Ending My Silence: Why I Married A Woman

If ignorance is the basis to what leads to hate, I want to clear up as much as I am able in regards to why I chose to marry a woman, after once being married to a man. My underlying hope in this disclosure will be to invoke deeper understanding into the humanness of us all regardless of sexual orientation.

It is my fundamental belief that all of us share the common desire to be loved, cherished and respected.

But first let me share that as I sit in the relative comfort of my home in this very moment typing these words, I am surrounded by doubts as I stare at the title at the top of this blog. Literally, my heart rate is increasing and I am afraid that I will be making a mistake in outing myself on my web site. I am more than aware that my blog feeds directly into my professional web site as a Psychotherapist, and I am beginning to fear this may affect my future client base. The simple choice of who I married runs deeply through the veins of haters in this world who would wish to see me, and others like me, dead.

This constant concern and doubt is part of what has become my reality; however, I can no longer feel comfortable with my own silence. I must stand up and find my courageous skin, colored with my own identity, so that I may help put a face to our community and reduce the stigma associated with being gay. If I cannot stand up and be counted, I am part of the problem.

Keeping silent is no longer an option for me.  I am compelled to do my part. 

As those close to me know, I just finished riding in the AIDS/LifeCycle ride last week. In this ride, we cyclists travel from SFO to LA in 545 miles of hard-core road biking as a fundraising effort to end AIDS. There were 2500 of us this year. I was riding alongside a gathering of people who came together from all different backgrounds, sexual orientations, and cultures to form a community of shared hope and love. At around mile 180, I saw a car riding up towards us from across the street. As I put my finger on my bike bell to honor them honking in support of us (which was most of the people we came across), I noticed that a 20ish year old girl was hanging out the passenger side of the car flipping all of us riders off with her middle finger. Her face was transformed through ugliness into a grimace of passionate hatred.

Why so much hatred?

I have considered this deeply as I have had the experience of automatic privilege that comes from marrying a man. I have then had to understand the consequences of choosing to marry a woman instead.

I have decided it all comes down to my bedroom. Frankly, it comes down to my sex life. The reality is, I could be a woman who decides to buy a home with another woman, raise my kids with her, travel with her and share my life with her. These things are acceptable in society as they can be written off as two friends who couldn’t find a husband, sharing life challenges together as companions who love each other. I even think there is a term for it: Spinsters.

All is socially acceptable until those two women actually have sex together. Once sex is involved, all bets are off and people who you have never met in your life instantly hate you and are disgusted by you. Really? How did sex get so important? I mean, it’s definitely fun and all, but worthy of death? I don’t know about you, but it seems a bit extreme to me.

Why is anyone but me even interested in what goes on in the privacy of my bedroom? No one seemed to care about my sex life when it was with the men I had messed around with…I would go so far as to say that no one even considered my sex life at all before I married a woman. But let me tell you, the minute I reached out in public and held my wife’s hand, it became one of the first thoughts that now crosses people’s minds when they look at us. You should see some of the expressions that I watch happen as people realize what they are seeing and it dawns on them that they are looking at REAL LIFE LESBIANS!

“EEEEK, run for your life, hide your children, wash your hands”…. Surely it must be contagious.

The idea that we want to convert straight people or have sex with anyone we can find because we are desperate and crazed sex maniacs is ridiculous. Heard the one about goats? Seriously? This is as far from the truth as is possible, and yet is also somehow what drives so much fear into the minds of homophobic people.

So I want to make this really clear and simple. Here is my answer:

Why did I marry a woman?

I married a woman because I fell madly in love with her in the sweetest possible way. It was unexpected, beautiful, and the stuff love stories are made of. I married a woman who was the first person in my life that had my back, made me feel safe, and loved me completely for exactly the person I am. Isn’t this the reason people marry each other?

Here is my secret to tell: It didn’t matter that she didn’t have a penis. …….shhh, don’t tell anyone else.

I am not over simplifying it; I married a woman because I found my person in this world and she happened to be a girl. It wasn’t more complicated than that. I was lucky enough to see beyond gender, and allow myself to be completely loved by another human being for the first time in my life.

Love is beyond gender or anatomy. Love transcends.

Our marriage is probably like many of yours. We go to the grocery store, do dishes, travel and run a business together. We raise kids (who are amazing, thank you), pay bills and have pets. We are not the crazy lesbian cat people, but are coming close with 3 rescue cats. We are everyday people. We are your neighbors, we teach your kids PE, and watch TV. We may not have to argue over who puts the lid down on the toilet, but maybe battle a bit more over who used the last tampon. Really, it’s not anything out of the ordinary. She likes to cook; I like to bake. Differences we have learned to manage.

In all seriousness though, the isolating variable in our lives, is that people all over the world hate us who don’t even know us. You can not imagine how vulnerable a feeling that is.

Orlando happened to all of us. Horrific violence can be as simple as the girl who hung out the window during my AIDS ride last week pulling out a semi-automatic weapon and firing on us during our ride. It is unimaginable, unbelievable perhaps, and yet it is happening right now at this very moment in our world.

I don’t need you to want my lifestyle for your own; although, I do hope you have a marriage that is based in the same fundamental truths as mine. I hope you are as supported, safe and loved as I am by my wife. I wish that on everyone. I believe if everyone was as cared about and loved as we are in our marriage, that there would be no place for hatred.

My hope for our world is tolerance. I am willing to end my silence to further this aim.

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The Author

Winning Against “Bo”: Fighting To “No-Tox” My Face

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Sitting in a Esthetician’s chair last week, after being gifted a salon “sampler” package at my gym for referring a friend, I was enjoying the soothing chimes of the background music when my white coated skin care specialist told me she was a medical esthetician. I had no idea what that meant. “You have great skin”, she tells me, “but you should really get some Botox here, and here, and here, and here” she coos as she is pointing to my forehead, under my eyes, and to my “marionette” lines (who in the world thought of that terrible adjective?)… “Don’t worry” she assured me, “just 20 cc’s or so to start.”

I was immediately enthralled. Here I had a real “medical” skin care specialist making recommendations to my tired, over-sunned, once flawless 45-year-old face! I immediately wondered if it hurt. “We give you something to numb the area”, she assured. When I asked if it ever went wrong, she told me that she’s never seen it go wrong, but that I would need to sign several waiver forms to release any liability on their part. “I get it”, she adds. “How old do you think I am?”. She looks about 48 with smooth, baby-butt skin. I think I piss her off when I tell her this. “I’m 49”, she says as she begins to furiously perform skin extractions with what I believe is excessive force. As the tears are rolling down my eye corners due to the stinging she is evoking she soothes me, “Come on Stacey, toughen up”. For those of you curious, non-facial receivers, this is when a little tool is brought out and every pore you have on your face is “de-clogged”. This happens even if you have no visible blemishes or pimples. More of a stated preventative for any potential baby zits or clogged pores that may be thinking in the future they want to become problem areas. I find this just makes my face blotchy and worse looking when I leave, but it must me good for me right?

So instead of relaxing (as the gentle chimes are joined by water trickles and continue to play in the background) while she mousses up my face with a cucumber smelling frothy substance, I begin to fantasize about shooting my face full of botulinum toxin. I think of the ways I could sneak over, and get it done, without telling anyone. I look at the address…I could be there in 15 minutes. True, I write about aging gracefully, eating fresh foods as close to the earth as possible, and refusing to kill animals so I can eat them….but I WANT to put this in my face. Next to my brain. ALL OVER MY FACE to be exact. I do. I admit it. I want to reverse the signs of aging on my face and look better. I don’t want my mouth to have marionette lines on the corners when I talk like a hand puppet. I want, I want, I want. Who cares that the word “tox” is in the name… Not me. Not anymore.

I leave her chair with a business card in hand for the facility she practices in with a “real doctor” also, she claims. “She used to be an internal medicine specialist, but now she does this because she can make $250 for 10 minutes of work and not have to bill insurance, you know?”. Yes, I know I say. I’m conflicted all the way out the door. I get in my car, drop down my sun shade and slide over the plastic window so I can look in my lighted mirror. I’m all blotchy, red and shiny from the extractions and ten layers of skin products. I look at all of my laugh lines around my mouth. I fake smile to see how bad it looks by my eyes. My forehead scrunches up and the lines stay there when I let the smile fall off my mouth. I want this, I think. I’m going to do it. I will look so much younger and better and I will no one has to know. I feel weak to my own judgement. I cave.

I had a haircut scheduled following my facial as it was my day off. My hairdresser is a beautiful, vivacious, 25-year-old women who just got into haircutting 3 years before but is wonderful in both her style and, even more enjoyable to me, in her personality. I sit in her chair explaining why my face looks so blotchy and red. “I thought maybe you just got a peel”, she says. Then I tell her that I think I’m going to start getting Botox. “I just got some today,” she admits. What? “It’s my third time”, she adds…”I get it in trade”. She proceeds to tell me, as she looks down the line of the other gorgeous hair stylists in the row alongside her, that everyone does it there. “All of us do it”, she admits. I am completely blown away as I look at these twenty something young women. What are we doing to ourselves as women? “Even men do it now”, she adds, “they call it Brotox”. Of course they do, I think to myself. What are we doing to ourselves, I wonder quietly.

I realize in talking to her, that I just can’t do it. I have nothing against anyone reading this who has decided for themselves that they want to reverse the clock and take advantage of something that it feels like “everyone” is doing. I get it. I really do. But as I sat in that chair and looked at my stylist I realized that I had a daughter growing up who has told me repeatedly that she never wants me to do any “fillers” or “Botox” and wants me to age naturally. (She also wants me to get really chubby to be a “comfortable” grandmother someday for my grandchildren…but that one I’m going to fight.) She is a 15-year-old beautiful talented girl who is going to feel this same pressure amongst her peers when she is in her early twenties. This next generation of women has a whole new toolbox available to fight aging and maintain some ideal form of beauty that our society is promoting. This toolbox is more of a magicians bag of tricks, and they are often not healthy for our sense of self and personal acceptance.

I take a deep breath, look at my red blotchy face in the mirror, and make a personal commitment to myself that I am choosing to share on this blog. Here it is: I am going to age and it’s going to show on my face, my body, and in my wisdom. I promote self acceptance and positive body love to every single one of my clients as a therapist. I refuse to not be genuine and thus will begin the process with me.

I throw away the “medical” esthetician’s business card. I tell my daughter that I will make her a deal. In this life, I’m going to be who I am, warts and all. But the deal I make is this…If I do it, you need to do it too. She proceeds to tell me that she thinks wrinkles are beautiful and that they add character to a women’s face. What wisdom in such a young fresh woman in training…. Whose lucky daughter is that? Oh yeah, that’s mine.

Stacey Neil, Licensed Psychotherapist, is in private practice in Los Gatos, CA. She can be reached at 408.827.5139. If she isn’t there, she is off floating in the ocean, or hiking in the mountains.

Growing Old Is Not For Wimps

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As I get older, I realize more and more that growing older is not for wimps. New and unusual hair begins to grow in places that you believed to be bare, and you need a magnifying mirror before you can even begin to pluck it out. I’ve been trying to figure out if our eyes naturally begin to fail in our forties as a way to allow us to not be able to see ourselves as clearly as before for self-preservation purposes, or if their slow demise is a thermometer designed to help you come to terms with the fact that you are getting older.

I now find myself wearing glasses just to work on the computer…or read a menu, recipe, or food label. I have become my mother and have magnifying eyeglasses all over the house (you can buy a three pack at Costco for less than $20 – you’re welcome). I can’t believe that’s now me. I was excited that the new Iphone 6 was coming out not so I could get the latest “gadget”, but because it would have a bigger screen so I could finally read my phone again. It was terribly sad for me when I finally got it to realize that I still couldn’t read the newspaper text on the screen (yes, I realize these are first world problems….and yes, I had already increased the font size).

What a strange phenomena we humans experience to be present as your body ages and you realize that once something starts to slip away IT IS NEVER COMING BACK. My vision will never be restored to the eyesight I enjoyed (without truly appreciating it) in my earlier years. Those of you who follow my blog know that I got injured running a few weeks back. After X-rays came back telling me that all of the impact sports I have been doing (including running) have done damage to my hips, due to the genetic way that my hip-joint and spine curve, I was told to take up some low or no impact sports instead. Who me? You sure Doc? Yes…she was sure.

“Deterioration” is a word that you are hoping not to hear when you are someone who is passionate about all types of activities such as I am. So what do you do with bad news like that? You determinedly decide you are going to take the news with a stoic appreciation for what you have that is still functioning… then I went swimming. While I have recently been spending so much time in the water I’ve been reflecting on the ways in which it is a struggle for us to age in these bodies of ours.

It feels like a blessing and a curse that we humans have mastered the art of living much longer lives. Neanderthals lived to be about 30 years old, maybe they had it better dying while in their primes. Right now we are expected to live to be around 79 (American Men) and 81 (American Women). As a interesting side note, if we live in Japan, we get to add a few more years (82). How wonderful that we have the experience of spending time in our later years with gifts such as grandchildren, retirement and social security benefits. On the flip side is the fact that our human bodies begin to change in ways that we could not possibly understand in our youths with themes more like: fear of Alzheimer’s, investment loss, minimal medical benefits, and strange body changes (while trying to find our misplaced keys for the tenth time that week).

Youth is definitely wasted on the young. You hear that phrase when you are young by your grandparents, but unfortunately, do not really understand it until you are much much older. I get it now.

It takes a lot of courage and wisdom to age well and with grace. For some, the later years will be the first time they experience the true gift of total self acceptance. It will certainly make for a gentler aging process. Fighting with every wrinkle, sag, memory loss, or strange hair will only lead to distress. One true gift of getting older is the new found appreciation I have for older people I meet who share their incredible life stories that are filled with strength and an undeniable sense of humor. “Don’t sweat the small stuff”, they tell me when I ask what makes for happiness in this life.

One of my favorite quotes is by Hunter S. Thompson who says:

Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well-preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming “Wow! What a Ride!”.

This is my goal (and I am well on my way based on my most recent doctor’s X-ray). I want to live fully and messily and wear myself out. I am finally okay with the idea of this being my best body, self and life. After a certain age, there is only one direction your body is going, and it’s not younger. It happens to all of us if we are lucky. Really think about that. If you are struggling with how to come to terms with your aging body, you are fortunate beyond words. You have been able to stay alive in this crazy world of ours and get the privilege of actually living to old age. How cool is that?

Stacey Neil, Psychotherapist and Personal Trainer, can be found at the pool swimming laps along with in her private practice in Los Gatos, CA. She can be reached at 408.827.5139.

Surrender Without Quitting: Accept What Is

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I have been contemplating a new wrist tattoo that has a dandelion with the word “surrender” floating away as if set free in a wish. This concept of letting go seems to go against every bit of my type A personality’s desire to “power it out” and “get it done”. However, I would suggest to you that surrendering is the hardest skill to learn of them all. How do we learn how to let go and just be? How can we ignore societies ongoing messages that drive us to achieve, achieve, achieve? I suggest to you that to letting go is the opposite of driving through your life at 110% of capacity…that the truth to living a fulfilling life filled with mindful presence is to actually take a deep breath, exhale it out, and surrender.

There is resistance around the idea of surrendering as it can feel like quitting. Surrendering is not quitting. Surrendering is allowing yourself to live in the moment of your life and to realize that in this very moment this is as good as it gets. If you can learn how to let go and be fully present in your life, you can surrender the anxieties that surround all of the “what ifs” that we all tend to ruminate about in our heads. What if I lose my job? What if my spouse cheats on me? What if I never lose these 20 pounds? What if I get cancer? What if my son doesn’t get into that college he is fighting for? Quitting is rolling over and allowing your life to run you; it has nothing to do with surrender. Surrendering is allowing space to just be, as is.

You can surrender and decide you are never willing to quit. You never “quit” trying to be mindful, eat healthier, improve upon your body, learn to relax, living fully and with passion, etc.. Never give up in fighting for the things you want in your life whatever that means for you. To give up self-care is to give up on yourself. Always do your best…and then surrender to what you currently experience as your life. Know that for this very second, what you see is what you get. There is no purpose in feelings of bitterness for what you may or may not have in this second. Surrender to your reality as is.

Why does this matter?

I am always sharing different themes around our internalized myths about what we believe to be in our control (everything) when in fact what we control is very little (almost nothing). We control our own individual words, actions and behaviors. We have no control over how other’s perceive us, what other’s say to us, or how our bosses act. The more we try to control our external environment, the more frustrated we become and the less present we are in our lives. We become focused on the future, potential catastrophic anxiety inducing worries that may happen, or we hold on to past vulnerabilities and pains. What we don’t tend to do is be present in this very moment breath by breath.

Sometimes when a client comes in for therapy, they work really hard at trying to task through the work of becoming more aware of their own internal processes by getting mad at themselves or frustrated by their thoughts or the way they feel. They despise their own judging minds and thoughts. If this ever happens to you, I suggest you try to imagine letting go instead of criticizing yourself. Your thoughts can spiral out of control and you can choose to non judgmentally notice that they are present, then surrender and not engage in the emotions that will only fuel the fire of your judgements. Give yourself permission to be just who you are and allow that to be good enough. Let go of all of the ways in which you feel you are not doing what you “should” be doing according to some internal judgement of yourself and be free. Be good enough. Surrender. It is so much less effort to let yourself go in this way.

What can you do right this second as you read this to let go? Surrendering sets you free. Be free.

Stacey Neil is a Licensed Psychotherapist and Personal Trainer in private practice in Los Gatos, CA. She can be reached at 408.827.5139.

When Body & Mind Don’t Agree: Four Things My Injury Is Telling Me

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The best laid plans…. There is nothing more frustrating, when training for an event, than to do everything as prescribed and get injured anyway. I have been struggling with a recent injury after 5 months of a perfectly laid out running plan for my latest 1/2 marathon, only to get completely derailed three weeks prior to the event. As this has happened to me several times before including summit attempts up Mt. Whitney (3) that had to be aborted 1 mile from the peak, or other adventure type challenges where I had sob inducing spasms 8 miles in…injury is a part of the process of pushing your body, getting older, and being stubborn. It happens to everyone who tends to push themselves at some point or another.

The stubbornness comes into play from my sheer unadulterated ability to be in denial when something starts to go south in my body. The most distressing part of the entire struggle for me is that I tend to get injured only when I feel at my complete and total best. Like a true ATHLETE (love this word). There have been three different times in my life when I have really felt strong, fit, and able, that are perfect examples of this phenomena. These moments are pinnacle training times in my life where all of the hours, sweat, and focus came together and I felt unstoppable. Ironically, these are the exact three times I have gotten the most injured. The first time I had been working out hard as a gym rat and cross training like a professional and I felt great. So I decided to return to my childhood sport of soccer (for the first time in 15 years) in my early thirties. I joined a local women’s league, bought myself some cleats, and went to my first practice (seriously the FIRST one). Running (as if my life depended on it) to save a ball from rolling back into our practice goal, I stepped into a gopher hole and blew out my ACL, tore my meniscus, and bruised my femur. I was in surgery 2 days later. I was laid up on modified exercise for 6 months. Did get this cool leg stretchy machine I got to hook up too, but I digress…

The second time I was doing our bootcamp program every morning and pushing my cross training and fitness to the test. I took on every workout as if it were a personal challenge against myself. I was on fire. One particular morning I was doing burpee circuits and I threw my heart into atrial fibrillation and ended up in the ER with probes strapped onto my chest. Instead of surgery, this got me a hypothyroid diagnosis and many heart tests (was told my heart is healthy as an athlete!). Had to go on thyroid medication (for the rest of my life). This final time was two weeks ago. As some of you readers know, I am training for another 1/2 marathon after my training partner (and dear friend) asked me to celebrate her Birthday with her by doing her first 1/2. Being a good friend, I created the most thoughtful, slow, gentle training plan to get her and I ready to go injury free…and it worked amazing (right up until it didn’t) and I got injured. But it wasn’t the plan that caused the injury, it was my head deciding that I felt like a real runner for the first time in my life and I was the fastest, strongest runner I had ever been. It was literally to the point that I was thinking I could pull off a full marathon a few months post 1/2 if I kept training. I felt unstoppable. I kept speeding up my pace because it felt SO good to my body (coincidentally, this was NOT on the plan). My new speedy running attitude worked right up to a 10K we did together as a charity race where I ran the fastest 10K I had ever done (by A LOT). Got a PR! I was so fired up….and that’s what did it. I pushed too hard. I messed up my TFL and piriformis. Now I cannot walk without pain. Sigh.

Those of you who do not love working out may be confirming your suspicions right now that this is why exercise is evil and you should just stay on the couch! But this is not at all the case. Do not be fooled…it is still the best thing for both mind & body. I thoroughly enjoy the challenge of seeing what my body can do through exercise. Sometimes, however, my head and my body don’t agree. When this happens I get injured. I have learned a few things from my injury that I would like to share with you:

1) Don’t Take Yourself So Seriously – There is no point in stressing out about missing a race I have signed up for, or even worse, needing to walk. I’m not Lolo Jones, I wasn’t going to win. I can go out there on race day and do my very best…whatever that looks like that day. There will ALWAYS be other races/events/challenges.

2) Keep Perspective – Your healthy body demands to be your number one priority. You realize this the minute something happens where you get sick or hurt; however, maybe being mindful of this when things are going well is equally (if not more so) important.

3) Don’t Always Power It Out – You shouldn’t ignore the small little twinges and warnings that your body is telling you along the way. Injuries can happen out of nowhere (like in an accident such as my gopher hole scenario), but often your body is talking to in little whispers before it starts to yell. This is where my head tends to tells my body to be quiet and keeps running, when maybe I should have slowed down my pace, took a few days off and rested my injury two weeks ago when I first started to feel it. Instead I tried to push through. Just because your head may be able to do this, does not mean your body can pull it off.

4) Get Help – I am ridiculously STUBBORN when it comes to seeking medical help for injuries. Yes, dear spouse, I can admit this. I have no idea the root of my absolute certainty that I do NOT need to go to the doctor, chiropractor or massage therapist to work it out and get help when I am hurt. My cocky, ego ridden, personal trainer self is just sure I can use the tools I already know to get better. If you are like me, save yourself a few extra weeks (or months) of injury and seek expert help. Anti-inflammatory drugs and R.I.C.E (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation) do NOT cure everything. Trust me..wish they did, but they do not.

I imagine an injury as a little monster messing with your body. I see it as a little black scrunchy thing with a wicked smile and a pokey spear. It can feel like it is mocking me..right when I feel my best. The truth is, getting hurt is your bodies way of telling you to back off, change what you are doing, or slow down. I don’t tend to pay attention until it is too late and I end up hurt pretty bad. I have been getting frustrated with my body because it won’t do what I want it to do; when the truth is, my head is what needs to change. My body is doing an amazing job keeping me alive and allowing me to do everything I love. My head needs to understand how to be patient, compassionate, and mindful of what my body is telling me along the way. The little monster can really my friend if I learn how to embrace it.

Stacey Neil, LMFT, CPT is a Psychotherapist and Personal Trainer who is in private practice in Los Gatos, CA. She can be reached at 408.827.5139 where she is layed up on ice.

Lost Your Mojo? Here’s 7 Ways To Get It Back

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Burnt out? Tired? Just plain sucking wind? You are not alone…many of us living during these stressful times are feeling the pain. Do you find yourself dreading your thoughts as they start to arise on a Sunday evening at home when they begin to remind you about what you have to deal with the next day? It’s hard to keep up the good fight when our work life balance continues to tip in the direction of working more than is healthy, sleeping less than we need, and struggling to calm down our minds in our often chaotic lives. It happens to all of us at one time or another: we lose our Mojo.

According to the Cambridge Dictionary, Mojo is defined as, “a quality that attracts people to you and makes you successful and full of energy.” Maybe you are familiar with Austin Powers having his mojo stolen in the 1999 film, “The Spy Who Shagged Me”. More historically, mojo was defined as a form of “magic” or “spell” that one person puts on another with their charisma and charm. In today’s day losing our mojo seems to be more the norm than the exception. If your mojo has gone into hiding, do you even remember the last time you had it?

So what do you do about this? This is more than losing your ability to be sexually exciting to a potential partner, or having zero desire to put on the sexy lingerie for an evening in with your special person….this is about losing your passion in life, your focus at work, or the joy you feel around your family. You feel flat and somehow this flatness is contagious to those around you as they seem to become less interested in you and even bored by you as a result. We all know how exhausting people around us are when they are down all the time. It sucks the life right out of you.

Ready for a solution? You must try your best to snap out of it. I hate to break it to you, but you are the only one who can do it for you. When you have positive energy and vibrance, others in your life will react with a much more responsive energy to you and your life will hone back into focus. You can become re-energized and fired up as a part of this reaction, but it needs to start with you sucking it up and finding yourself again. If your mojo seems elusive these days, try one of the following 7 tricks to finding it again:

1) Get a New Look – How long have you been wearing the same clothes, with the same hair, and maybe even the same shade of chapstick? Sometimes getting stuck in a rut affects how well you present yourself to others in your environment and you can find yourself with a tired look from two decades before. You don’t need a mid life crisis to upgrade your look. Change is good and can help to knock you out of your comfort zone (which is obviously not very comfortable for you with no mojo). You will be amazed at the response you get from others when they notice the effort, but it is more about the response you get from looking in the mirror and realizing you still got it! You can look your best no matter how much you may wish you had less weight, better fitness, less gray, etc. Put the effort into respecting yourself and get it together.

2) Exercise – Yes, I realize I squeeze this point into many of my blogs, but I cannot overstate the emotional charge that a good twenty minutes of an increased heart rate can give you. Give your system an endorphin boost by getting moving. It doesn’t matter how you get it done, but get it done. Get outside, walk the dog, get some vitamin D rich sunshine, and breathe fresh air. Just get that stagnate body moving.

3) Have Sex – Spice up your bedroom routine. (Or maybe you need to actually have a bedroom routine?) Take a few minutes longer to get ready for your partner. Put on a candle, take a bubble bath, get yourself in a sexy pair of boxers, SHAVE (wherever is needed), and see how you feel. If you are flying single, don’t fret and do something erotic for yourself alone. This is the electronic age – you don’t need to be partnered up to have an earth shattering orgasm. This is one of the best ways to improve your mood, cure headaches, and feel positive in your body. This doesn’t need to be a huge production, you can pull this off in a relatively short period of time. Just Do IT!

4) Go Dancing – I promise you that you don’t need to look hip with your funky self to move your body to music. You don’t even need to leave your family room. Crank up some music and close your eyes. See if you can feel the energy in your body as you begin to sway and move. Gyrate, get your groove on…have fun. It is incredibly therapeutic to dance out your moods, feelings, and emotions. There is an entire group of my colleagues in our therapeutic community who only do this type of dance and drama therapy. It works!

5) Watch a Comedy – Laughter is truly one of the most energizing things we do as human beings. Want to know something interesting? You can actually get benefits, and feel an increase in your mood, by fake laughing (if you really have gotten jaded in your ability to pick out a comedy that might work). Lighten up, watch something ridiculous and stop taking yourself so seriously. Hey, you can even watch Austin Powers look for his mojo if you want.

6) Get In The Water – There is new scientific research that definitively shows the positive effects of water on human beings. The term that is being used to describe this total mindful relaxation is “The Blue Mind”. You can google that term and check out what is being said as it’s pretty cool stuff. There is also a powerful new book written by Wallace Nichols that was just released about the calming, soothing effects of the ocean, or any body of water, with the same title. I have shared my new love of scuba diving with all of you in my past blogs, and it is this feeling of pure bliss that is now being scientifically proven.

You can check it out here: http://www.wallacejnichols.org/122/bluemind.html

7) Get Enough Sleep – There is no way that you haven’t seen all of the latest news media around the crucial need we humans have for 7-9 hours of sleep each day that very few of us are getting. Our brains are actually more active during restorative sleep than we ever realized. It is slated to be the number one health problem or “crisis” that faces our next generations. This is entirely in your control if you take the time to practice prioritizing this. Learn to love your bed: get good sheets, a comfortable mattress for your body type, chuck the TV out the bedroom window, and get rid of the illuminating clocks. You have your phones so set your alarm there. Have gentle lights, pleasurable reading, and a calming environment. I suggest doing nothing in your bed that is stressful. Do you work in another room. Your bedroom should be your sanctuary. If you don’t have one set up a sleep routine.

Here’s how to set up a sleep routine if you aren’t sure how: http://healthysleep.med.harvard.edu/need-sleep/what-can-you-do/good-sleep-habits

So as you can see finding your mojo has everything to do with taking better care of yourself, having more fun, and taking yourself less seriously. Don’t sweat the small stuff (realize it’s all small stuff). We have very little in our control in this life and that continues to burn us out; however, I suggest you think about this lack of control instead as a form of freedom. If we have very little in our control, why not just surrender and decide to make the most of our time, every single minute? Which number above are you going to start with first? Maybe you plan a date with your partner with a combination of #1, #4, and #3 + #6 combined…I bet your mojo would be feeling pretty good after an evening like that. 🙂

Stacey Neil is a Licensed Psychotherapist and Personal Trainer who works in Private Practice in Los Gatos, CA. She can be reached at 408.827.5139…unless she is out looking for her mojo. Then you may need to wait for morning. 🙂

Mindful Eating: 5 Simple Ways To Be Mindful At Your Next Meal

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If you’re anything like me, I have to pay attention while I am eating or I taste the first 2-3 bites of any given meal, and then check out. If you are not present when you are eating the foods that you have prepared for your body to enjoy, you can end up feeling less than satisfied which will in turn cause you to eat more than what your body truly needs. Many of us share in this habit. In fact, recent studies show that in America, at least 20% of our meals are eaten in the car alone on a daily basis. I imagine it is safe to say that there is not a lot of mindful eating going on in the car while driving, watching out for the texter in the car next to you, or trying to fight traffic during rush hour. The truth is that we are stressed out and unable to find the time to take part in one of life’s greatest pleasures: mindful eating.

There are a myriad of reasons we don’t eat mindfully. The number one reason is we claim we don’t have time. We also like to say that we’re tired, we want to relax and eat in front of the TV, or we just plain don’t want to. So why does it even matter? It matters because when we don’t eat mindfully, we end up eating way too much food, we have no idea what our body is craving from a nutritional perspective, and we eat foods that are not good for us. When this happens, we end up overweight, we have digestion problems like acid reflux, and we never experience full satiety with our meals which leads us to grabbing those after meal snacks of a high sugar nature…which leads us to overeat (and continue the cycle).

What does it even mean to eat mindfully? There are several definitions of what it means to eat mindfully. The most prevalent definition states that mindful eating is defined as “eating with attention and intention”. That’s pretty clear, but I really like one I came across in FitWomen, which states, ” mindful eating is a means of feeding yourself in a manner that supports your health and weight goals”. Semantics aside, to eat mindfully is to be completely focused and present in the moment while eating. Not just to hold on to being in the moment for the first two or three bites that you ingest, but to hold on to the focused intention of eating mindfully all the way to the very last bite of your meal.

Mindful eating is a skill that takes patience and practice. I enjoy teaching my clients how to eat mindfully during their sessions because it is almost always an entirely new experience for them. We are not taught from an early age to be mindful of what we are putting in our mouths. In fact, many of the early messages we are fed have more to do with what are “bad” or “good” foods, or that we must finish all of the food on our plates. Messages like this take us away from mindful eating by their very nature. If we are going to base our understanding of food on the fact that it is fuel for our body and meant to provide us with everything we need to sustain health, then it allows for us to set up the platform to celebrate eating as if it is a tribute to our sense of self and the very basis for how we care for ourselves and respect our body.

Ready to get started? I encourage you to practice these five simple tips on the next thing you put in your mouth. It can also be fun to do what I do with my clients in my therapy office when I teach these skills. Go get 5 or 6 different texture/taste/sensory food items and place them on a small plate. They should all be single, small items. An example of what I have set up for a client include: 1 blueberry, 1 raisin, 1 pistachio nut, 1 raspberry, 1 small ball of blue cheese, all on a plate together in little piles. We then practice these skills going through the items on the plate one by one. Don’t be surprised if you try this and realize how long it can take you to eat these 6 items in the manner I outline below.

Step 1. Create Space – Make sure when you are going to eat, it is ALL you are doing. This means you get yourself into a place where eating is all that is going on for you. No TV, cell phone, email reading or checking Facebook. When you are eating, practice JUST EATING.

Step 2. Show Gratitude – Give a silent moment of thanks for the food you are about to eat. We are surrounded with convenience on every level to such a degree that we have no concept of the man hours it took to grow and harvest even just the lettuce bed that our meal may be served with. A dear friends daughter who is serving in the peace corps in Africa just recently learned a hard lesson first hand when she spent hour after hour tilling the dry hot African soil in order to plant sunflower plants. She was hoping to make sunflower oil to use in cooking. After spending numerous hours and waiting many hot dry days she harvested the crop of seeds and took it into town to be ground into fresh oil. She literally was able to make 3 tablespoons of oil from all of her hard effort. She shares this as one of the most humbling experiences of her life in the peace corps. It is a lesson for all of us in the disconnect we have from how our food is grown, harvested and shipped to the market for us to purchase. Appreciate this.

Step 3. Sensory Orgasm – Place a small bite on your fork. Smell it. Most of what people perceive as “taste” is actually a result of their sense of smell. You need to rev up those nostrils and get them on board for what’s coming up. Smell your food and imagine that it is acting as a “teaser” for what’s coming your way. Get excited about how that bite is going to taste by considering exactly how it tantalizes you. See if you can recognize the different spices or scents that are being released by the small bite on your fork. The human nose has over 400 different scent detectors that can detect over 1 trillion different scents. How many can you detect in your bite?

Step 4. Titillating Texture – Place that small bite on your tongue (finally!) and just leave it there. The average human has 10,000 taste buds but did you know they are all not on the top of your tongue? They are also under the tongue, on the side of the mouth, the roof of the mouth and even on the lips (which are especially sensitive to salt). So once that bite is on the tongue, move it around and activate those taste buds! See what flavors and salivary glands get spritzing when you do! Your whole mouth can join in the experience as you feel the texture, experience the taste, and get your digestive juices flowing in preparation for swallowing. Enjoy this bite you have given your body and when you have really spent time with it up down and around…chew and swallow.

Step 5. Repeat – But wait you scream! I want another step to this simple process. I have this as your final step because I promise you, it is the hardest one to do. For you to be able to mindfully eat your meal following the process above until your very last bite is a patience that you may find outside of your reach when you first get started. Mindful eating is a practice. It pays off, but you need to work on it. Keep at it. If you find your mind wandering off, bring it back. Try it again.

Food is a sensual sensory experience that is meant to be celebrated, honored, and enjoyed on every level. We are taught so many negative messages about food that sometimes we have negative relationships around meal time from the time we are small. Learn to fall in love again with food by enjoying the many sensations and joyful emotions that can arise when you are present and in the moment with your food. Make everything you put in your mouth worthy of your health, your body and also your complete focus. So what are you having for dinner?

Stacey Neil is a Licensed Psychotherapist and Personal Trainer who is in private practice in Los Gatos, CA. She can be reached at 408.827.5139.

It’s Good to Be Mad: 5 Ways Anger Serves You

Anger is an important tool for better understanding your feelings, intentions, and behaviors around a particular event. Check out my latest Topic Expert Contribution article below for the top 5 ways anger serves you:

http://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/its-good-to-be-mad-5-ways-anger-serves-you-0908145

If you or someone you know needs help with Anger Management, please contact me: 408.827.5139.

Stacey Neil, LMFT, CPT is a licensed Psychotherapist, Personal Trainer and Wellness Coach in private practice in Los Gatos, CA.

Healthy is Too Hard!! Answers On How To Implement Positive Change

smart goal setting concept

If you are someone who is interested in making positive changes in your life, I imagine you are reading this blog among many others. It is my hope that you read with an open mind and take things away that are pertinent to you or speak to you in some manner, but leave behind the advice or suggestion that doesn’t speak as easily to you. In my work as a therapist, personal trainer, and wellness coach, I spend a great deal of my time with my clients working on the issues that they are hoping to work through or heal from; along with a great deal of energy dedicated to how to make positive changes. As I have heard in the voice of many of my frustrated clients: “Healthy Is Too Hard!”

Yes, it is incredibly challenging to make, implement, and maintain positive changes that you attempt in your life. A lazy, sloth-like, fast food eating, indulgent lifestyle are much easier to pull off in our society full of convenience, sensory overload, and consumerism that pushes us to “buy”, “eat”, “compete”, “drink”, and live in a manner that is not in alignment with a wellness based goal of balance, health, and long-term care of our spirits.

Sometimes it is easier to ask yourself, “why bother?”. I find the answer to this question to be grounded in the idea that many people who are not taking good care of their health and wellness are unhappy, unfulfilled, lack work/life balance, and are completely living a life that does not feel in alignment with who they always believed themselves to be (if in fact they are aware of who that is). Sometimes they have anxiety, depression, impulsive shopping problems, work/life balance issues, no real quality time with their children, or no idea about who they are and where their passion lies, or chronic health problems. Maybe they drink themselves to relaxation every evening to relax.

Wellness is about integration between many different components in your life in which you have health including: emotional, spiritual, mental, vocational, physical, family and financial. Often we are good in one area in our lives, but not another. If for example, you are doing a great job working out and eating well each day but you are working 14 hours a day at a desk and having no time to explore your emotional well-being – you are not living a life of wellness. It is the integration of these components that makes up a complete picture.

This discussion gets complicated because the first step in working towards improving upon your life is to take an honest assessment of where you are. I use an integrated wellness assessment I have created with my clients, but you can even write down the 7 areas I mentioned above and check in with each section by asking yourself, “How am I doing?”. You must be brutally up front with yourself if you are going to be able to truly take a current day snapshot. Most of us have one or two real problem areas in our life and struggle with having to face the facts around our behaviors and how they are affecting us.

The next step is to grab one of your problem areas and set yourself up with 2-3 goals using the S.M.A.R.T. format listed in the graphic above. You literally just start somewhere positive. Pick one (maybe the area you tend to feel the most negative consequences in your life from). You can learn more about setting smart goals here:

http://www.wikihow.com/Set-SMART-Goals

Pay special attention to being specific and having goals that are achievable. We often attempt to set goals that are too vague or general and have very little chance of success. If you are not honest with where you are currently in regards to the behavior, you have very little chance of setting up an achievable goal that targets it effectively. For example, if your goal is to start exercising and you are currently at 0 times per week. Your smart goal would look like: I will walk 20 minutes on Tuesday and Thursday mornings from 7-8 beginning 9/15. It must be that specific, and as you can see, it needs to start with an achievable amount of time and days involved. Going from 0 to 2 X per week is a great start. Keep it up for a few weeks and re-evaluate if you want to, but don’t create a goal that has you working out 7X per week straight out of the gate. You will set yourself up to fail.

Speaking of failing, one critical step when setting a new goal, is to always be mindful of also setting up a plan to fail. That is, put down a plan for what happens if you fall off the wagon. It happens to all of us, no matter how motivated we are to get started, so you want to anticipate it ahead of time. It is always incredibly helpful to say your new goal out loud to someone who can hold you accountable, or post it on social media…maybe you want to hire a wellness coach to help you along. Whatever it takes. Wellness is a life long journey that will require tweaks, updates, and constant monitoring to check in with yourself and how you are feeling within your individual life.

I am lucky to have worldwide readership on this blog; however, for those of you who may live in or are close to Silicon Valley, I am offering a special program to help this process along for my clients. I am offering it only for a limited time to help kickstart some of my readers and clients (and their friends) to get started on improving your wellness. Please see my flyer below for more details.

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I will continue to write tips and ideas on how to integrate wellness and find a way towards authentic living in a mindful, balanced and fulfilling manner. This is my greatest passion and I believe strongly that we need to focus on all of the areas of our life to have a true understanding of how we are living. Our lives are so very precious and short. We owe it to ourselves and our loved ones to live it as fully as we are able.

Stacey Neil, LMFT, CPT is a licensed Psychotherapist, Wellness Coach and Certified Personal Trainer who is in private practice in Los Gatos, CA. She is also the Co-Founder of TotalFit Solutions, Integrating Mind & Body. She can be reached at 408.827.5139, or http://www.totalfitsolutions.com

Or you can fill out the form below and I will get back to you!

This Is As Good As It Gets: Live In The Moment

always-live-in-the-moment--source

One of the ways to immediately ground yourself and be present in your life in this very moment is to realize that “this is as good as it gets”. If I suggested that there was no tomorrow, next week, or retirement year ahead of you that were worthy of you holding back, not fully living, or experiencing the moment as it is with total presence…would you believe me? Probably not. You believe you know better. You think you have many days, seconds and years left to live. You have time to put things that matter off. You would argue that you need to wait to start pursuing your dream until: the kids go to college, you are able to finally stop working in a job you don’t like, or you are able to save enough money in your 401K, etc. (What Would You Add?)

The truth is a harsh reality. We really have no guarantees in this life for a tomorrow, next week, retirement age, or more stable 401K. All we have as human animals is this very moment in time. Today. This second. Right now. This is as good as it gets because it’s all you have. Would you live your life differently if this day was your last? Would you spend a single second in relationships that were toxic, jobs that were not satisfying, or a passionless life? Maybe you would, but I believe that you would choose a different option if given the chance. Maybe I am wrong.

There is no better day for you to start something that you have always wanted to do than now. Or to begin a new healthier lifestyle that matters to you. How about that hard conversation you have been waiting to have with your partner where you begin to express all of the ways you feel loved? Or the one in which you need to ask for what you need and take responsibility for your part in a negative pattern? Maybe this moment is the perfect time to tell those that you love how much they mean to you. Or even more powerfully, how wonderful would it be for you to unconditionally choose to love yourself with total empathy, compassion, and acceptance? Not you in 10 less pounds, or you making more money, or you as a “better” person. Actually loving the YOU that you are in this very second; perfectly imperfect you.

How freeing would it be to realize that we have little control over most of our lives? We control our thoughts, actions and words…our own self. We have NO control over others’ behaviors, actions or perceptions. As we learn to live in this moment, we enable ourselves to let go of all our anxieties over what little we can control and surrender to this very moment in time by making it count. Making it matter – finding our way second by second.

Would you live differently if this was as good as it was going to get? Would you breathe a little deeper, slow down a little bit, smell the proverbial flowers or have dessert? Would the familiar photos on your walls take a bit of your gaze, or the hug you give your child as they walk out the door mean a little bit more? Maybe you would wear more comfortable clothes and let go of aging worries. You would buy that beautiful coat at the store to fit the body you live in now rather than decide to get it when you can buy the size you wore last year. What would change for you? Would you stop wasting your time?

Stacey Neil, LMFT is a Licensed Psychotherapist and Personal Trainer in private practice in Los Gatos, Ca. She can be reached at 408.827.5139.

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