I’m SO excited to have an article published on Wondermind! If you haven’t had a chance to check it out, Wondermind is a mental health company with an awesome mission—to destigmatize and normalize mental health—in a super relatable way. The company was cofounded by singer/actress/producer Selena Gomez, her mom, Mandy Teefey, and business entrepreneur Daniella Pierson.
About the piece I wrote… Dealing with panic attacks definitely makes traveling more challenging, but I refuse to let it stop me. I love to travel with my family and the times we’ve spent exploring new places together are priceless.
If you want to see how I deal with travel anxiety, here’s the link to read more…
Last month, my family and I traveled to the magnificent country of Portugal. The cobblestone streets and tiled sidewalks were exquisite, as well as the old buildings covered in intricate tiles of many colors. We visited charming cities along the sea, which were so peaceful, yet full of life.
I noticed right away how the Portuguese seem to embrace life to the fullest. I couldn’t get enough of the musicians and singers performing on sidewalks while people unabashedly danced in the streets, filled with joy and lots of smiles. It seemed to me as if they love hard—treasuring moments of togetherness. We met the nicest people, all of whom made us feel completely welcome in their corner of the world.
The day after we arrived in Lisbon, my husband and I were strolling around an outdoor market when something caught my eye. I literally couldn’t make myself walk past it.
It was a T-shirt with the word SAUDADE (pronounced sow-daw-duh) written across the front, and underneath it, several examples of what it means. The sentences that stood out to me:
The memory that you lived something wonderful.
It’s missing someone special.
It’s whatis marked forever in your soul.
It’s a word that can’t be translated. You can only FEEL it.
As I read those words, a warmth spread through my body, as if I was being comforted, wrapped in loving arms. I thanked God for helping me come across that shirt. It was like its message was made just for ME.
The reason those lovely words hit home? My beautiful mom had passed away only three weeks before we boarded a flight to Portugal. I knew Mom would’ve loved for me to go on the trip with my husband and two daughters. Precious time together.
While I stood there next to the rack of T-shirts, I googled saudade. WOW. I couldn’t believe what I read. I was in total awe of how closely the definition matched my thoughts and feelings.
Saudade:A deep emotional state of intense longing, melancholy, or nostalgia for something or someone that one loves, and is absent. It often carries a repressed knowledge that the object of longing might never be had again.
I thought of Mom constantly while we were in Portugal, knowing in my heart and soul that she was with me.
Now that we’ve been back home a couple of months, I still think of saudade and that T-shirt. I had every intention of going back and buying it, but never did. I wish I had! But honestly, I don’t need to wear the shirt to think of saudade and what it means to me.
Not only does that special Portuguese word bring me comfort, but it’s a great reminder—to love deeply, to be mindful of life’s stunning moments, both big and small. Laugh. Dance. Be silly. Be kind. Be humble. Be adventurous. Go live something wonderful! Remember that we’re in this life together for a reason, we’re not meant to get through it alone.
Years ago, when my daughters were young, my mom told me of a quote by Maya Angelou that I loved so much.
“Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away.”
That quote is my all-time favorite. But saudade is most definitely a close second.
It was September 18, 2021. My family and I were in Hawaii, on the gorgeous island of Maui (my happiest place ever!) As we walked along the beach, “liquid sunshine” as they call it in Hawaii, came down, blessing us with plops of rain to cool our sun-drenched skin.
The clouds began to clear just as my husband, two daughters, and I got back to our resort. We were near one of the pools when we heard excited chatter and saw people pointing. We looked up. And there it was—a vibrant rainbow with another lighter, but distinct, rainbow above it.
A double rainbow!
I’d seen dozens of rainbows on Maui before, but had never seen a double. It was truly magical.
I thought when I was finally lucky enough to see a double, I’d be filled with pure joy. But then… Why wasn’t I? It’s hard to describe, but it felt personal, like it held a special, yet ominous, meaning for me. Kind of like God was giving me a sign—a heads-up.
A little background: a few years ago, I wrote a manuscript for a children’s book, an upper-middle grade novel about a girl with anxiety and panic attacks who moves to Maui with her family. She’s super scared she won’t fit in at her new school. One day, she and her two new best friends see a perfect, vivid rainbow. One of the friends tells the girl, “Wait until you see a double rainbow! It’s even prettier! And it means something—that your life is changing, but everything will be okay.” That theme continues in the story.
So… After a few seconds of basking in the beauty of nature’s marvel, my heart sank. HOW is my life going to change? I don’t want anything to change, I’m safe and happy. I like how things are. My gut feeling was this wouldn’t be good.
I didn’t mention anything about it to my husband or daughters. I’m not superstitious, so I tried talking myself into thinking the double rainbow didn’t mean a thing. But my instinct kept telling me something wasn’t right. I just had no idea what it could be.
Three days later, my mom was walking on her front lawn when her legs collapsed underneath her. It wasn’t like she tripped and fell. She couldn’t move her legs. Paramedics came and she was taken to the hospital. After a multitude of tests, doctors weren’t sure what caused her to collapse.
I didn’t know all this right away. Mom had told my sisters and dad not to tell me, she didn’t want to ruin my vacation. She called me herself two days after she fell and gave me the news. I knew right then my life was most definitely changing. But where is the everything is going to be okay part? I didn’t see how any of this would be okay.
Our flight was to leave in two days and I dreaded going home. Of course I wanted to see my mom. But I knew—I just KNEW—there would be huge challenges ahead.
Only I couldn’t fathom how immense those struggles would be.
Soon after we got home, my mom was diagnosed with vascular dementia. Over the course of the next ten months, I watched as micro strokes deteriorated my lovely mom’s mind and body, bit by bit. It was terrifying. And heartbreaking. Tragically sad. Painful. And all those words you’d use to describe something you hoped you or a loved one would never, ever experience.
My beautiful mom passed away August 1, 2022.
I keep thinking of that double rainbow I saw last September. For me, it symbolizes the beginning of my mom’s journey (and our family’s journey) with dementia. Life-changing indeed.
I recently read something about double rainbows that gave me chills: the first rainbow represents the physical world, while the second rainbow represents the spirit. The two rainbows together symbolize Heaven and Earth, signifying a connection to those who have passed.
Life is changing, but everything will be okay.
Now that I’ve come out the other side of this tragedy, I’m starting to see how everything will be okay. I desperately miss my mom—nothing will ever change that. But when I think of her, I’m comforted, knowing how precious this life is that God gave me. I’m reminded to hold those I love even tighter, to treasure our time together, to notice the priceless moments, both big and small.
I wonder when I’ll see another double rainbow. If I do, I’ll soak in its beauty and try not to worry how my life might change. But I know that even if it does, everything will be okay.
Wow, it’s been a while! I’ve been away from my blog due to family issues. It’s been a really sad, scary, overwhelming, and challenging time. I couldn’t get in the right headspace to write. I had zero desire to put my thoughts down, let alone share what I was going through.
Now I’m ready.
It started last September, exactly one year ago. My mom fell in her front yard and couldn’t get up. It wasn’t like she tripped on anything or misjudged a step. She collapsed and couldn’t move her legs. After a hospital stay, time in skilled nursing, and multiple doctor appointments, she was diagnosed with vascular dementia.
The doctor told us she’d been having numerous mini strokes, which affected both her mind and her body. Looking back, I realize there were signs of her illness for the past two-three years. They were so subtle, no one noticed them at the time.
This past year, I watched my mom transform from a healthy, vibrant, tap-dancing woman who loved life—to frail, bedridden, and confused. It’s a terrifying disease. Dementia stole my mom’s memories, took away her reason for being. Vascular dementia deteriorated her mind and body. I watched her life fade away, bit by bit. Until her body couldn’t take it anymore.
My beautiful mom passed away 8/1/2022.
I desperately miss her. But it’s a relief to no longer worry about her. I know she’s in Heaven, dancing with the angels.
There’s much more to this story, which I’ll talk about in future posts. What’s on my mind now is what my mom told me when she was first diagnosed with dementia:
“Make sure you do the things you want to do, because one day you won’t be able to.”
Mom knew of my love for travel, and she would’ve been so excited about my family’s trip to Portugal last month. It’s a vacation we’d been planning the past two years. We were supposed to go in the fall of 2020. Cancelled. Again, fall 2021. Cancelled due to another Covid surge. Finally, we made it happen this August (even though we worried we’d have to reschedule because of my mom’s condition). But it was all in God’s timing.
It felt surreal to travel and be in a different country, having fun with my family. It was SO different from what my life had been for the past year. While thoughts of my sweet momma were constant, I made sure I was totally present, soaking in every lovely moment with my husband and two daughters. Like my sister often reminds me, “Be where your feet are.”
And throughout our travels in Portugal, I heard my mom’s wise words. Jeni, do what you want to do. One day you won’t be able to. I truly felt my mom’s presence. It was comforting, like her warm embrace. A highlight for me was lighting a candle in her memory in a gorgeous, very old church in Lisbon.
We had a glorious time, walking thousands of steps on the cobblestone streets and tiled sidewalks each day (18,000 steps one day!), ate amazing food and drink, laughed a ton, and simply enjoyed being together. Making memories.
Lately I’ve been struggling with stress and high anxiety, so I’m trying different ways to quiet my worrying mind. My favorite technique is deep breathing, which seems to calm me right away.
I was wondering if there’s a way to make deep breathing even more effective for me. Turns out there is! It’s called cue-controlled relaxation. I read about it in an article at Psychology Today .
At first, I was skeptical. How is one word going to help me? But I’ve been practicing this for a week now, and I can honestly say I notice a difference. When I think of the word (mine is “ocean”), it reminds me to take a deep breath. A sense of calm washes over me.
Here’s how to practice cue-controlled relaxation:
Choose a word. Something that makes you feel at ease. Like “calm,” “relax,” or “peace.” The word I’ve chosen is “ocean.”
Choose a relaxation technique, such as deep breathing or progressive muscle relaxation. Since my favorite is deep breathing, I’ll explain it with that. Take a deep breath in for a count of five, hold for two, exhale for a count of five. Here’s what’s different — as you breathe out, say your cue word. I close my eyes and say “ocean” as I exhale. Feel everything relax… your muscles, jaw, neck, shoulders, hands. Let the tension go. This takes practice! Try it for three to five minutes, until you feel completely relaxed. Do this two to three times per day.
Shorten the time of practice. Gradually reduce, shortening the time by a minute. Eventually, just saying or thinking the word will help relax your mind and body.
To add to this technique, I also use imagery. When I exhale and say the word “ocean,” I think of my favorite, soul-soothing beach on Maui. I notice the warm, tropical air enveloping me like a blanket. I see the sparkling turquoise water and the islands of Lanai and Molokai in the distance. I feel the golden sand squish between my toes. I smell coconut suntan lotion and ocean air. It’s like I’m transported there, even for just a few seconds.
I totally relate to this image. Right now I’m on both sides — I’m the supporter, but I’m also the one being held up.
The past couple of months have been extremely difficult, as my mom is dealing with health issues. My two sisters and I are supporting our parents in all ways, big and small. I’m filled with worry, stress, anxiety, and sadness — which leaves me exhausted and drained. This is unchartered territory for my family. My parents (mom is 85, dad is 93) have been in relatively good health all these years. We are so blessed.
I’m more comfortable taking on the role of supporter, but I’ve learned that I have to let people in to support me too. There’s no way I can get through this without the love of my husband, daughters, sisters, family, and friends.
Whether you’re the supporter or the one being supported, we need each other.
Twenty years ago today, I woke up on my thirty-seventh birthday. Still groggy, I thought about what my special day would hold. Most of all, I hoped to relax, maybe read and spend time in the garden. My friend offered to take and pick up my daughters from school and I was planning to meet my husband for lunch at our favorite Chinese restaurant. Dinner and chocolate cake at my parents’ home.
I had no idea that in that very moment, our world was horrifically changing. Life would NEVER be the same.
September 11, 2001 is etched in my mind forever.
That morning, our phone rang a little after six (we’re in California). We wondered who was calling so early. It was my husband’s assistant from work. “Turn on the TV… NOW.”
The horror unfolded before our eyes.
WHAT is happening? Was this a freak accident? I couldn’t wrap my head around the fact that planes had crashed into the twin towers at the World Trade Center in New York City–on purpose.
When it was deemed a terrorist attack, I clearly remember my reaction. WHAT? Terrorists HERE, in the United States??? How can that possibly be?
As the terrifying events unfolded that day–another plane crashing into the Pentagon and one in a field in Pennsylvania–I was glued to the TV in shock, horror, and disbelief. I heard terms and names I wasn’t familiar with, but would soon become common: Kabul, Afghanistan, the Islamic extremist group al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden.
At the time of the attacks, my daughters were in first and fourth grades. I couldn’t imagine explaining to them what had happened. I knew they’d have questions and I’d have no clue how to answer. I was sad for them, for their generation, to be brought up knowing that terrorists are a real threat–even here in America.
None of us could predict that the United States would be involved in a twenty-year war in Afghanistan.
Needless to say, I certainly did NOT feel like celebrating. My husband, daughters, friends, and family did their best to make me feel special. But I was anxious and jittery. I felt guilty it was my birthday. It was all so surreal. I kept thinking that just the day before, September 10, we were all living totally normal lives, oblivious to what was about to happen.
Each year when I wake up on my birthday, the very first thing I do is pray for the nearly three thousand beautiful souls who died on 9/11 and their families. I think of and pray for the first responders and the survivors of that day. And for the hundreds of thousands of troops who served in Afghanistan, the tens of thousands of them who lost their lives. We have family in the Air Force and British Army, many who served in Afghanistan. One of our nieces was there for six months, helping the women and children in villages.
Four years ago, my family and I were on Maui in September. On 9/11, a beautiful memorial was held on the beach. Representatives from the city of Maui, police officers, and firefighters were there to pay tribute. Kayaks filled with first responders glided out into the ocean to form a “surfers memorial circle.” The floating memorial is a traditional Hawaiian tribute to the life of people who have passed away. Members of each kayak tossed out plumeria flowers–2,996–to commemorate those who lost their lives on 9/11. It was hauntingly beautiful, watching thousands of plumerias float gracefully on the water.
What moved me the most was a firefighter who spoke–a first responder in New York City on 9/11. Through a shaky voice and tears, he told the large group that was the first time he’d ever spoken publicly about his experience.
Following the memorial, I went up to thank him. I told him it was my birthday and the first thing I ever think of on 9/11 is him, and all the others so tragically affected by that day. He hugged me tight. I hugged him tighter.
It still seems strange that my previous nondescript birthday is now known as 9/11. Someone suggested I celebrate on 3/11, at the six month mark. But that wouldn’t feel right. This is the day I was born, and I can’t change that.
Now September 11th is SO much more than my birthday.
Today I’ll be celebrating with my family and friends. But there’s no doubt I’ll go through parts of the day with a heavy heart, remembering the day all of our lives changed forever.
Recently I was asked to contemplate this: You’re grateful for much in your life. But WHY are you grateful?
It sounds so simple. My life is blessed and I don’t let a day go by without thinking of the people and experiences I’m thankful for. There are tons of things I’m grateful for, both big and small. I think of myself as “great at gratitude.”
Then why was this question such an eye-opener for me?
During an amazing course I took on mental well-being through mindfulness and creativity–called Emerge–the inspirational instructors, Tracey Yokas and Faithe Raphael, posed this affirmation for us to complete:
I’m grateful BECAUSE…
First, I thought about what I’m grateful for. At the top of my list–my family and friends. But Faithe and Tracey suggested we dig deeper, to not use those “usual” things we might think of first.
At the time of this particular Emerge class which I was loving (who knew Zoom could be so much fun and enriching?), I had just finished two summer online conferences, one for NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) and the other for SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators). I enjoyed both of them and was grateful I had the chance to attend.
I wrote in my journal: I’m grateful for the conferences and classes BECAUSE…
At first I was like, well… because they’re fun? No, Jeni, dig deeper.
Okay… BECAUSE… I’m educating myself about three things in my life that are super important to me–mental health awareness, writing for children, and self care. Also, I’m meeting, networking, and connecting with like-minded people, which makes me feel less alone in my mental health advocacy, my writing, and my quest for improving my own mental health. All of this is helping to mold me into a better version of myself.
I loved this new way of thinking about gratitude. It felt challenging to go that extra step of WHY I’m grateful.
Here’s another example: I’m grateful for the ocean. Not just because it’s pretty and a fun place to be. I’m grateful for the ocean BECAUSE…
The ocean soothes me. I feel a sense of calm there that I don’t feel anywhere else. The sound of waves crashing, the smell of salt water and suntan lotion, long walks along the shore, sand squishing between my toes. I watch the water bob up and down, as white bubble bath foam washes up on the sand. I take deep, cleansing breaths of fresh ocean air and daydream. Ahh. The best.
I tried this with other things I love… my husband and daughters, my favorite flowers in our garden, our one-year-old pup Duke. It was fun to dig deeper and bring out the reasons I’m filled with so much gratitude that each are in my life.
I challenge you to give it a try! Think of one person, animal, flower, event (or anything else) you’re grateful for.
Then answer: I’m grateful BECAUSE…
(For more information on Emerge, a course to improve mental well-being through mindfulness, writing, and collaging, please click here)
Like millions of others, I was shocked when Simone Biles pulled out of the Olympic team finals. My first reaction was WAIT… WHAT?? How can she do that?She’s the GOAT! I’ve never seen a gymnast stop competing, especially during the Olympics—unless they were physically injured.
WOAH. STOP. TIME OUT.
Simone’s issues were mental, not physical. Her mental block was REAL. Just because you can’t see it on the outside, like a broken bone or a bleeding cut, doesn’t mean it’s not there.
Simone had the fortitude to know she must speak up and take herself out of the competition. She wasn’t in the right headspace. It wasn’t something she could simply snap out of. She didn’t trust her mind and body to work together to keep herself safe. As heartbreaking it would be to drop out, as much as she was aware she’d get backlash for doing so—she knew she had to.
She said that morning during practice she had a bit of the “twisties.” It sounds like a cute term, but it’s far from cute. The twisties is a phenomenon that happens when suddenly a gymnast is no longer able to do a twisting skill she’s done thousands of times before. Her body isn’t cooperating and her brain loses track of where she is in the air. This could lead to a devastating or life-threatening injury.
Simone was her own best advocate.
I read an article that said something similar happened to Simone in 2013. She was 16, competing in the U.S. Classic. She fell off the uneven bars. She missed all of her connections on the balance beam. She hurt her ankle during a floor routine. Before she could go through with her vault routine, her coach pulled her out of the competition.
This time it was Simone pulling herself out. She had the experience and awareness to know when to set boundaries to keep herself safe.
This type of self-awareness applies to all of us. It’s important to know when to ask for help, to advocate for ourselves. This could be if someone is depressed, experiencing high anxiety or panic attacks, or has thoughts of hurting themselves.
It’s not easy to open up—especially if it’s a problem with mental health. I know. It’s downright HARD. It took me twenty years to admit I had anxiety and panic attacks. I never wanted to talk about it, in fear of people thinking I was “crazy,” that I could just stop it, or that there was nothing “really” wrong with me.
Stigma is powerful.
I respect Simone for knowing when enough was enough. And by her doing so, it further opens the conversation of mental wellness and normalizing mental health conditions as equally important as physical ones.
Simone is the Greatest of All Time. She is a CHAMPION.
My daughters gave me the most thoughtful, wonderful gift this past Mother’s Day. For at least two months I’d been saying I’d love to order Discovery Plus so I could watch the Magnolia Network shows. But another subscription? I felt guilty because my husband didn’t care about it, it was something just for me. So I shrugged it off, figuring I could do without.
On Mother’s Day, I was sitting at our kitchen table feeling like a princess, being served a beautiful breakfast made by my daughters. After we ate, they told me to turn around, my present is in the family room. There was no wrapped box and nothing that resembled a gift.
My eyes went to our TV, and there it was, displayed on the big flat-screen. Magnolia Table with Joanna Gaines. YES! They got me a year’s subscription to Discovery Plus!
The first show I wanted to check out was The Lost Kitchen with chef Erin French. I’d recently heard about her book, Finding Freedom, and was interested in reading her memoir.
Anyway… I’ve been riding our exercise bike on a pretty regular basis. I usually watch a cycling class, with an instructor motivating me and upbeat music playing. Or I listen to my Spotify playlist… loud! Something to pump me up. I tell myself I’ll just ride fifteen-twenty minutes, and that’s much better than nothing. And it is.
Last week I wanted to ride the bike, but I also wanted to plop on the couch and enjoy my new Discovery Plus. Specifically, The Lost Kitchen.
So I did both. Well, minus the couch.
At first I thought it wasn’t going to work. Would I be bored? How could I get pumped up watching a show about a chef and how she started a restaurant?
Oh my goodness! I quickly fell in love with the episode. Talk about being my cup of tea! The scenery is gorgeous. It takes place in the tiny rural town of Freedom, Maine. The Lost Kitchen is a place I’d LOVE to visit. It’s rustic, homey, elegant, and welcoming. There are always flowers and herbs in the kitchen and on the tables, fresh from the farm. The food–all sourced farm to table–looks incredible and is beautifully prepared, complete with edible flowers.
None of the women who work at the restaurant (including Erin French) had formal culinary training. They’re self-taught, learning as they go along. The kitchen isn’t a “yelling” kitchen. The women respect each other, have confidence in each other, and are a great definition of team. Their workplace is filled with kindness, compassion, and grit. No matter what challenge they come across, they get through it together. They’re family.
I was so engrossed in that first show, I easily pedaled for forty minutes without realizing it. Maybe I didn’t ride as fast or do as many sprints as I normally do. But that didn’t matter. I had a good workout, plus burned 180 calories.
From that day on, I was hooked. Yesterday I finished the final episode of the first season, proud to say I pedaled my way through each one. Burning calories, firming my legs, raising my heart rate. Great for my physical health.
But how did this help my mental health?
The Lost Kitchen calms me. My legs spin around and around and my heart rate increases, yet I feel relaxed. I could look at that scenery all day–the fresh food, flowers, warm interior of the restaurant, the pretty globe lights and flickering candles. So cozy. One of my favorite things is a chalkboard sign hanging on a door in the kitchen. The word “Breathe” is written in the middle of a heart.
I love when guests arrive at The Lost Kitchen and begin tasting their meals. They close their eyes and hum “Mmm.” I can almost taste it. All the flavors are expertly crafted together in just the right way to please the palate… breads, cheeses, apples, peaches, greens, pork, meat, fish… even the oysters they get fresh from an oyster farmer look good to me. And that’s one food I’ve always said I never want to eat (too slimy). But the way she prepares them looks delicious. Even to me.
After watching an episode, not only am I inspired to go to the farmer’s market and be more creative with my cooking, but it feels great to take that time exclusively for me. A mental health break. I know I need that just as much as I need the physical exercise. For me, it’s a great form of self-care and self-love. And I don’t feel guilty about it.
Now that I’ve finished the first season of The Lost Kitchen, maybe I’ll buy Erin’s cookbook and try to replicate some of that deliciousness and beauty to my own kitchen. I’ve started cutting fresh thyme, herbs, and flowers from my garden and displaying them in vases in my kitchen and office. It makes me feel good.
I don’t want to ruin my workout streak on the bike. Guess for now I need to find another show on Discovery Plus to motivate me. Hm… What’s next?