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True Story: I’m Allergic To Pretty Much Everything

This is one of many True Story interviews in which we talk to people who have experienced interesting/challenging/amazing things. This is the story of Hannah and her allergies.

Tell us a bit about yourself! 
I’m Hannah, a 27-year-old from Nuremberg, Germany. I recently graduated with my degree in Physics. I enjoy hiking and climbing, horseback riding, and everything animal-related. I’m a creative person and enjoy drawing and cooking. I’ve always loved traveling and trying local foods and wines.
When did you have your first allergic reaction? 
In July 2009 I suffered from my first anaphylactic reaction, caused by a mango lassi. Till then, I’d never had any symptoms. The following summer was a disaster. While I was at summer school, the situation worsened drastically. I had severe reactions and asthma attacks every day, eventually only eating baby food (because it has so few ingredients). I felt totally lost. Many of my reactions seemed to come from nothing or after eating something that had been fine just a day earlier. I also had severe asthma attacks and circulation problems without any visible cause.In October 2009 I took sick leave and went to live at the seaside until Christmas.
Since then, you’ve developed many more allergies. At this point, what are you allergic to?
In 2009, I contacted a specialized center for allergology to find out what I was allergic to. The list has expanded a lot since then and is still expanding. In fact, the list of things I can eat without problems is much shorter than the list of things I can’t eat.
I have a lot of “rare food allergies” like cucumber, asparagus, grapes, several tropical fruits, and vegetables, but I also have pretty much all the “common food allergies” and various pollen, fragrance components allergies. My strongest reaction to alternaria alternata, a mold growing on plant rests and wet ground. My allergies are IgE-mediated and occur immediately after contact.
What sort of treatments have you tried? 
Traditional asthma medications haven’t worked. In December 2009 I had started taking omalizumab, a monoclonal antibody, which I quit four years later, because of severe side effects. Eventually, I also had to quit my hyposensibilisation because of its negative effects.
I’m open to trying other therapies. I’ve tried a few, like “bioenergetic methods” and fasting, talked to some naturopaths about their point of view – but nothing was convincing or helping me. I will try hypnosis and am getting informed about some other options. Personally, I cannot recommend any of the “standard” or “alternative” treatments I tried. I’m still searching for something which will improve my situation.
Due to my many anaphylactic reactions, I’ve suffered from panic attacks so I’ve been working on stress-reduction and controlling my panic. So far, I haven’t taken any psychopharmaceuticals or worked with a psychologist but I do to encourage other people to ask for professional support if they want it.
Nutritional therapies don’t really work in my situation. I tried a rice diet twice, starting with rice and adding one food after another. I would recommend it to someone who is just in a cascade of developing new food allergies, as it gives your immune system a “break” from many potential food allergens, and will make you feel more secure about what you can eat.I’ve always tried to include as many anti-inflammatory foods in my diet as possible, and I’ve been drinking a lot of mangosteen pericarp tea, as some papers suggest that it lowers IgE-levels, which do not in every case go along with allergic reactions, but in my case they do.

How have your allergies affected the other areas of your life?
My allergies have changed my personal life; I feel like they force me to be someone I’m not. I’ve always been a gourmet and a traveler, and these activities have been severely limited by my food and mold allergy.

I have to choose my vacation destinations according to the climate (I have developed a serious interest in climatic conditions around the world), food availability and hospital proximity. I’ve learned to appreciate mountain areas even more and I’m now a serious hiker. I’ve had to learn to trust my body every time I developed a new allergy.

I’ve realized life is short and I’ve resolved a lot of issues with people in my life. I’ve learned to make all kinds of cosmetics products. Finally, I met my partner while suffering from an asthma attack on a train. I guess if I wouldn’t have had that attack we wouldn’t have met!

Of course, my allergies have a great impact on my professional life. My problems and medication made it very difficult for me to concentrate on my studies. Working part-time in the energy business, I was very lucky with my boss who let me work remotely and only come in for project meetings. The plants around the office, my co-workers’ perfume or peppermint tea could all cause reactions.I need a work schedule that can adapt to my body’s schedule and I need to spend the critical summer months in another climate. This is possible with a flexible job, but they’re difficult to find; working from home isn’t a widely accepted standard here in Germany.I’d love to have a job at an international level, but that’s hardly realistic with my current health. There are many places I simply shouldn’t go to, and staying in a hotel room without a kitchen for more than one night is hard.

With my personal history, my interest in allergology has grown very much. By now, I’ve completed two professional allergology courses and am working on building my business this field.
I know a lot of people don’t take allergies seriously, they assume the sufferer is ‘blowing things out of proportion” or seeking attention. How have you dealt with that?
If someone says “I am allergic to …” and then eats it in the same moment, I just think: “You have no idea.”Most people underestimate the seriousness of the situation if they don’t have personal experience with it. It’s very difficult to raise awareness of “invisible” problems like this. For example, my throat will start swelling if someone peels an orange in the same train compartment.
 Also, many physicians seem to know rather little about it. Based on my experience, I’d recommend going to a specialized allergologist.
Going out to eat is a struggle, it feels like a lot of restaurants don’t take food allergies seriously. I ate out about once a week until Winter 2014, but I’ve pretty much given up now.  I usually ordered custom dishes, using ingredients which I see on the menu. I tried to be very clear about what exactly I wanted on my plate. I’d tell them “No herbs, no spices, no “decoration” – just salt, please!”
But most of the restaurants used spices, herbs or other things. I had to return so many dishes because they added a tiny sprinkling of “decorative herbs.”
What advice would you give to others who are struggling with a serious allergy?
– Find out what you are allergic to. Have a prick test or even get a molecular diagnosis to find out more – if it’s heat-stable allergens like in my case.
– Find a physician who listens to you and who you trust. If they’re not listening to you, change your physician.
– Be patient. Your immune system is a flexible system and allergies can change with time. I can now eat mangos again – after five years (that’s the only food this has happened with, but never mind).
– Avoid the things you’re allergic to – to avoid health problems, of course, but also because avoiding an allergen for a longer time might help your body to one day tolerate more of it again.
– If you have several food allergies, write a list of what you can eat. Family members and friends are always happy to have such a list so they can cook for you. Make it very clear that there must be nothing else in your food.
– Explain your allergies and symptoms to the people in your life. Show them your emergency medication and brief them about what you need them to do in a real emergency.
– Always carry your emergency medication with you. If you don’t have it yet: get it.
– Trust your gut – especially when you’ve had a life-threatening reaction. If you receive a meal and your gut says “no” or you smell/see traces of something: don’t eat it. Never be ashamed of returning your plate at a restaurant or in a private house.
– Learn about your reactions. How fast did it come after contact with the allergen? Which symptoms occurred in which order? How long did it take you to get better with medication? This can help you to better judge the severity of a reaction and to distinguish between what is a real reaction and your panic.
– It is okay to have panic attacks. If you work on it, you will be able to handle them and learn to stay calmer.
– Learn about your body. You cannot fight it and win. You will have to make compromise. If you listen to it carefully, you can find out what it wants – and make the best out of the situation.

Thank you so much for sharing your story, Hannah. Have any of you guys struggled with serious allergies? Do you have any (polite!) questions for her?

True Story: I Accidentally, Unexpectedly Gave Birth At Home

This is one of many True Story interviews in which we talk to people who have experienced interesting, challenging, amazing things. This is the story of Aya and her unexpected home birth.

Tell us a bit about yourself!
I am an almost-thirty year old mom of three living in Toronto. I work in administration at an NGO I am passionate about. I love cooking for my family, stalking ASOS for new arrivals, refreshing my Feedly reader, and watching movies with the subtitles turned on. I speak three languages and there is a 90% chance I am taller than you. I blog, too!

What was your pregnancy like? 
It was my first pregnancy. It was a very stressful time as I had just gotten married, moved to a new home, and gotten a new job at the same time as getting pregnant. Medically, it was uneventful except for crushing, debilitating, “morning sickness.” I suffered from nausea and vomiting all day long from the beginning of the pregnancy up to and including the birth. I recall vomiting in wastebaskets at work and in my lunch bag on the bus.
How did you imagine the birth going? 
I tried to avoid imagining it! I was so preoccupied with other things going on in my life at that time that I did not even have a hospital bag packed when I went into labor. I wanted to deliver in my hospital, but I did not want an epidural. Besides for my concerns about their side effects, I am utterly terrified of needles. Having to stick a needle in my back is much scarier to me than giving birth.
Tell us about the night before you gave birth.
I was 37 weeks along in my pregnancy and I had just stopped working the day before. That night we celebrated our first wedding anniversary. My husband and I went out to eat at a Middle Eastern eatery and ate a delicious meal of greasy shawarma and fries. Afterward, we invited our family over to our home for drinks and a triple chocolate cake. We had a great time together and I went to sleep feeling wonderful.
When you woke up feeling sick, what did you think was happening?
I woke up at around 6 am with a churning, crushing pain in my stomach. I woke my husband up and told him that I must have gotten food poisoning from the sketchy restaurant the night before. He said that he didn’t feel anything amiss and it would probably pass if I got some rest. I tried to go back to sleep, but the pain just kept getting worse.
At what point did you call for help? When did you realize you were actually in labor?
I called my mom around 10 am and asked her to come over. At that point, I was stuck on the toilet, vomiting nonstop. I was afraid to leave the bathroom because kept feeling like I needed to poop. Sitting on the toilet felt more comfortable than any other position. After a couple of hours of this, my mom tried to convince me to call an ambulance but I wouldn’t hear of it. I think my exact words were, “I refuse to get up from this toilet ever again.” I refused to accept that I was in labor. It was three weeks too early, my water hadn’t broken, and the pain did not feel like contractions.
Was it scary giving birth without any medical help?
I am extremely fortunate that my mom is an MD though not an obstetrician. Eventually, she dragged me off the toilet and ordered me to lie down on my bed. It was just in time as she saw the baby’s head crowning. She called 911 on my cell phone. Believe it or not, they told her to push the baby back into the birth canal and wait for the paramedics! She ignored them and told me to push. A few minutes later my daughter was born and my mother caught her.
It actually didn’t feel any more frightening than giving birth with medical help, which I did two more times in the hospital. What this experience taught me is that on a fundamental level, a woman’s body knows how to give birth without outside intervention. I felt safe at home with my mother by my side, and I had no preconceived fears or notions about what should happen or what I must do. In this respect, it was possibly even less scary than my subsequent births.
What happened after help arrived?
Right after my daughter was born, an army of emergency personnel showed up. The firefighters were the first to arrive and they were very happy and excited for me. They cut the cord and wrapped up me and the baby in warming blankets. The paramedics and police officers arrived next. The paramedics checked me, put the baby on me to breastfeed, and stabilized us both in preparation for transport to hospital. A male paramedic scolded me in the ambulance for not getting to the hospital quicker. The nurses and doctors in the hospital seemed quite surprised that I had managed to have a healthy baby all on my own! I feel so blessed that this story had such a happy ending.
I’m sure this is a story your child will be telling for the rest of their life! What does she think about it?
She is still young enough that she doesn’t really comprehend the details yet. We live in a different home now and she likes to point out the apartment building where she was born when we drive by. She knows that most babies are born in the hospital and she feels being born at home is special. I imagine the story will be more interesting to her when she gets older. I hope it inspires her to consider an unmedicated, natural childbirth when she has children.

Thanks so much for sharing, Aya! Do you guys have any questions for her? Do any of you have non-traditional birth stories? My partner delivered his youngest son in a bathtub because they couldn’t get to the hospital in time!

True Story: My 8-Year-Old Daughter Dresses Exclusively Like A Boy

This is one of many True Story interviews in which we talk to people who have experienced interesting, challenging, amazing things. This is the story of Stasia and her daughter Raisa who only wears ‘boy’ clothes.

Tell us a bit about yourself!
I’m a 40-year-old momma with two wildly beautiful kids (2 and 8) and a wicked handsome social worker husband, living the good life in Vermont. Last year, I threw caution and pragmatism to the wind, quit my job, and started a biz as a Personal Stylist, and have never looked back. I had no choice… my daughter made me do it 🙂
Tell us about your daughter. 
Raisa is an 8 years old kid with incredible style 🙂 She’s sassy, bold, cool and charismatic… just not in the way I had envisioned when I was planning out what life would be like with a baby girl. She was born with “special needs”. She’s had hundreds of doctor’s appointments, has been under anesthesia over a dozen times, and sleeps with a c-pap machine every night. She loves to ski, bike, fish, and swim. She would wear a suit jacket and bow tie to school every single day if her closet was abundant enough to support her desires. She’s tough, gentle, bold, sensitive… and she loves her brother more than anything on earth.
At what age did she start wanting to dress like a boy? 
She started trending toward boy clothes around 3 years old, but I didn’t make much of it at the time. I could still get her in dresses though admittedly it was a battle. As she neared 6 years old, we would have throw-down fights around her wardrobe. I would get crazy upset when she outright REF– USED to wear the super fun, cute, whimsical clothes I had purchased for her.You see, Raisa looks different than other kids, and I thought I could combat the inevitable bullying if she wore hip clothes and looked ridiculously cute all the time. Plus, after years of hospital visits and hundreds of doctor’s appointments, I was exhausted, and couldn’t imagine navigating and challenging the roles of gender in our society. I just wanted things to be regular. You know, easy.
What make you change your mind and buy her first shirt and tie?
We were shopping at our local thrift store, and she asked me (as she’s done a million times) to help her look for a “boy” shirt and tie. I said no. She’d had enough “no” from me, so she walked up to the counter and asked the cashier to help her look in the kid’s section for a shirt and tie. They did, and they found the most dreadful Walmart looking shirt and tie combo I had ever seen.I couldn’t say no since the cashier was the one who presented it to me – so I begrudgingly paid $3 for the combo and figured I’d just re-donate it the following day. I wish I could say I “changed my mind”, but unfortunately it wasn’t a selfless act, and I didn’t let go of my antiquated belief systems for another couple of hours…
How did she react when she put on her shirt and tie for the first time?
As soon as we got home from the thrift store, she immediately put on the shirt and tie and stood in front of the mirror. When she first saw her reflection, she became motionless and said to me in a whisper, “Mama, look how handsome I look.” Then she bolted across the dining room and said, “Mama, Mama, look how fast I can run!” and then she jumped and said, “Mama, look how much higher I can jump when I’m wearing a shirt and tie!”I just stood there, ashamed, shocked and in disbelief. She could run faster and jump higher when she was wearing clothes on the outside that reflected who she was on the inside. Though I understood the sentiment of “authentic style” to a degree, she articulated it in a way that knocked my socks off. The lesson was profound, and it changed the trajectory of my life.
Does she ‘dress like a boy’ every day now? 
Every. Single. Day. And most days she’s wearing a bow tie and a blazer 🙂 She’s unstoppable.
How have the people in your life reacted to her fashion choices?
They LOVE it! In fact, she’s become a bit of a local sensation in her bow ties and neckties. Believe it or not, I haven’t heard one single person say anything cross about her boy-like presentation. Pretty amazing, don’t you think?
How do other kids react to her choices?
Great question!! Kids are a wee bit confused… “Is Raisa a boy or a girl?” Even her classmates that have known her for years have questioned whether she’s a boy or a girl. But other than that, it’s no big deal. And honestly, Raisa thinks it’s cool that she looks and dresses like a boy but IS a girl.
Has she made any comments about wishing she was a boy? Or does it seem like her interest ends at wearing clothes that are traditionally male?
This is tricky territory. She acts like a boy, dresses like a boy and stays far away from anything girl because “What if people think I’m a girl?” BUT, she’s never said she wishes she were a boy, and trust me, we’ve asked. She has said over and over that she’s happy that she’s a girl, but just likes everything boy, and likes that people think she’s a boy. She loves that her brother calls her “sissy” and loves her very feminine name. So for now, we’re allowing her to lead the conversation and we’ll just keep checking in, supporting her, and loving her.
Raisa has taken the gender binary and tipped it upside down. She resonates with both “boy” and “girl,” and is at ease in that place of “in between”. Gender, it turns out, is a continuum, and she understands that better than most.
Has this changed the way you think about gender? Parenting? Fashion?
It’s changed the way I think about everything!! And I mean EVERYTHING.
I was in the beginning, contemplative stages of starting my biz as a personal stylist when the shirt and tie incident happened. In that moment, my purpose became clear, and my message of “Inside-Out Congruency” became my life’s work. When I meet with clients, the first and absolute most important thing I do is help them figure out who they are on the inside so that we can reflect that on the outside. I want every woman in the world to “run faster and jump higher”.
And really, this philosophy of Inside-Out Congruency transcends everything! Allowing and supporting those around us to fully live in their truest place and space will create a world with greater harmony and less of the us vs them.
What’s one thing you’ve learned from this that any of us could apply to our daily lives? 
I’ve learned that belief systems and inflexible plans can be dangerous, and the tighter we hold on to them, the more tumultuous and unstable our lives become. Before Raisa was born, my husband and I had crafted and created a wanderlust lives for ourselves and our soon-to-be family. But the moment she was born, we had to say goodbye to our grand plan because now her life was on the line and we needed to plant ourselves near her big city hospital. We settled in Vermont, created community, and have never looked back.

When she was born, I envisioned she would be this hip, sweet, funky, charismatic girl who loved shimmer and sparkle, despite her differences… and this is also something I’ve had to let go of. All those years that I fought, refused and rejected the notion that my daughter was more “boy” than “girl” resulted in nothing more than battle wounds – for both of us. I’ve learned that letting go and flexibility release our hearts from tension and makes space for profound love.

Thank you so, so much for sharing this sweet story, Stasia. Do you guys have any (polite!) questions for her?

True Story: I’m A 35-year-old Virgin + I Intend To Stay That Way

his is one of many True Story interviews in which we talk to people who have experienced interesting/challenging/amazing things. This is the story of Kat and why she doesn’t ever plan to have sex.
Tell us a bit about yourself! 
I was born in Maryland. I now reside in Virginia. I’m 34 years old (almost 35). I work from home for a Fortune 500 company. For fun I listen to music, read, knit, spend time in nature, travel, and watch
Growing up, how did you think about romance? 
My parents separated when I was 8 years old. I didn’t see any romance or fighting. I only heard one argument while they were together. When I read romantic books or watched movies, I knew the female character would never be me. I would never have a prince charming. I knew that from a very young age. I told my mom when I was 8 that I would get married at 88 years old. Now I say I’m never getting married.
What’s your romantic history like?
I wasn’t allowed to date while I was growing up. I was asked on one date in high school. I wasn’t attracted to the guy so I came up with some excuse as to why I couldn’t go out with him. I have been
attracted to guys over the years but never in a sexual way.
I briefly dated one guy 15 years ago. We went on a date to Taco Bell! lol. It was a one-time thing. It didn’t end well. He kept talking about sex and I knew I didn’t want to do it so when I got the chance to escape, I did. I left him stranded at his friends house. (I was the one driving).
Other than that, I have never kissed anyone or been kissed. I have not gone on a date since then. I haven’t even been hugged by a male (except maybe once or twice by my dad).
How do you feel when you think about sex?
When I think about doing it, it repulses me. Not to sound immature but “ewww” is the best way to describe it. Genitalia disturbs me.
Do you think you’re asexual?
Yes, I probably am. The attraction is sort of there, but I have no interest in sex. I’ve known since I was about 10 that I would never have sex. I don’t know how I knew, but I just knew I didn’t want to do it.
Do the people in your life know about this?
I think my family thinks I’m a virgin or maybe that I’ve had sex once. No one knows for sure because I don’t talk about it. They don’t ask. No one mentions it so I don’t know how they feel. I think my mom thinks I’m gay because she has made snide comments about it in the past. I don’t have close friends so it isn’t something that comes up a lot. I rarely think about being a virgin. It isn’t an issue in my day to day life.
Do you have any interest in having a partner to navigate life with – even if that relationship doesn’t involve sex?
No, I’m not interested in having a partner especially a live-in one. I love living alone. Sometimes I do wonder what it would be like to date someone without sex and living separately. That is the only way I’ll ever date someone. I haven’t completely ruled that out, but I’m definitely not looking for it.
I’m not interested in cuddling but maybe if I found the right person, that would change. The same goes for emotional intimacy. With the right situation, I may be open to that.
Thanks so much for sharing your story, Kat. Do you guys have any (polite!) questions for her? Are any of you happily sex-free?
Photo by Jessica Lok // cc

True Story: I Lost Both My Parents Before I Turned 30

This is one of many True Story interviews in which we talk to people who have experienced interesting, challenging, amazing things. This is one reader’s story and what she has learned through losing both her parents before turning 30.

Tell us a bit about yourself. 
I’m from central Scotland, near Stirling (a small town often associated with Mary Queen of Scots and William Wallace!). I’m 30, and work in student administration at a university in the capital, Edinburgh. I love walking, reading (especially Agatha Christie and Conan Doyle books), weightlifting and hanging out with my boyfriend and our two cats.

Could you give us a snapshot of family life when you were a kid?
Family life was pretty good when I was little – we lived in a big, old house. We often went for walks together in the glen near our house. My parents were both working full time from when I was 6 and my sister 10, so I had a child minder (who was like a second mum). Mum was definitely my favourite, and my sister was a daddy’s girl. Mum was loud, funny, very loving and bossy. Dad was wistful, hard working, musical, and loved being silly.

How did your mother pass?
My mum died after about two weeks of illness over the Christmas holidays – a bad virus became flu, what doctor’s didn’t realise was that a blood clot had developed in her leg. It travelled up her leg to her lungs and she stopped breathing (Deep Vein Thrombosis). She died 10 days after the New Year, 2000.

How did your dad deal with losing his wife? How did you and your sister deal with losing your mom?
Dad went on autopilot when mum died, and then went back into work mode (he was always quite a workaholic). I also went on autopilot; she died the first day of school so there was all this normal stuff happening at the same time. I remember I kept stroking dad’s chin and telling him he needed to shave.

About three days later I decided to go to classes because I couldn’t think of anything else to do and I wanted to be with my friends. My sister had it worst – she was actually travelling in Australia when my mum passed, she had to travel half way across the world and didn’t get the chance to see mum before she was taken to the funeral service (we had a Humanist service, and mum was cremated).

How did your mom’s death change your family?
We pretty much lost the root connection when mum died; she tied us all together and was especially good at helping translate between what were then too very emotional teenage girls and a man who had no idea how to handle that. Without her we had to find a whole new way of talking to each other. When dad was home with me it often felt like I was living with a stranger, I preferred him to be out of the country working (a lot of anger now I realise looking back). My sister stayed in England for about 10 years, she couldn’t settle back in Scotland for a long time.

When did your dad discover he had Lymphoma?
I’m not really sure; he preferred to deal with things himself rather than be ‘a burden’ on others. I think he had really bad skin problems for about a year and a half before he was diagnosed. For a long time, he just through he had an allergy.

How did you react when he told you?
I acted like we were having a normal conversation (on the outside), but inside my heart skipped a beat when I heard the word Lymphoma. I just asked lots of innocuous questions. Our family are masters of autopilot! It was only when we had to cut a walk short because his feet hurt so much that I realised he must have been in a lot of pain (my Dad LOVED walking, and had such a big stride I used to have to run and skip just to keep up).

Was your dad’s death different for you than your mom’s?
Definitely – mum’s felt really sudden, Dad got progressively worse over a few years and then took a dive over two weeks. We could sense his death coming, and our relationship was a lot more complicated so it was a confusing time emotionally.

How have you coped with this?
With A LOT of talking – although I only really did this properly after Dad died (I really wish I’d done it when mum passed away). For me counselling sessions at one of my local centres was the break through – I felt safe to be angry, sad, ridiculous, and moany and not feel self-conscious about that. People kept telling me how strong I was being, but I was just walking through life like a zombie. I’d kept my emotions bottled up until I went to see someone.

I also smoked weed consistently from the year after my mum died until I was 29 – which I used to numb the pain.

Internet chat rooms were great, I could find people going through the same things but not need to be in the same place (and could still hide at home in my pyjamas if I wanted to!)

How do you feel when you hear people complaining about their parents?
Bemused. Heartbroken. Caught between wishing I had a parent/parents to moan about and knowing if I did I’d probably be bitching in just the same way without thinking about it for a second! I try to remind myself of the latter, especially when I’ve had the 20th FB post about Mother’s Day.

Has this changed the way you feel about having kids or building a family of your own?
To be honest I’m weary about ever raising a family, it was heart breaking to lose mum and dad so the idea of losing someone else (or them having to go through losing me) is terrifying. Both my parents died at hospital too, so the idea of giving birth in that kind of environment has underlying anxieties for me. At the same time I know I’d love any family with all my heart.

If we know someone who has lost a parent, how can we best be supportive? What are some things we SHOULDN’T say or do?
Like all grief it can be so different from person to person. I’d say – most important to offer your support, give lots of hugs if they’re hugging people, or just sit with them if that seems about all they can take. I also valued doing ‘normal’ things, even if it was just playing the Playstation or watching the Matrix for the umpteenth time. I LIVED off tuna pate and bagels for a while and cups of tea (comfort food). In Scotland cups of tea are like an automatic solution for most of life’s problemsJ.

If a person is religious saying ‘they’re at peace’ or ‘in heaven’ might be a comfort, but if they’re atheist or humanist and you’re religious try your best not to impose your own beliefs (even unintentionally, and the grieving person knows this, it can still jar).

Most of all be patient, emotions can spill out in lots of unexpected and weird ways. After losing my parents I often got really upset about tiny things that had nothing to do with what I was actually doing at the time. It meant a lot not to be judged for that.

What’s one thing you’ve learned from this that any of us could apply to our daily lives?
Life can be very hard; there are a lot of things that you have no control over. You could be in a great place and suddenly hit a rough patch and vice versa. It can be hard to accept this, but try if you can. Realise the value of those close to you (friends, family or both). Don’t fear trying something new, and don’t follow the path you think you should just because that’s what you were taught.

P.S. I met my birth mom & My parents got divorced when I was 6 – and got remarried when I was 24

photo by Vanessa Kay // cc

True Story: I’m A Recovering Asshole

This is one of many True Story interviews in which we talk to people who have experienced interesting, challenging, amazing things. This is the story my friend Jina and how she went from an angry, self-medicating asshole to a happy, centered human. 

Tell us a bit about yourself! 

My name is Jina. I’m 34 and I’m a recovering asshole. This is an anonymous meeting… right? No? Okay, double-knot those laces, I’m going for it anyway.
I’m originally from a really small town (population 700) in central Minnesota. Currently I live in Minneapolis with my forever guy and my sassy wiener dog. For fun I like to go out on dates, eat tasty food, listen to music, watch soap operas, and wander around my neighborhood as my wiener dog sniffs everything at a snail’s pace.
For work I write on my blog The Happy Healthy Truth, publicly speak on getting happier and healthier, hold Lifestyle Design Camps with my biz BFF Katie Lee, and I have online programs for meditation and creating intuition about food choices and motivation.
I’m sure we’ve all got our own definition of ‘asshole.’ What’s yours?
An asshole is someone who brings down the crowd with their words (complaints, judging, shit-talking, blaming), with their actions (throwing a beer bottle across the bar) or just their energetic vibration (you know those people who just walk into a room and bring down the mood).
What were some of your more asshole-y behaviors?
Growing up, if I saw someone picking on another person, I would go after the person doing the picking. In elementary school, I would organize a small group of friends to hold down a bully and I’d punch them over and over. As I grew older I would confront people (usually the initiator in typical mean girl stuff) and I would rip into them with my words.
If we had a substitute teacher in junior high or high school, it was my goal to see if I could break them into tears by the end of the class time. Insults, pranks, lipping off… anything to get under their skin. I was usually successful.
I’d bust the chops of the high school principal if I felt like anyone was preferential treatment. I’d call him out in front of a crowd of people whenever I could to make a bigger impact.
On graduation day that principal came up to me to me and said, “Change your attitude or you’ll never go anywhere in life.” I was speechless – probably for the first time in my life.
In college, I did all the cliche things like lying, cheating, stealing, and then I’d drink beer and laugh it off.
Why did you do these things or behave this way?
Like years of therapy will tell anyone, I did all of these things because I was unhappy.
I grew up in an abusive home. My dad beat up mom and us kids learned that wild form of communication well. That minor issue (sarcasm), along with other family issues that my parents were dealing with, trickled down and gave me quite the asshole complex.
Deep down, I never felt good enough or wanted. As you can imagine, truly feeling this way causes heavy sadness. I’ve learned along my journey that anger is the mask for sadness. I completely agree and see it in my own past.
Of course, back then I never thought I was sad. I only felt angry.


When you were in the thick of it, did you realize that you were acting like a jerk?
There were a few times where I felt like I had gone too far, but I would justify it away with all the reasons why acting like an asshole was okay in that moment. At that time it was everybody’s fault but my own!
After I started working to get happier and healthier, I would see myself acting like an asshole and that helped me check in and think about what I could do differently to deal with this difficult person or situation the next time I ran into it.
How did your behavior affect the rest of your life?
Like I said, at the root I was really sad. However, because I didn’t know or believe that, I was focused on external things to give me hits of happiness. Actually, I say “hits” of happiness now, but back then I thought they were the key to my happiness. You know, it’s the, “I’ll be happy when…”
When I get that new job, find a better place to live, move to another state, buy that shirt or those jeans, get that cute SUV, find someone better to date, or change the colors of my walls or rearrange my furniture to make me feel better at home.
All of these things cost a lot of money. And the happiness they give is temporary. Sadness and blame are expensive habits!
Not to mention the energy that goes into finding the next guy to date, interviewing for the next job, test driving cars, shopping for jeans (ugh), painting, rearranging… Phew!
When did you realize that you didn’t want to be an asshole anymore? 
It was definitely a gradual dawning. I started to see a common theme to my job switching, car buying, dating, and time in the dressing room. I was the common denominator in everything in my life that I didn’t like.
Around that time I had also read somewhere that if you want to change your life you need to take ownership over everything in your life – the good and the bad. Taking ownership means no longer blaming anyone for anything.
So I took ownership and started researching how to become happier and more peaceful.
Once you decided to change, what changes did you make? Where there any tools/books/epiphanies that really helped you in your process?
The biggest change for me was studying yoga. Yoga wasn’t my complete answer, but it opened many doors alone my journey. In 2005, I started training to be a yoga teacher. A suggested reading of one of the courses I took was Growing the Positive Mind by William Kent Larkin. It taught me the science behind feeling happiness and gave me specific exercises to increase the happiness I felt on a regular basis.
I kept reading on happiness, spirituality, and anything else that could change my perception to become more joyful and peaceful. I learned how to eat to balance brain chemistry for better emotional health. I started meditating. I saw a therapist (a few of them). I had neurological chiropractic work done. I recited affirmations. I journaled. I did chakra work and Reiki. I cleansed my aura and kept healing crystals close. Most recently I’ve done hypnosis and past life regression. Some of these practices worked better than others. Some I still use today.
How did the people in your life react to the changes you made?
There are some people who naturally faded away as I become happier and less destructive. Some people were interested in trying the methods I used to create positive changes. And, of course, there have been some tough conversations with people that go something like, “You’re gonna have to clean up your shit. I can’t deal with it anymore.” Like that, but a little more loving or laughable depending on who is on the receiving end.
What’s your life like now? What do you think your 20-year-old self would say if she could see you now?
My life is f*cking amazing. Really. I’ve worked hard to get here and I’ll never be done with the effort to grow and have a positive outlook. Which is just fine, because the work pays off 100 fold.
Having a solid relationship rooted in love and compassion, a job with killer returns in money and joy, a great place to live, and supportive and fun friends is not an accident. I am the other half of every good thing in my life. If I get lazy, stop being mindful, avoid tough conversations and don’t put in the work, the entire thing would fall apart.
Sure, it takes effort, but it feels better to act like the person who deserves this life.
The old me? Outwardly she’d act like she didn’t care. Secretly she’d be a little intimidated. Overall she’d be really proud.Thanks so much for sharing your story, Jina. Do you guys have any questions for her? Have any of you moved past self-destructive, asshole-y behaviors? 

P.S. Why you should hang out with + date people you admire and How to get over your mistakes