Don’t Underestimate the Importance of your Emotions

I was raised in a home where the phrase “if you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all” was repeated with great frequency. While I’m sure that it was helpful for keeping a peaceful atmosphere among a family of eight, it did little to model, support and develop emotional health.

We are emotional creatures. Defining our emotions as good or bad and limiting the expression of them is a huge health problem. Our beliefs, thoughts and emotions all emit chemicals within our bodies that dramatically affect our physical functions. We can’t be fully healthy without addressing our emotions.

As a society, our models and expectations aren’t much healthier. Children are punished for expressing their emotions at home, in social settings and at school, as opposed to being encouraged to understand, explore, process and express them in healthy ways. Adults are often restricted in similar ways in work environments where anything other than a narrow range of emotions is viewed as unprofessional.

Emotions aren’t necessarily good, bad, inappropriate or unprofessional. How we express them can be, but few people develop the ability to understand and process their emotions, let alone learn to express them in a healthy way! And while the stigma around mental health services such as counseling are lifting, we are just scratching the surface of what might be possible.

For the past six weeks my life has been an emotional roller coaster. I’ve experienced fear, stress, worry, panic, frustration, anger, irritation, sadness, gratitude, awe, pride, hope, and so much more. The words we use for emotions fall short in expressing the range and depth of what I’ve felt.

I am often feeling multiple emotions simultaneously – gratitude and irritation, hope and anger… on and on it goes. I’ve worked hard to let it all flow, not judge my feelings as good or bad, retreat when I need to be alone to think, reach out for support when I need to talk, process or confirm my feelings, and just be the emotional being that I am.

I am sure that this is the best I’ve ever done feeling and allowing my emotions to flow. It feels amazingly healthy and freeing, even when the emotions themselves don’t feel so good. I’m proud and incredibly grateful for breaking old patterns and allowing my emotions to unfold. I’m finding that, as I let them flow, the discomfort of irritability and similar emotions passes much more quickly. Gratitude and hope return faster and stronger, and my body feels more open, healthy and strong.

Our bodies are complicated and depression, anxiety, addiction and other health issues are very real and multi-faceted. By no means am I trying to make light of these serious issues; but I have to wonder how they might be connected to our societal habits and expectations. And I have no doubt that the health of all our bodies could improve if we developed healthier emotional practices.

Emotions can create both discomfort and pure bliss. The world is a beautiful, messy place. All of it is a gift. My personal experience has been that suppressing anything uncomfortable also suppresses the more joyful emotions. This limits our ability to truly feel what love, joy, elation and excitement can bring into our lives, creating flatness or an inability to feel in its place. This is the most unsatisfying and risky place to be.

If our lives were steady and always blissful, it’s likely we wouldn’t recognize how blessed we truly are.

Stress & Self-Care

When major stress comes on fast and hard, self-care is often the first thing that gets dropped. Our bodies’ stress response maximizes our ability to think quickly and move fast, as stress was often a life-threatening and immediate need as humans came into being. It helped us stay alive and thrive.

 We are still programmed and designed to react to stress in the same way. And a body in stress mode is not digesting, repairing, detoxifying or handling all of the critical functions it needs to operate at optimal capacity in order to stay healthy over time.

 When stress is short term and recovery is allowed, the stress response is typically well tolerated in a healthy body. But when it continues for an extended period of time, you can really get into trouble. The more stress you have, or the more frequent your stressful experiences are, the more likely your body is to suffer. And if you drop your self-care when you’re stressed, you’ve just added yet another obstacle for your body to deal with! You can easily experience a breakdown in your physical, mental or emotional health along the way.

 The story I’m about to share is much longer than my typical posts. Normally I try to get to my point as quickly as possible, without missing any important details. But I’m sharing more today because life often happens in a more complex, layered scenario. And as a society we view the first layer as the most significant, dismissing how damaging what comes after can be, especially when viewed cumulatively, which is how stress can overrun your system.

 My husband’s recent stroke sent me into immediate, sky-high stress. I was in with a client when my son called me after finding him on the floor at home. I wrapped up with my client and got back on the phone with my son, who was now trying to answer the paramedic’s questions. I helped him answer their questions, went out to the waiting area and sent my next client home, found out which hospital my husband was being taken to, and called my other son to let him know what was going on. I called my remaining clients for the evening and cleared my schedule, closed up my office, then headed to the hospital with my son. Thankfully he was near my office when I called him, so he picked me up on the way. What a blessing since I was shaking so badly (stress hormones in action)!

 The ER team and surgical staff were amazing. They quickly assessed what was happening, patiently and simply explained everything to us, answered our questions and allowed us to be in agreement before quickly moving him into surgery. While we waited, I cleared my schedule for the next day and made calls to other family members. The shaking subsided and my head was clear, but my belly was completely upside down. Words cannot even express the importance and comfort of having my sons with me the entire time.

 Fortunately, the surgery went well and we then had a much clearer understanding of what had actually happened. The inside wall of a major vessel on the right side of Jack’s brain had collapsed inward, creating a partial blockage of blood flow. A stent was placed via his groin and he was sent to recovery. The type of stroke he had, called a dissection, is very rare and accounts for only about 2% of all strokes. The reasons behind it are not well understood, so we may never know why it happened.

 While in recovery, he appeared to have significant weakness on the left side of his body from the waist up. We were told he had an excellent chance of recovering fully, and felt relieved and grateful. I was not comfortable leaving his side yet and stayed overnight in the ICU with him. There was a chair with a foot rest in his room that I curled up in. It wasn’t very comfortable, but it could have been much worse. My sister-in-law found me extra blankets and pillows (she’s a nurse at the hospital), which helped tremendously. It was freezing in the ICU and the pillows provided some extra padding in that hard chair. We didn’t get much sleep, but at least I had the comfort of seeing how he was doing.

 The next day was encouraging as he was already starting to gain some strength on his left side. I had my son bring some healthy, organic food from home so I could attempt to get something into my stomach after 24 hours of no food and a very upset belly. I couldn’t manage much, but at least it was clean and without ingredients that would further stress my system. By the afternoon, I was comfortable enough with his condition to go home to shower and nap.

 I slept at home each night after that, but had my cell phone on and right next to my bed for many days before I was comfortable enough to turn it off. The EMF’s (electromagnetic frequencies) from cell phones and other wireless technology are a serious health risk, but so is not getting any sleep. Leaving it on and near me was a temporary compromise.

 I had late night conversations with my kids to process my emotions, sort through everything we were being told at the hospital and clear my head so I could sleep. I survived on organic rice crackers and organic brown rice noodles with olive oil and sea salt for days. I just couldn’t handle anything more than that. I drank as much clean water as I could manage, but wasn’t drinking anywhere near what I usually consume.

 A few days in, I had a difficult night. My chest was burning, which made it difficult to sleep and also felt like anxiety. My practitioner brain started to kick in and I remembered that when your body is in stress mode, it’s not in digestion mode. Thankfully, I always have digestive enzymes on hand as I never go out to dinner or travel without them. As soon as I thought to start taking those, my belly calmed down and the burning in my chest went away along with the feeling of anxiety. That confirmed that I had been experiencing severe indigestion and acid reflux.

 Jack’s strength was better every day, even without any therapy, and we were feeling very hopeful for an excellent recovery. I went back to work and started spending more time at home to keep up with life tasks like laundry and other chores. I thought things would start to feel somewhat normal again soon and was more relaxed.

 Acute in-patient therapy was recommended for Jack to work on gaining the strength on his left side back. Our insurance provider approved his stay for up to 30 days right away, and we thought we were just waiting for the paperwork to go through before he would be transferred from the hospital to the rehab facility.

 By Friday afternoon, after several phone calls, it became apparent that our provider and the rehab facility were engaged in a financial negotiation. I was beyond frustrated and angry to find that my husband was not their priority and was instead left waiting in the hospital while they worked out an agreement. And since the insurance company is closed over the weekend, there was no hope of resolving this issue until Monday morning. Jack wasn’t allowed to get out of bed on his own and they wouldn’t release him without a transfer to rehab, so he was stuck in bed wasting time that could have been spent getting him home.

 I spent most of Monday and Tuesday on the phone with our insurance provider and the rehab facility. I was led to believe the negotiation was still ongoing and felt hopeful that it would resolve soon. To say that I was stressed beyond belief is an understatement. I was actively working to be polite and diplomatic on the phone, but was seething inside. I lost it on Tuesday morning and just sobbed uncontrollably from all the frustration and pent up emotions.

 By Wednesday it became clear that there was no give on either side, and little hope for any agreement. I won’t even get into the details of how ridiculous and counterproductive the whole situation was, especially from a money saving perspective, as my husband remained stuck in the hospital racking up bills. At that point, our insurance provider decided to find another rehab facility that accepted their reimbursement rate right away. It didn’t provide the same daily hours of therapy, but given how well my husband was already doing, I wasn’t concerned that it would interfere with his progress.

 The paperwork and contracts were going back and forth but hit a snag somewhere along the way. It was down to the close of the business day on Wednesday when a last-minute, frantic phone call from me, pushed everyone to quickly finalize it all. He was transferred an hour later, much to our relief, after almost a full week of working towards that!

 We joined him at rehab to get him settled in. The facility is an older building which is also part nursing home, so the atmosphere left a lot to be desired. But they got him into therapy the next day and it quickly became clear that none of the different therapists were seeing any significant strength or mobility issues. After the weekend, and hearing multiple reports of how impressed the therapists were, I started working on getting him home. There wasn’t any fighting or bureaucratic details to struggle with this time. He just needed to wait for the doctor to see him and sign off on his release. He had arrived on a Wednesday evening and I brought him home the following Thursday afternoon.

 And that’s where you would think the happy ending would start, right?

 His first day at home went well. He went out to a few stores on Friday morning and spent some time on the computer catching up on his favorite pastimes in the afternoon. He was in good spirits but really tired by the time I got home from work in the early evening.

 Friday night or Saturday morning, his right hand became very swollen, itchy and painful. He was incredibly fatigued and unable to do much of anything. The hand pain interfered with his sleep and all of it made him miserable. It appeared that he was having a reaction to the medications he’d recently been prescribed. He was afraid to take the meds and stopped for two days, knowing we had a follow up with his primary on Monday morning.

 We restarted one of the medications and that has been going well. The second medication was added in a few days ago at one quarter the original dose and is going okay so far. His fatigue is still debilitating. We’ll discuss all of it with the neurologist in a few days.

 That weekend, once again I thought we were moving on. My kids were resuming more normal schedules and were out and about, so I was mostly on my own at home trying to catch up. By Sunday afternoon I was exhausted, even though I hadn’t been pushing myself or neglecting my self-care. We were in need of groceries, so I headed out to the store with a cup of organic green tea in hand. I figured I was just having an afternoon slump that would pass. By the time I got home, I was an irritated and exhausted mess. In hindsight, it would have been better to reschedule my plans and have stayed home and rested. Several days later, I was struck with a cold – ugh, more stress!

 The cold was no surprise. I’ve experienced this in the past and know that it’s typical to get sick after dealing with significant stress. But it adds even more stress to life and I’m more than ready for the cycle to break!! Life happens and some stressors are unavoidable. The way you take care of yourself during a crisis can make all the difference in how you get through it all.

 Here are some important things to focus on:

  • Eat clean and healthy
  • Stay hydrated
  • Don’t neglect sleep and rest
  • Accept support
  • Process your emotions
  • Minimize any non-essential tasks
  • Minimize contact people who add stress
  • Indulge yourself if you can

 Monthly massages and periodic organic facials are currently part of my self-care regimen. I maintained those appointments and they helped SO much! I treated myself to a yoga class, an infrared sauna session and a salt room session, all of which I had Groupons for that were just waiting to be used. I tend to hold my stress physically and get really uncomfortable, so these extra self-care steps helped tremendously (and felt like a luxurious treat at the same time).  

Self-care is not selfish, it’s smart. You need you, and so does everyone else. Don’t let yourself fall apart. Take care of yourself and get the support you need. You deserve it!

A Scary Reminder…

A Scary Reminder…

I’ve never felt that my health is unshakable. I get sick with colds and flus from time to time like everyone else, which is a natural, unavoidable part of having a healthy immune system that is constantly expanding its knowledge and defenses against the multitude of germs we are constantly exposed to.

We are living in times of unprecedented risks to our health and an alarming number of stressors and threats such as chemicals in our food, water and environment, busy, stressful lifestyles, noise and light pollution, lack of connection to nature and natural light, a deficit of nutrients even in our best quality food, lack of sleep, sufficient time to relax and heal, and so much more.

This is why I control everything I can to the best of my ability from day to day. But I know that my health is still at risk due to the things I can’t control. If I do succumb to a health threat, I believe I will find peace knowing that I did an excellent job with my self-care. And my chances of recovery will be far greater because of my choices and the strength of my body, mind and spirit.

It’s incredibly difficult for me to see the people that I love choosing differently. I want them to experience the same benefits of excellent health. But the deeper truth is much more selfish. They are such an important part of my life that I want, need and depend on them, and they are a huge part of my healthy life. When they suffer, I suffer too.

At this very moment, my husband is lying in a hospital bed awaiting transfer to an inpatient rehabilitation facility to receive physical, occupational and speech therapy after having a stroke a week ago. There were no warning signs. He had been in good health and doing his normal activities. He’d been out with his brother in the morning and had been stacking wood and doing yard work a few days prior. His heart appears to be fine and his blood vessels are open with no signs of plaquing.

While we are getting conflicting reports, it appears that he had a partial collapse of the inside lining of a major blood vessel in his brain, causing a partial blockage of blood flow. He now has a stent in that vessel to keep it open. He had a blood clot, but we were told that it appeared as they were placing the stent, and not before. The reasons for this vessel collapse, or dissection, are not well understood, so it’s all a mystery at this point. (But I’ll be researching on my own later to see if I can find some clues. My practitioner brain needs to know.)

We feel extremely lucky as there are no signs of major damage, and it’s very likely that he will be able to recover most, if not all, of the weaknesses that are currently presenting in his left arm and that side of his face. The emergency room staff and surgeons were amazing and I’m so grateful for their speedy attention, expertise and kindness towards us.

Over the years of our marriage, my husband has made many great improvements in his lifestyle. I’m very proud of him and so grateful for his efforts! He even retired early last year after coming to terms with the fact that his overly stressful job was taking its toll. I’ve been encouraging him to work on a few things, like drinking more water, and am constantly tweaking his whole food supplementation protocols. His attention to his health isn’t as strong as mine. I work hard to respect his freedom of choice while sharing my concerns and knowledge.

Now I’m praying for the best possible recovery, and hoping he’ll have a renewed commitment to protect and improve his health. I’m so grateful for the strength and health he had going into this, knowing the outcome could have been very different.

I feel strongly that the best advice I can ever give is to prioritize your health right now. If you’ve already faced a health challenge, I doubt I need to convince you how critical it is. But when you feel fine, it’s easy to focus on other things that seem more pressing. But you are the irreplaceable ingredient in your life and you deserve the best. You cannot live your best life without excellent health.

Are You Feeling More Tired Lately?

Are You Feeling More Tired Lately?

Every time the temperature and/or the daylight shifts, our bodies need to adapt. Our adrenal glands are responsible for much of this adaptation. Given that they are your stress handling glands (and you’ve likely got a whole list of potential stressors to deal with), your body can get easily overwhelmed. When you factor in the numerous activities and demands on your time that often accompany this time of year – back to school, end of year business goals, holidays, etc. – you can quickly spiral into extreme fatigue and everything that comes along with that.

Adding coffee and other stimulants to push your body is the norm, but that only adds to the stress your body is experiencing. This puts you at even greater risk for undergoing a health crisis. And then your whole world can come undone in the blink of an eye.

It’s easy to get swept along with societal norms and expectations about what you should and shouldn’t be doing. It’s much harder to make thoughtful, conscious choices that protect your health, your time and your peace of mind. But I know you want more from your life and that you’re willing to do the work to create that for yourself.

So it’s time to ask yourself some potentially tough questions. Are there activities you’ve said yes to that feel like obligations, as opposed to aligning with your purpose and passions? Do you spend time with people who drag you down? Are you doing everything yourself instead of enlisting support and sharing or delegating tasks? Are you flying by the seat of your pants, when planning ahead could make a huge difference in how everything unfolds? What have you taken on that isn’t important right now? Are you providing the proper fuel for your body so that it can perform optimally for you? Are you getting enough rest and relaxation to allow your body and mind to unwind, detoxify and repair? Do you have something fun planned that you can look forward to? Have you scheduled time to be fully present and engaged with the people you love?

Examining how your life is unfolding, and aligning your activities and commitments with what you want, can be challenging. Making big changes can be invaluable, but only you can decide what’s best for you. Often, just a little tweaking here and there can be a game changer and make for a more comfortable approach, like dipping your toe in the water.

You can create the life you love, and that’s what you deserve. Every day that you spend doing things that dim your light is a missed opportunity. Every night that you sacrifice sleep to get things done weakens your body. Every meal that you eat that lacks nutrients diminishes your body’s ability to perform for you. You get to choose whether that knowledge feels overwhelming or empowering.

My path from sickness to health has been my greatest teacher and blessing. Staying tuned into my body is how I continue to increase my health and my happiness, year after year. The colder, darker months of the year are challenging for me. I need to decrease my commitments, get plenty of sleep, rest more and generally lead a quieter, slower lifestyle until the temperature and light increase once again. Pushing myself to maintain the life I live when it’s warm and sunny creates extreme and crippling fatigue for me, as well as a weakened immune system, causing me to catch every cold and flu going around.

Slowing down is hard and always brings up a huge amount of resistance, as there’s so much I want to do! Ultimately, I’ve learned it’s the only way to get through the long winter months without creating a huge mess of my health. Some day I hope to have the flexibility to avoid the cold New England winters entirely. But for now, my shift in self-care from season to season is an essential component to staying healthy, accomplishing things that are important to me, and living a fun-filled, happy life with great purpose and passion.

Are You Aware of the Risks of Birth Control?

Are You Aware of the Risks of Birth Control?

My greatest wish is to see our society embrace a preventive mindset when it comes to health. Many people are out of touch with how their bodies work and we’ve been led to believe that we are not in control. We’re often not fully aware of the consequences of the choices we make, especially when it comes to medical interventions. Hormonal birth control is one of those choices.

I love that women can choose when and if to have children, while still exploring their sexuality. I love that women can have careers, develop their passions and create whatever life they envision. What bothers me is that the consequences of hormonal birth control go beyond controlling reproductive capabilities, and that very few of these issues are ever properly conveyed.

How can anyone make an informed decision without knowing all the potential risks?

Some of the risks associated with hormonal birth control include blood clots, high blood pressure, heart attacks, strokes, certain types of cancers, as well as changes in cholesterol. 1 But understanding the full effects of hormonal birth control is far more complex.

Any synthetic hormone, regardless of how it enters your body, hijacks or overrides your own natural hormonal patterns. Even a hormonal IUD can affect your entire hormonal system, even though most women are told the hormones in the IUD affect only the uterus.

In addition to governing our reproductive capabilities, hormones direct the healing process throughout the body. So, when hormones are out of balance or synthetic hormones are being used, our body’s ability to function, breakdown and repair is jeopardized.

Hormone imbalance is widespread. Our hormonal system is fragile and we are surrounded by chemicals and stressors that easily interfere with, or take over, our own hormonal rhythms. Sadly, all synthetic birth control options fall into this category.

Hormones are chemicals that move throughout the body. There are many different hormonal glands. Beginning from the head and working down the body there is the pineal gland, hypothalamus gland, pituitary gland, thyroid and parathyroid glands, pancreas and adrenal glands, plus the mammary glands (breasts), ovaries and uterus in women, and testicle and prostate gland in men. It is a highly interactive system and the action of each gland affects the function of other glands in the system, sometimes dramatically.

The hormonal communication pathway begins in the brain. The brain sends a message, or request for something to happen to keep the body running well, to the hypothalamus gland, which then amplifies the message and passes it along to the pituitary gland. The pituitary makes and releases hormones that go out into the body, signaling all the other hormonal glands to make specific levels of their unique hormones. As the glands are making their specific hormones, the pituitary is monitoring the level of hormones in the body and continuously adjusting its signaling to ensure all the other glands continue making the correct level of hormones – not too much, and not too little.

As chemical messengers, hormones affect changes throughout the body by delivering their messages to the cells. The hormone connects to a cell receptor on the outside of a cell – picture a key fitting into a lock or a boat pulling up to a dock – and the cell then carries out the instructions that started in the brain.

Hormonal signaling is connected to mood, memory and the brain’s ability to learn, understand and retain information. Hormones control the stress response, flooding your body with hormones that press your body into action when your life is in danger and you need to move fast to protect yourself. They help balance blood sugar, shuttling fuel into and out of cells and organs, ensuring the brain and all the cells of the body get the fuel they need to keep functioning. They control your metabolic rate, how fast your body breaks down and utilizes food, and your ability to gain, lose or maintain weight. And they control reproduction, not only providing the ability to conceive, but also the reproduction of you – the constant breakdown of old cells as they’re replaced by new cells. The trillions of cells that make up your body are constantly being turned over and your hormonal system is running the show by signaling the whole process.

This is a very brief and simplistic explanation of what your hormones do for you, but it showcases how powerful and critical hormones are to whole body function and your ability to be and feel healthy. When synthetic hormones, like the ones in birth control pills enter your body, they disrupt and take over your hormonal patterns. They are very effective at birth control because they suppress ovulation (no egg, no fertilization) but they also suppress all the other important functions your hormones perform for you each and every day. And that’s the huge downside to hormonal birth control that’s not recognized or discussed nearly often enough.

Many women know, from private experience or from women they know, that hormonal birth control methods can cause mood changes, weight gain and other unwanted, unpleasant symptoms. Beyond what is felt, there is a lot more happening inside the body that has the potential for significant risk, especially when hormonal birth control is used for an extended period of time.

Interfering with whole body hormonal signaling can lead to long term health challenges, some of which can be significant. In my private practice, I see all kinds of hormonal issues such as PMS, irregular periods, fertility issues, endometriosis, PCOS, mood challenges, energy issues, brain fog, memory struggles, autoimmune responses to the thyroid gland, sleep problems, hot flashes, fatigue, and so much more. Sometimes hormonal birth control is still being used, but often it’s been discontinued and the symptoms of hormone disruption are still active, even years or decades later.

Because synthetic hormones suppress normal hormone function, it can be difficult to recover natural, healthy hormonal patterns without holistic intervention. Sadly, many women are not aware that holistic support options exist and are told that their symptoms are normal and just something they need to live with. Symptom are your body’s way of telling you something is off. Menstruation, and even menopause, are meant to be easy and comfortable. PMS is a sign of hormone imbalance – you should have regular periods without any discomfort, and transition to not having periods without misery!

Is there a way to have the best of both worlds? To have contraception that gives you the freedom to choose if and when you have children, and explore your sexuality in a healthy way that works for you without risking your health? Yes there is! Non-hormonal barrier contraceptive methods report levels of effectiveness similar to what hormonal birth control methods report, without the risks of synthetic hormone exposure. Your options include condoms, diaphragms and cervical caps.

Choosing your preferred method is a personal issue and all birth control methods need to be used correctly in order to achieve the effectiveness you need and deserve. It’s not a decision to be taken lightly and you need to do your homework. You may need to try out a few options to discover what works best for you. Your health is your greatest asset, and your efforts to understand your choices are an essential part of a health lifestyle.

1, May 2018

Breaking Free from Negative Beliefs about Aging

Breaking Free from Negative Beliefs about Aging

A friend and I were recently commenting on pictures we saw online of someone we both respect and admire, (a beautiful, successful woman that has been a mentor to both of us). She had been absent from social media for a bit and her recent pictures look different. It appears that she’s had some cosmetic work done. She has also made some remarks that hint at some of her beliefs about the appearance of women as they age.

I felt a deep sadness seeing her new picture and hearing her remarks as it appears that she does not think she is enough (or as beautiful or youthful as she feels she needs to be in the public eye). I’m driven to understand societal ideals regarding our physical appearance, especially in regards to how we change as we get older.

I don’t want to call attention to this particular person as I don’t know what she did or why she did it, or if she might have a health condition or something else that has altered her appearance. She’s not mentioning it and I want to respect her privacy. I still admire and respect her success and desire to help others. But I keep asking myself how I might possibly play a role in shifting any outdated, unhealthy beliefs we’ve collectively been exposed to and influenced by.

I’ve come face to face with my own beliefs, prejudices, and fears about my own appearance and choices this year. Jumping in at a personal level is almost always the best place for me to start any journey, so here goes…

My hair has been graying for a long time. I honestly do not remember how old I was when it started. Initially, I felt that I was too young to be gray, but didn’t realize that what I truly felt was that I would look and feel old if I let the gray come through.

I tried many different hair color products over the years, always searching for the most non-toxic products that would look natural and keep my hair healthy. I met a local stylist years ago who introduced me to a professional product that met my standards and looked great. And I was happy with that choice for a long time.

Occasionally I’d see a picture of myself that would challenge my idea that I was doing a good job of covering my gray in a healthy and natural looking way. If it was more than 3 or 4 weeks after my last color appointment, I would have a streak in the middle of my hair. When I looked in the mirror, it seemed like the colors were blending fairly well, but the pictures told a different story. And I didn’t like the way it looked.

So I started noticing other women with gray or white hair, and grew conscious of how I felt about their appearance. While I find it annoying that most older women have the exact same haircut, I didn’t find their shades of gray, silver or white scary or ugly. Nor did I automatically think anyone looked old just because their hair was gray.

My observations prepared me for a candid discussion with my stylist. She believes that when you take care of your hair it can be beautiful and attractive, no matter what color or style you have, or what age you are. I took her words to heart and decided it was time for me to allow the real color to come through. I don’t judge anyone who chooses color, no matter what their age or reasons; I treasure the option of personal choice. I just wanted to make sure I was making a choice that was authentic for me. Ultimately, I realized that I was coloring my hair because of the old beliefs I was holding onto that I would look or feel old, but I didn’t know if they were true. I was ready to challenge them and see for myself how the gray looked and made me feel.

I wish I could say that it was smooth sailing all the way. But my old beliefs were strong and there were definitely times when I did NOT like the way the natural color looked as it grew in. I was judging myself and thinking others would judge me as well. I made a video and shared it publicly, which really helped release the negativity I was feeling. And I got lots of positive comments, which helped me gain the courage to stay the course.

The beginning stages were the hardest, but I am happy to say that I haven’t thought negatively about my true color in months! It’s been more than 8 months since my last attempt to cover the grays. I’ve embraced my natural color and currently have no desire to dye my hair again. Some people like it and some don’t, but for possibly the first time in my life, I am more concerned about my own opinions than what anyone else thinks.

I was getting antsy for my natural color to grow in all the way so I ended up chopping off most of the remaining color-treated hair. It is fairly short and will take getting used to since I’ve never had a short haircut in my entire life! I thought I would have a lot of emotions to deal with over the fairly drastic change as I dealt with others’ reactions to it and how I feel about the way I look, but I feel really good about it so far. It will take time to figure out what I want it to look like from this point on, but I’m really happy I found the courage to make this bold move that I had been thinking about for months.

Talking about hair color and length can seem frivolous when addressing a deep and complex issue like ageism, but such beliefs can be subtle. Many people, myself included, don’t even realize they hold these beliefs. Working through my own personal limiting beliefs and sharing my experience with others helps me to think about these big issues in a more enlightened and personal way. And then I feel empowered to actually make a difference in someone else’s life.

My new truth is that it doesn’t matter how old you are or what color or length your hair is. We are all beautiful in our own unique way. We all have gifts and talents that no one else has in quite the same way. We are here to live, love and enjoy life, and to make a difference if we choose to, sharing our unique talents, strengths and knowledge with the world.

For me, aging also now means wisdom and softening into the truth of who I am and what wonders life might have in store for me if I’m brave enough to follow my dreams and my own intuition. It means sharing my journey so that others might benefit from something I’ve learned, as I’ve benefited tremendously from learning from others. Loving openly and unconditionally might cause me to get hurt, but the benefits of deep and truthful human connection far outweigh any risks.

I’m contributing to the world in any way I feel called to do so, and am reaping the rewards of living in a time where so many gifted and beautiful people are sharing their gifts and changing the world every day. I’m human, I make mistakes and I feel afraid, but I show up every day anyway. Life is a messy, beautiful gift. We all age and we all die. But it doesn’t have to be a miserable process, no matter how much we see otherwise. Educated, wise, personal choices can and do lead to graceful aging.

My greatest aspiration is to use the time I have left as wisely as possible. I am under no illusion that all my limiting and outdated beliefs are gone. But I am open to being shown what remains, and to shifting into a more beautiful, open and accepting place. And I pray that we are all shifting into releasing outdated expectations, to embrace the beauty of our diversity, and let the judgments that don’t serve humanity slip away.