now that my formal/educational training is in nutritional sciences, social work and fitness. I’ve woven these disciplines together in the work I do. So with that in mind, growing older can be an opportunity to practice self-acceptance. Growing older is a process of letting go. Faced with the prospect that we most likely have less time on this planet than we have lived on this planet means we can either react with Freudian death anxiety or embrace each moment for what it is. An even more specific example: weight loss. Putting your life on hold until you achieve that goal weight. Not allowing yourself to be happy until that is accomplished. Same concept, different example: exercise goals. Feeling disappointed if you are not seeing the results you expected such as faster, stronger, leaner, better. Now, I don’t want to give the impression that I am bashing “goal-setting”. I’m just suggesting that the “setting” part of goal-setting might be reworked or better stated, relaxed.

let it be imageSo, isn’t this a form of wisdom? Learning from experience and with age comes experience. Let’s choose to learn from it, live by it and be with it.

Giving UP is not always a BAD thing

Image

Never Give UP! Don’t you DARE give up! Giving Up is NOT and option! Whew. Enough cyber yelling. Today I’m here to remind all of us that “giving up” can sometimes be the best thing we do for ourselves in our commitment to achieve our goals. Sound counter-intuitive? Probably. Let me explain.

So, most of you know I work with people in their efforts to change. I guess you could call me a Change Agent. A big part of change is setting goals or intention mostly so we can see and even measure the change. Good stuff. Except when it’s not. Look at Rumi’s quote in the photo: “Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.” Fixating on achieving the goal in spite of sacrifices it might take to get there is not the definition of success. Example: spending a lifetime of hard work to achieve financial success while losing out on the precious time spent in relationships. Example: deciding to cross that marathon finish line no matter the cost only to end up with career-ending running injury. Example: staying in that now unhealthy committed relationship because you made a commitment to stay. Last example: determined to get to that magic number on the scale, you put our life on hold deciding you cannot “be happy” until you sacrifice enough to achieve that weight (no new clothes, no dating, don’t go for that promotion, etc.).

Think of your lives and moments when you were blinded by getting to the outcome, achieving the goal no matter what. Maybe there was shame in the idea of “Giving Up”. Maybe you associated “Giving Up” with FAILURE. Here’s my suggestion. Let’s not call it “Giving Up”. Call it anything else that connotes Wisdom, Moving On, Letting Go. Or, call it “Giving Up” and embrace it! Be proud that you gave up on that toxic relationship, that crappy job or that starvation diet. Hmmmm. Maybe there’s a bumper sticker or t-shirt slogan in this somewhere. Ya think?