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I’ve been here before and I know the way out.

Earlier this year I spoke at a women’s roundtable alongside some of LA’s top female influencers in the cycling community. I shared my story of the eight months prior to, the health challenges I was facing, and how they affected my life on and off the bike. This small, intimate event was a big deal to me. You see, I have a tendency to internalize and often remain very private about my personal life, my emotions, and the anxious thoughts that are actually running rampant in my head. I hide behind quip. I avoid having to talk about myself and I control conversations by asking questions instead (as a result, I am a REALLY good listener). After my diagnosis last summer, it took me five months just to publicly confess my reasons behind my disappearing act, so you can imagine how sharing my experience for the first time with people staring me straight in the face, no phone or computer screen to hide behind, would be a big deal.


After the panel discussion ended I naturally migrated over to a table of goodies and grabbed myself a cup of coffee. It was then that I was approached by a woman (Let’s call her Ysabel for anonymity) who, with a smile from ear-to-ear, thanked me for sharing my story, acknowledged me for how difficult it must be, and empathized with me (for she, too, had faced very different challenges, but similar in the effects it had on her life, health, and spirit). What a great feeling to know that someone else could relate. Someone else in this room full of kickass female athletes knew what it was like to feel so fatigued that you’d rather starve than go through the struggle of walking yourself to the kitchen. So tired that the simple act of standing up didn’t seem like an option worth my while. I wasn’t alone. Someone else knew, and there were likely more of us out there who’s Egos were standing in the way of admitting it (This is a direct reference to myself. As I point my finger there are four others pointing right back at me).


Fast forward to late March, when my health took another turn for the worse and all the moving parts of everyday life were becoming unmanageable. I needed to face the hard reality that my routine was unsustainable. I had already let go of anything and everything you could describe as fun or enjoyable. No time for that. I had spent a total of 32 days in a clinic, doctors office, or some sort of testing lab over a span of 11 months. More than a month of my life in less than a year – drawing blood, collecting urine, sitting by myself in waiting rooms, listening to doctors use words I had never heard of and then spending the remainder of that day researching them. That’s not counting all the additional time spent in self-prescribed Acupuncture visits, yoga classes, and dedicated meditation sessions in efforts to calm the mind. Who had time for fun? Not this girl. Holy. Fuck. But I still needed to let more go, and that’s when I made the hard decision to take a leave from work.


It seems silly that this would be such a big deal.  Many people have taken disability leaves for far less complex reasons. But it was the meaning that I attached to it that was making this difficult for me. It meant defeat. It meant I wasn’t as good or as strong or as fierce as I used to be. I realize now it was all bullshit.


Afraid. Defeated. Alone. Anxious. Weak. Broken. Useless. Hopeless. Terrified. Terrified. Terrified.


All those were feelings that came with this decision. All driven by fear. All ultimately coming from Ego. Then Ysabel came to mind. I remembered her telling me she was unable to work for some time during her experience, so I opened up social media and reached out in desperation for words from someone who’s worn these panicked shoes.


Fast forward to yesterday. After four months of separation from work and chronic stress, I felt like my health was finally manageable and I was back in a fairly decent spot, or at least headed that way. Wrong. My Cortisol levels are back up to four times the norm and my doctor decides to increase the dosage of the study drug because it’s stopped working or I’ve built a tolerance or something. Who really knows.  Needless to say, all those feelings I highlighted above came flooding back.


I went out on my bike this morning for some moving meditation to help clear my head. After meeting up with the group I intended to ride with, they chose to take a route that I knew was harder than I needed to push. So I buried my Ego and decided to forgo. Instead I rode to the ocean and sat there and cried. I cried because I was scared. Because I felt broken. Because I wasn’t as strong as I used to be. I’m not physically the same Emily. Here I was all over again. And then my adult temper tantrum was interrupted by a woman’s voice speaking my name. She was someone I had met on a ride once in the Santa Monica mountains a few months prior and was just finishing her early morning workout. She sat with me for an hour and the deeper we got into our conversation the more I noticed all those above highlighted feelings fade. She told me that although she had only met me once, she had overheard something I said in conversation with another woman on that ride that stuck with her.
“If your legs hurt more than your face does from smiling, you’re doing it wrong.”


That woman she overheard me talking to was Ysabel. Funny how everything comes full circe.


Fast forward to this moment. I write these words just after returning from my ride turned unexpected therapy session and revisiting the response I received after reaching out to Ysabel in my moments of despair.


As my eyes flood with tears, my head floods with thoughts, and my heart floods with gratitude. My tears now are ones of pride in the realization that I made the best decision for myself in leaving work and creating space, and that realization will be the foundation of all decisions moving forward. Tears of joy because in the end, I find more satisfaction in hanging back, creating relationships, and cultivating a positive energy for people to carry with them beyond a bike ride than I do in being at the front of the pack all the time. Tears of hope that although my health challenges may not ever be truly resolved, I am continuing to learn how to create a better, healthier life for myself and in doing that, I am silently setting an example for others to do the same. But mostly, tears of gratitude for not just Ysabel, but the people like her who I have shared my innermost battles with over the last year and have selflessly extended their time, advice, love, and kindness. The strangers listening to my kookiness and the aforementioned quip I sometimes hide behind, who end up helping me through emotional turmoil on a random Friday morning when I least expect to be found. The friends on both coasts I text before the sun even rises because I’m having a moment – and they respond without hesitation. There are many of them. And I’m thankful for each and every one.


Today is Friday. And as always on SEXY Friday, there’s always a takeaway. The Universe is a funny place and when you let go of resistance it will mysteriously work for you, never against you. When you find yourself in panic or fear, let the thoughts go. Think of something you are grateful for. You will find that gratitude is one of the most powerful emotions you can practice in your everyday life. The problem is, we don’t practice it enough.
I heard this fable once, it went something like this…
A guy was stuck wounded in a dark well. A doctor walked by and threw him an RX. A little while later, a Priest walked by and recited a prayer for him. Soon after, a friend of his walked by and after realizing his buddy was stuck in this well, jumps in.
The guy says “What’d you do that for?! Now we’re both stuck in this darkness!”
The friend smiles and says “Yes, but I’ve been here before and I know the way out.”
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Thank you, Idiot.

I am moving to LA in two weeks. I left my comfortable job and will be driving cross-country to start a new adventure. Needless to say, I am extremely excited for what’s to come. I love adventures. But that excitement is also coupled with extreme anxiety. I’m nervous about a million things. Where will I work? When will I work? What if I don’t meet genuine people? What if I chose the wrong area and I end up amongst a bunch of materialistic idiots? I’m really tired of idiots.

 

I must’ve woken up on the wrong side of the bed this morning because not even the rush of mood-boosting endorphins as a result of my morning spin class could snap me out of the funk I found myself in. I decided to set every responsibility aside and gather my thoughts. Alone. Sunshine. Poolside. No crazy bike ride. No ridiculous long distance run. Just R&R to clear my head. Nothingness. Back to basics.

 

I think I was only there for about ten minutes before some guy tried to start meaningless conversation with me and another woman who was not sitting too far away. Don’t get me wrong, I am nice to everyone and love meeting and talking to new people, but the few minutes of conversation shared with this guy were mind-numbing. He seemed like a complete idiot (you know, the materialistic ones referenced above). He eventually realized my lack of enthusiasm and left me and the other woman alone in our conversation – a conversation that lasted nearly three and a half hours and touched on a broad spectrum of topics. Past experiences. Future experiences. Books. Careers. Society. Relationships. Food. People.

 

I am not an overly spiritual person by any means but I do believe things are occasionally presented to us as signs. They could take any form – music, literature, an incident, a moment. In this case, I was receiving a sign in the form of a person. I won’t get into too much detail not only because it would take up way too much of your time to read but also because it would really get quite personal. I don’t write to talk about me. I write to hope readers take something from my experiences. It seemed like everything her and I talked about resonated with something in my life, past or present. Everything from interests to emotions to experiences. In a very strange way, it almost felt as though I was having a conversation with an older version of myself. She brought me back down to Earth and opened my eyes without even realizing she was doing so. She wasn’t offering me advice and I wasn’t asking for it. We were just talking but I felt at peace. Confident and fearless. Original afternoon mission accomplished.

 

I have always believed that every encounter is intentional and every person in your life serves a purpose. Whether that role is big or small or whether you know what that purpose is now or twenty years from now, these people have been strategically placed in our lives for a reason. Even the idiots that make failed attempts to hit on you while you’re trying to meditate by the pool end up having something to bring to the table. I might not have ever even noticed this woman sitting right next to me. Don’t take for granted any conversation you may have with someone or the opportunity to have one. You may find comfort in a complete stranger. In my case, that comfort was just what I needed to guide some imminent decisions and get me back on a healthy mental track when I felt I was reaching a breaking point (which we all have, by the way). Keep your mind open to new people and new ideas and let the universe run its course. Brilliant things will happen.

 

And to the idiot wandering the pool – Thank you. You make me feel a tad bit more okay about any possible encounters with idiots in LA 🙂

 

“Life has funny turns. This was a good one.”

-Carmen

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What SEXY really means

Let me preface this post with a brief explanation of SEXY Friday, for those of you who don’t already know. Almost two years ago I established Fridays as a day for women to celebrate themselves. This idea piggybacks off of “Handsome Friday,” established by my former trainer Ken Wawa and made popular among our group of friends and colleagues by our mutual (crazy) friend Joe Mazzella. I deemed my ban from their weekly man dates unfair and so came the birth of SEXY Friday.

I recently eavesdropped on a conversation between two women sitting at a bar discussing who they found attractive in the room. I took a good look around and (over)analyzed a few of the subjects at hand. I admit that I did have a few initial reactions but after a few minutes of close study I found it nearly impossible to decide who I was attracted to just based on physical appearance alone. I found myself instantly turned off by the vibes exuded from some of these people. I then started to question: What exactly is Sexy? Yes, physical attraction is extremely important (when it comes to intimate relationships). But beyond that it is a combination of the following things (in no particular order):

1. Emotional Security / Confidence. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Confidence sans arrogance. There are tactful ways to display confidence in oneself without seeming egotistical. Anyone that can master this is definitely worth the time. Ditch the insecurities. It’s not a good look and will ultimately cause problems down the road. But don’t overdo it. No one wants to be around someone who thinks they are superior. As with most things, balance is key.

2. Compassion: Someone once told me to pay close attention to how a man treats his mother, for it is a reflection of how he will treat you. Generosity, kindness, love. Look for an open heart. (Ladies – this goes for you too). I don’t think anymore needs to be said here.

3. Sense of Humor: A good laugh can cure anything. I am such a sucker for someone who can appreciate sarcasm. If you can combat my wit, I commend you. A good sense of humor is nothing short of magnetic. Sex appeal at max volume.

4. Authenticity: There is no need for anyone to be anything other than themselves. Your experiences have molded you into the person you are. Don’t try to be someone you’re not regardless of your surroundings. Everyone will see through it. Be genuine and you will likely attract the people you want to be around.

5. Ambition: There is something so appealing about drive. A willingness and capacity to grow and learn and figure things out. An understanding and appreciation that change and transition are a part of life and human relationships, and the zeal to take things on regardless of fear. Be fearless. Remember that overachievers don’t exist. Always strive to be bigger and better. Reach one goal and transition straight into the next. Comfort with ones current state of being is a huge red flag.

There are, of course, other factors that contribute to overall “sexiness.” And these factors will, of course, differ depending on who you ask. I mean, someone who can appreciate a good tune and bust a decent dance move is always a plus in my book. But these other fun factors are just a part of the whole package: how we carry and treat ourselves, our loved ones, even strangers of the world are what really draw people into each other.

On this SEXY Friday focus less on what you look like in the mirror and more on how you carry yourself and treat others. Exude confidence. Practice compassion. Make someone smile. Take one step toward your ultimate goals. Be you. Be sexy.

Love,
Em

 

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Fear Not

Last January I decided to focus my self-improvement efforts on a single word that would guide me through 2013. It would be the driving force behind all of my actions. That word was Balance. As I reflect back on the last year I feel a personal success in my implementation of this word in my daily life. But enough about the past. Moving on. New year, new goals, new word.
While reading the article 37 Life Lessons in 37 Years, one of the author’s lessons really resonated with me: Fear is often a very good indicator of what we really want and need in our life. Let it be your compass and enjoy the exciting adventure it leads you on.

So it was decided. 2014 will be a Fearless endeavor.

We are all individually capable of so much, yet tend to hold back our potential because of our fears. Fear of failure, fear of loneliness, fear of  making mistakes. These fears cloud our minds and divert our attention away from our goals and the things we really want. We settle. We become comfortable. We don’t jump hurdles or take leaps into what could be a happier future. It’s too risky. We’ve got to much to lose. But do we?

I am an extremely ambitious person, always wanting to achieve bigger and better. And when I want something badly enough, I get it. I’ve always known that I will do great things someday. Someday. (Note: I define “great” as that in which is meaningful to ME, realizing others may not see it as such). But why am I waiting for Someday? The fears within that are keeping me from accomplishing these things NOW will only intensify as the clock ticks and I may eventually convince myself that I have more to lose than I once did.

So here I am, ready to push this new strategy. From this point forward I will base my decisions on the answer to the following question: What would you do if fear didn’t stop you?

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A little bit of this with a little bit of that

I came across this challenge just before the start of the new year. The idea is to pick one word that will serve as your driving force. A word that will serve as a constant reminder of your goals. I’m not really sure I believe in New Year’s resolutions. I think anytime is a good time for a fresh start. So what if it’s already May, right? But I thought this was a neat idea, so I decided that my word for 2013 is Balance.
The fact that I haven’t written anything in a while is testament to the fact that I don’t know how to relax. I’ve mentioned before that I tend to overwhelm myself. It’s just part of who I am. A can’t-sit-still-Cuban. But I’ve realized that I need to occasionally slow it down for my own damn sake. Take a chill pill, Em. Hell, take two! Indulge in the things that make you happy. After all, what’s life if you don’t enjoy it?
I take pride in my accomplishments and all the things I juggle. I don’t know how you do it (words I hear often from friends and family). Good time management? Perhaps. Wonder Woman? We already knew that. But on those rare occasions that I do step on the brakes and breathe, enjoy my own company or the company of friends, I realize that a break can be so nice. I don’t want to become a workaholic or so busy that I don’t have time for the people that are important to me. I need to learn to make more time for them. I need to make more time for me.

My ultimate goal: Feel challenged by life but relaxed enough to enjoy it. My reminder: Balance.

So far, so good.

Albert Einstein said “Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance you must keep moving.” I do believe that living a balanced life comes easier to you as you gain momentum. But listen, Einstein, sometimes you just need to stop moving so fast.

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