Bleeding Bowls and The Things We Can’t Fix


Photo credit: Mate Marschalko

“Said if the last thing that I do
Is to bring you down
I’ll bleed out for you
So I bear my skin
And I count my sins
And I close my eyes
And I take it in
And I’m bleeding out
I’m bleeding out for you…”

-Bleeding Out, Imagine Dragons

Things get passed down through families.  We pass down physical characteristics, heirlooms, social habits, prejudices, and so much more. Our families of origin determine so much of who we end up being, and influence in so many ways how we approach life.

Some of the things that people pass through their families make me laugh.  I had a discussion with some coworkers the other day about how mattresses can stay in a family for decades.  One of these friends told me she still had and used a mattress that was over 60 years old. (Granted, it was one of those mattresses you could rotate and flip over). I promptly grossed out everyone at the lunch table by musing about the sheer weight of skin flakes and mites that had accumulated in the mattress during that extensive time period.  But in all fairness, I had to have a talk with my own parents about 15 years ago regarding a 30 year old mattress they thought was still a viable bedding option.  I explained that mattresses were never meant to attain vintage status, and when they can no longer maintain their shape, it’s time to let them go. My parents very begrudgingly (and with a little resentment towards me) sent that particular mattress to the dump….but they kept their other 25 year old mattress.  You’d think I was asking them to toss out the family silver or something.

Another item that families have passed down in past centuries, which I find fascinating, is bleeding bowls. The practice of bloodletting is at least 3,000 years old, and only with in the last couple of hundred years has it really finally been understood as a bad idea except in a couple of instances – like polycythemia vera where there is an overproduction of red blood cells, or when iron levels in the blood need to be kept in balance, in the case of hemochromatosis.  Way back when, illness was understood to result from the imbalance of humors in the body (yellow bile, black bile, phlegm, and blood) of which blood was believed to be the strongest.

The history of bloodletting is rather interesting, and there are some stories of well-known people who suffered from its deleterious effects, brought on by well meaning doctors. Fortunately, scientists like Joseph Lister and Louis Pasteur helped change the mindset that diseases were caused by imbalances, with the advent of Germ Theory. Still, I think this idea of letting unhelpful and harmful things out of our bodies still has some truth to it…and the process of letting out those things is no less shocking and disquieting than draining out our own physical blood stores.


Years back, when I had different theological and ontological perspectives on the cosmos, I believed wholeheartedly in generational curses – spiritual consequences that are passed down through families as the result of sinful acts or habits, which can take root and affect generation after generation until broken off in some miraculous way.  I don’t have this fatalistic view anymore, where our external actions tragically screw us over, but I certainly believe that, somehow, traits and phenomena get genetically coded and can be passed down through families.  And I’m not talking about genetically inherited diseases, like something springing out of a gene mutation that is propagated through offspring. Although….it would be really interesting if certain gene mutations could create very specific trauma responses…

Here’s an example of what I’m talking about:

I’ve had panic attacks since I was about 7 or 8.  They are freaking dreadful….the worst fear I could ever imagine, and I can’t logic or rationalize my way out of them. They only happen at night, (thankfully now only every great once in a while) usually when I wake up to go to the bathroom and my mind is suddenly like, “Hey, Julie, this is a prime time to ponder the universe, God, and what eternity is!” And I quickly spiral into sheer terror, until I have the wherewithal to ground myself with some brilliant trauma technique given to me by my therapist best friend.

I’ve blogged about this phobia of eternity before:  it has a name (Apeirophobia), and is a legit THING, which makes me feel alot better about myself.  For years, I thought I was the only person in the world weird enough and neurotic enough to be afraid of existing forever.

But then, when I was already over 30, I found out that my mom had the exact same panic attacks about the exact same thing.  We got to talking one night and she described her apeirophobic fears, what triggered them, and what she experienced, and they were SPOT ON with my experiences. I was literally bowled over that this could be, because we had never discussed our panic attacks before.  Years after she passed, my dad told me more details about her panic attacks, that were again, exactly like mine.

How could my mom and I have the same panic attacks, based out of the same phobia, with the exact same trains of thought when there was nothing in our environments to create them, no one else we knew had these kinds of panic attacks, and she and I developed them independently from each other without talking about them? The only conclusion I can logically reach is that somehow they passed down from her to me. The whole process still blows my mind, and it has made me take very seriously the passing down of family patterns and dynamics through people that have absolutely nothing to do with environment or nurture (referencing the whole nature versus nurture debate).


There’s that old saying that everyone has probably heard: Ignorance is bliss.  Sometimes I think this is absolutely true. Sometimes it’s really nice to not know what you don’t know…because then, you’re not bothered when you can’t fix something that you know is broken.

I blame alot of my mental struggles on Scott Peck…I read his book The Road Less Traveled over a decade ago and now there are things I just can’t unsee that on certain days I wish I could. Damn him, meant in the very nicest of ways. He was one of the first writers that revealed to me that I was in control of alot more of my life than I thought, that I could dig in and figure out some of the dynamics that seemed to be ruling me, and that I could make new choices and take a different path than the one I was currently on.

But this is where the problem lies in becoming more self-aware:  there are things, that no matter how freaking hard I try, I CANNOT fix!

I’ve gone to therapy, I’ve uncovered my childhood wounds, I’ve taken tests regarding Myers-Briggs, the DISC, the Four Color Personality, the Keirsey Temperament Sorter, the Enneagram, and more.  I’ve gone to church and other faith communities for over thirty years. I’ve taken depression, anxiety, and ADHD inventories, and I’ve taken plenty of SSRIs, sleep meds, Xanax, and Adderall. I spent a weekend in Reston, VA laying in a brain scanner and had my hair gooped up with electrodes and ultrasound gel for an EEG just to try and better understand what my brain was up to. I took part in a horribly claustrophobic sleep study that just gave me a wicked migraine and a diagnosis of idiopathic non-cataplexic narcolepsy and not much else. I’ve read a billion self help books, I’ve questioned my beliefs and questioned my theology. I’ve talked to really brilliant and enlightened people.  I’ve meditated (although in all fairness I think I slept through at least a third of one of the 8 hour meditation retreats I went to).

And the result of all of this?  The same damn things that I used to struggle with are the things I still struggle with. Except now I’m so much more aware of the complexities and triggers behind them.  I’m very aware of my weaknesses, my faults, and my fears….and sometimes there is nothing worse than being aware of these things and feeling helpless to actually be able to fix them once and for all.


Maybe I’m being a little over dramatic…I mean, I have changed alot over time.  I’m much braver and more open-minded, I’m alot quicker to apologize, and I’ve gotten a tremendous amount of healing from some of my worst childhood traumatic experiences. I’ve been able to forgive people for events and words that I thought I would never be able to offer that grace to.

What I am most afraid of are the broken places in me that might somehow get passed down to my kids or affect those around me who I love. I’ve already partnered with my kids’ dad to pass on a tendency for anxiety and ADHD. What if one of my kids also develops my phobia of eternity? I’m terrified just thinking of that possibility. What if my kids also have days so dark that they wished to God they could die, as I once did?  What if my kids internalize in themselves that they aren’t lovable and that they must perform so that others will accept them?

I wish, so badly, that all of these places in me that I can’t make right could have been bloodlet out of me before they were conceived and born…so that their lives don’t have to be colored and influenced both genetically and environmentally by the imperfect in their mom. I’m trying hard, but often unsuccessfully, to trust in the universe’s plan to have people grow up through the process of parenting…kids really get the shitty end of the deal here on alot of days, being parented by moms and dads who are still trying to find their own way.


A friend of mine told me years ago, when my oldest was a baby, that we’ll be successful as parents if we introduce our kids to God and teach them how to contact a therapist. I guess I’m doing OK, then.  I’m trying hard to show them how magical and enchanted life is, and we’ve already logged plenty of therapy hours.

But my heart was torn this morning when I dropped one of my sons off at school, and while moving through the car rider lane, he expressed to me how frustrated he was that he’s been working on a particular struggle for three years and it hasn’t resolved yet.

Oh kid, I told him, I’m still working on some of the same things I was working on twenty years ago.

I’m not sure if he was relieved or horrified by that.


I don’t know if other people are similar to me in this, but I’ve realized lately that I carry a belief that everything needs to be resolved and all loose ends tied up by the time we die…like, we have to end this one life with all the games pieces tidily placed back in the box.  Where did I get this idea? Probably from the linear worldview I grew up with that we are dealt this one hand at life and if we don’t get it right that’s our last chance.

The idea of reincarnation or multiple existences in different forms actually makes more sense to me these days, but my other belief sets haven’t kept up with the evolving pace of this one. I still tend to live through benchmarks and milestones – markers to let me know if I’m on track.  Which is stupid because I’ve learned that those benchmarks don’t mean jack squat in the grand scheme of things.  I mean, I graduated high school, went to college, got married, bought a house, had kids…bam, bam, bam…all like you’re supposed to per the American dream, and the process of ticking those things off wasn’t always that great.

I wonder how I would live out each day if I believed…like, really believed…that I had an infinite amount of time to engage with these things in me that I can’t fix. What if eternity, that seemingly terrifying construct, is really not about reaching a state of perfection and then sitting there bored as hell for eon after eon, but more about having endless grace-filled space to keep changing, evolving, and growing without any time constraints being put on us?

I think if I could get to this place, it would change everything. The stupid things that stress me out on a daily basis would be so inconsequential….like the messy house and pee on the bathroom floor, the fact that I did not inherit a handyperson gene, the fact that I can’t read my own handwriting two seconds after I write anything, the fact that I get so completely panicked during the holidays.

And then, the big things…the traumas that have influenced how I approach life, the people that I can’t seem to get over or can’t quite forgive, and the glaring faults I perceive within myself…they wouldn’t have to be fixed RIGHT NOW. I would have time and grace to work on myself and allow changes to occur at a relaxed and safe, rather than frantic and obligated pace. Maybe then, too, I could offer my own boys the time and grace they need to grow and change, without the need to be perfect right away.

What if letting go of the belief that everything has to be changed and fixed RIGHT NOW is one of the best ways to avoid propagating trauma and fear in my kids and those around me?  What if the whole point is not to radically bloodlet everything bad out of ourselves, but to learn to be comfortable with the imbalances and know that there is not some divine timer out there ticking away and threatening an imminent end of our game of life if we can’t get our shit together promptly?

What if we have more time and grace and space and love then we ever imagined?  This could change EVERYTHING.

Mold Juice, Staying Curious, and Why the Details Matter

Photo credit: Nathan Meijer

I’m a huge audiobook buff and am regularly listening to multiple titles at any one time. I especially love historical non-fiction, specifically when the progression of scientific topics are written about through a biographical or narrative lens. One of the most interesting books I’ve listened to in the last couple of years…which was really long but oh so worth it….is The Gene: An Intimate History by Siddartha Mukherjee. There’s really nothing better, in my opinion, than when a great science writer can take a complicated topic like genetics and transform it into a fun and educating read that the general public can grasp.

Right now I’m listening to an audiobook by Bill Bryson, one of my all-time favorite writers, called The Body: A Guide for Occupants. I have a friend who insists Bill Bryson isn’t really a science writer, but I beg to differ and offer this book as proof. Either way, if you haven’t read any of his stuff, you are really missing out and I suggest you pause reading this blog post and go discover his writing. It is well worth your time.

While listening to The Body yesterday driving up to Chicago from Indianapolis, I learned a story from Bryson about the discovery of penicillin that I’d never heard before.  Of course, I’ve known for years that penicillin was the first antibiotic that was discovered, but I didn’t know the details of how that happened. (Either that or I had zoned out that particular day in biology class.) The best part of this discovery that helped change the face of medicine?  It was completely by accident! Here’s the story:

Fleming was working on antiseptic research in the 1920s with our good old bacterial friend staphylococcus. At one point, when he left on a two-week vacation, he inadvertently left a petri dish of staphylococcus cultures sitting on the lab bench instead of putting them in the incubator. Somehow….SOMEHOW….the temperature and humidity conditions were just right that year, and preparation of the culture had let an air-traveling Penicillium mold spore from somewhere around the lab settle into the dish….and when Fleming returned, he found that bacteria were dying where the mold was present.  Fleming called this Penicillium powerhouse “mold juice”, which I find hysterical.  He wasn’t able to figure out how to isolate this antibiotic in his own work, and it took the medical community a while to understand the immense breakthrough this discovery was.  But, eventually, two other scientists furthered the work on penicillin and were able to mass-produce it just in time for use in World War II.

Here’s a statement he made later in his life:

“When I woke up just after dawn on September 28, 1928, I certainly didn’t plan to revolutionize all medicine by discovering the world’s first antibiotic, or bacteria killer. But I suppose that was exactly what I did.”

Takeaway? Sometimes the very best things in life happen by complete accident! But, they happen when we pay attention to the mundane, and when we pay attention to the details.


As I am steadily marching through the last few months until my fortieth birthday, I have finally fully embraced the fact that I have some serious quirks.  So much of the weirdness about myself that I once tried to burn away in order to make myself more palatable to others….I say TO HELL WITH IT now. At my core, I’ll always be a little weird, cooky, and eccentric and I am OK with it. I find myself much more interesting to me this way.

Over the last few years, I’ve also noticed something about aging that I did not expect. (Or, maybe it’s not necessarily related to aging per se, but more to alot of great therapy and shadow work.) I’m becoming more intensely curious about life – about people, about quantum physics, about gene therapy, about the cosmos, about music…about everything. Even when life is busy and stressful, I wake up wondering what I’m going to learn about that day.  This is such an odd juxtaposition to how I woke up each morning for almost 2/3rds of my life…where I would groan to myself and be like, “Again?  I have to get up and do this again? When will it be over, already?!” It is an amazing feeling to actually WANT to get out of bed each morning when you’ve never been used to experiencing that.


Our world has been changed time and again by accidental scientific discoveries.  Think about x rays – that medical imaging technique we use thousands of times each day in hospitals and clinics across the globe, used in everything from mammograms to the diagnosis of pneumonia and broken bones – discovered when physics professor Wilhelm Roentgen was putzing in his lab in 1895 trying to determine if cathode rays could pass through glass.

Or how about the saccharin sweetener found in products like Sweet ‘N Low….that ubiquitous sugar alternative found in grimy condiment holders in diners and eating establishments everywhere. Constantine Fahlberg was working in a lab at Johns Hopkins in 1879 and made the ill-advised but serendipitous decision to eat lunch without washing his hands first.  He had unknowingly spilled a chemical on his hands while working, which he later tasted while chowing down. That chemical was saccharin, and our fake sugar addictions owe him thanks.

Or the slinky…originally designed to be a support for delicate equipment on ships.

Or the microwave, first created in the 1940s….thank God they aren’t 750 pounds anymore.

Or LSD, again accidentally discovered by a scientist researching a fungus that grows on rye, once more as the result of poor handwashing hygiene. Whether or not LSD changed the world for the better is controversial, but it certainly had a significant impact on things.

Or…. a myriad of other discoveries made by people who were in the right place at the right time, who paid attention to details and took the time to investigate further.

*************************************************************************************I have this one big strong voice in my head that I’ve fought against most of my life.  It’s the one that daily torments me, telling me that I’m a quitter, that I’m good at starting but never finishing, that I have no follow-through. The annoying thing about these voices is that they usually get their start with a particular person in your life, a person you love and respect enough that you believe the stupid things they say to you at their not-so-great moments…and there is usually enough truth in what is being said that you internalize it and then generalize it across the entirety of your life.

I’m so painfully aware of the big things in life that I’ve quit.  I’ve usually had really good reasons for quitting various endeavors, but sometimes I have quit things simply because I did not have enough faith in myself. It’s a terrible cycle….you don’t have faith in yourself to succeed at things you try, so you quit, and then you feel shittier about yourself, and the cycle continues.  That cycle spins faster when you have those external voices talking to you, too, assuring you that you are indeed a quitter.

That being said, I also have grace-filled voices in my life who help me reframe all of these negative beliefs about myself.  What would it look like, Julie, they say, if you stopped labeling your ADHD as a disorder? What if your ability to start well is a strength, and the trick is to team up with people who aren’t great at starting but who are great at finishing?  Others remind me on my bad days how I keep getting up again and again, and never quit at life even though there were times in the past where it was all I wanted to do.


I love talking to people who have done a billion different jobs in their lives, and those who have a wide range of hobbies.  They are some of the most interesting people. These are the kinds of patients I care for in the hospital that get me into the most trouble regarding time management because I want to sit and hear their stories and how they transitioned from one path to another and how all those paths created and changed them.

When I look back on my own life, I’m kind of amazed at some of the stuff I’ve gotten to do, places I’ve been privileged to travel, and the wicked awesome people I’ve met. Despite my struggle over the years with depression and anxiety (which finally lifted a few years ago), I’ve lived a very full life.

But, something that I am most in awe about is that so much of the randomness of the first three decades of my life…where there seemed to be so much disconnection, irrelevance, and moments of epic quitting things and jumping ship for new paths…is that there is suddenly a magical convergence of all of these things. Everything in my past mattered, and it was like I had to get tho this particular point in life to see that EVERYTHING BELONGS and if we are patient and pay attention, it will all come together.

I’m probably being a little obscure here, but that’s because recounting my entire life story in one little blog post would be overkill. But here’s a brief outline of what I”m trying to say:

Where I currently am….as a nurse pursuing an MSN in forensic nursing and building up a significant writing side hustle…all pretty much happened by accident, but totally as the result of me being curious both about myself and about the world.  Here and there over the years, I paid attention to important details; it was those details that made the difference, even though I didn’t know at the time how they would be important.

Here are a few of accidents that happened early on in my life that I paid attention to and extrapolated upon, in no particular order:

  1. I recognized my own brokenness and trauma…instead of ignoring it, I started digging in and learning about my inner self and why I was such a damned mess.
  2. I was interested in science, so did chemistry research throughout college. This gave me some random skills that are serving me well now. I then worked in what seemed to be fairly random science-related jobs post-college – like blood sugar meter test strip research, blood filtration research, and vegetable physiology research.
  3. I thought I would like working in healthcare, so I did overseas medical trips in underdeveloped countries where I got a glimpse of how much so much of the world lives.
  4. I like to write…so I kept trying to get braver and do more of it while actually marketing myself.
  5. My mom told me I could major in anything in college as long as it was chemistry, physics, biology, or engineering.  Hopefully not biology, and math would probably be acceptable. So, I went with biochemistry.
  6. I did weasel in a second major of missions; which helped provide me with a good foundational understanding of cross-cultural learning and sensitivity.  Anthropological and cultural studies never get boring.
  7. I had amazing people come into my life, all at the right times and for various reasons, through no credit of my own.  But to my credit, I’ve managed to not run all of them off.

These, and so many other details that seemed insignificant when they occurred contributed to the magic that is happening in my life right now. Where I am now happened because of so many little accidents, so many unintentional jaunts into new territory, simply out of my own curiosity after noticing something small but interesting.

What I also find interesting is that this magic wouldn’t be happening if I hadn’t done ALOT of quitting. So take that you dumbass persistent voice in my head!  If I had stayed the course on so many of my endeavors, I wonder if I would have had all these awesome life experiences that I have had? I can’t help but believe that if I hadn’t quit things and taken some major detours out of my familiar comfort zone, I would have remained alot more narrow-minded and self-centered.

Life isn’t over until it’s over. I’m so glad I know that now, and that I didn’t give up on it twenty years ago when I would lay in bed, miserable, for days on end. There is always time for new things to spring up out of everything that seems irrelevant, useless, or dead. It is just a matter of holding everything that happens, allowing them to be, and trusting that we live in a benevolent universe that will raise up new life out of dry bones.

Sacred accidents rise out of the mundane, like penicillin from mold in a petri dish. Recognizing them just takes curiosity and a willingness to look closely at the details most people would simply pass over without a second glance. However, hand-washing before eating meals will forever be a good practice.








Grateful….For All of It….

Photo credit: Sharon Sinclair

I was running a Thanksgiving day race this morning with my friend Bobbi. While we were trotting along she told me a funny story about a friend of hers welcoming some Indian friends to Thanksgiving by throwing open the door, enthusiastically saying “Welcome to America!’ and pointing the way to the shots.

Having had a friend who worked in the wine business, I realize that alcohol is a big seller at Thanksgiving. It struck me as ironic….we set aside this day to remember what we’re grateful for, but then many of us cover up that remembrance with enough alcohol that we can’t remember what we were originally grateful for.  Or, maybe we don’t think we have much to be grateful for so we drink to make ourselves feel better.

I’ve started a tradition with myself that every year at my birthday I write down something new that I’ve learned that year.  In a few short months, I’ll post the forty life lessons that I’ve intentionally made a point of recording and referring back to.  This year I’ve decided to think of the number of things I’m most grateful for right now. A sort of concentrated, mini, “One Thousand Gifts“, if you will.  I want to remember to not forget to be thankful for all the good things that come my way, all the good people in my life, and the daily gifts that are handed to me – unexpected, undeserved, but hopefully not unnoticed.

I was also thinking about the word “grateful” and how saying you’re “full of grates” doesn’t really seem to work.  Things that “grate” are things that rub us wrong, that irritate us, that are painful and maybe harmful.  Maybe they are raspy and annoying, or maybe things that grate make us feel like we’re being run through a meat grinder and torn apart.   But, the more I sat with this, the more I realized that some of the things that have grated me most…somehow…resulted in the things I am most grateful for in life. The grateful came from the grates.  The good came from reframing the bad.  Changing perspectives attracted new life.

I’m a big Josh Groban fan, and I love the song “99 Years”.  In the bridge between the verses and chorus, there are some great lines that really speak to me:

So let’s look forward to you and I looking back
To 99 years
Of nothing unspoken
With every day hoping
That when we feel broken
Our scars make us golden

I’m grateful for the things that hurt me in the past, the hard things I endured and still endure, all those that I loved and lost….because they have brought me to where I am. I have remarked to a few friends lately that it blows my mind how I can be a walking paradox: on one hand, I am deliriously happy all the time, and on the other, I’m a few feet from falling off the cliff of despair.  But I am grateful for this paradox, and the ability to fully feel as a human, to embrace a vast array of emotions, and to still be thankful for it all.

Right now, I am so grateful for:

  1. 80 hours of labor and 3 C-sections that brought me three of the most precious little boys who are loving, kind, curious, and ready to fight for justice and fairness in the world and who still think that I’m a badass mom.
  2. Meeting people, at an ever-increasing rate it seems, who see who I am at my core and are willing to invest in me and my wild ideas and big hairy dreams.
  3. The people in my life who are healing me from all of my past traumas and shame…those who do so willingly and freely without asking for anything in return.
  4.  Yats, and the fact that they stay open late enough so that I can get a fix even after a long shift at work.
  5.  My silly little dog Charlie, who chews on everything and everyone, but is always so delighted to see me.
  6. The turquoise paint a friend gifted me that transformed my bathroom walls.
  7. Richard Rohr, who unknowingly broke open my soul and let the light in….or maybe, showed me how to let the light that was already in there, out.
  8. How my mom still comes to visit me in my dreams.
  9. How I’m not afraid anymore.
  10.  How I found a home in Indiana when I thought leaving Boston was going to kill me.
  11. Eckhart Tolle, Byron Katie, Ken Wilbur, and all of the greats who help me stay optimistic about the world and humanity.
  12. How life is so much bigger and richer and deeper than I once imagined.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone…..I’m ever grateful for all who take a few minutes to read my musings and quirky views. You are very welcome here.

Why You Should Stop Making Everyone Comfortable

Credit: Xavier Verges

I suffer from a chronic disorder.  It’s called: “Making Other People Comfortable At My Own Expense-osis”. The tricky thing about this ailment is that it typically presents first in childhood, and unless quickly nipped in the bud, it can wreak havoc on one’s ability to manage life well in the adolescent and adult years.

Symptoms of MOPCAMOE-osis include:

-a persistent weakening of personal boundaries and self-care constructs in order to accommodate another person’s desires or preferences

-an inability to feel completely comfortable in social situations because of the fear that somehow you are imposing on someone’s else comfort, even if you have no clue how you might be doing that

-a tendency to over-apologize for everything, and a tendency to offer a quick “That’s OK!” when a person has wronged you but throws out an insincere and thoughtless apology with impeccable timing

-a deep inclination toward hard and fast rule-following so that you can ensure you don’t break any social mores, workplace norms, unspoken relationship expectations, or arbitrary guidelines devised by others in your life for how you can interact with them.

-a reluctance to initially be too outgoing or “yourself” in case you’re not enough for people, or worse….too much for them.

-the insane urge to always explain yourself so that others understand your motives and that you never intended to make them uncomfortable when you were being yourself

As you can see, this is quite a serious condition to suffer from because it impacts every single area of one’s life. We who have it don’t develop it through any fault of our own, but the consequences can range from an inability to stand up for oneself and be authentic all the way to being outright traumatized by hurtful people.

My own case of MOPCAMOE-osis has regressed significantly over the last ten years, thanks to therapy, doing alot of shadow work, and learning to take the advice of the great actor Shah Rukh Khan: “Don’t Take No Shit from Anybody”….a line he so eloquently offered in a speech a few years back at the University of Edinburgh.  Ahhh….I adore him.


Our society, it seems to me, does alot of teaching us at a young age to make others’ comfort a priority over our own. And not to be male bashing at all, but girls and women are certainly groomed in this fashion, much more in some contexts than others.

One of the first examples of this comfort prioritization that comes to mind is how we work with our children.  There was a post on Facebook yesterday covering an article about how girls should not be pressured to give out hugs during the holiday season.  I didn’t read the article because the headline said it all.  No child should be compelled to have any physical interaction with anyone that they don’t want to. But we are so conditioned to push them to do these things, aren’t we?  Billy, hug your great aunt that you’ve only met one time in your life. Sarah, let Bob (elderly friend of the family) give you a kiss on the cheek. Oh come on, Katie, it’s (insert whoever you want here)! You know them!  Give them a hug (or kiss, or handshake, or whatever other physical contact is being asked for). I can recall so many times as a child that I felt obligated to engage in some kind of harmless physical contact with an adult that I didn’t want to…but I knew the repercussions would be hurt feelings and disappointment.   While I was a very affectionate child, there were times my creep-o-meter went off strongly, but I believed that the other person’s comfort was more important than mine, so I ignored my personal boundaries and did what was asked of me anyway.

As a young mom, I initially fell into this same trap with my kids.  When I knew someone in their lives wanted a hug or kiss, I would encourage the boys to be friendly and do it.  Now days, though, NOPE.  I leave it entirely at my kids’ discretion.  If they want to hug someone, it is completely up to them.  If they want a kiss on the cheek, it is up to them. And other than offer a polite “hello” to a new acquaintance, I don’t insist on any interactions from them that they don’t feel comfortable with.   Kids need to learn early on that their boundaries matter, and their comfort level is no less important that those of other people. We need to be especially careful of this with our children who have a temperament that is prone to the development of  MOPCAMOE-osis. I also believe that we need to pay attention to the fact that our kids’ creep-o-meters might be more sometimes sensitive than ours as adults.


It seems pretty apparent to me that in our society we unconsciously, and sometimes consciously, groom our daughters to believe that their job is to make other people comfortable.  This obviously is harder to do for girls with certain strong personalities and temperaments, but for others, this teaching is swallowed up whole and internalized.  I’m totally thinking of Type 2s on the Enneagram here, a group in which I happen to be a card-carrying member.

I grew up in the Church and have moved through numerous denominations and individual faith communities over the years.  Something that I have witnessed again and again is how prevalent rape culture is in these.  I’m not Christianity or church hating – far from it – but some of this just needs to be called out for what it is so we can all grow and heal from it. Rape culture happens when women are told that our job is to ignore our discomfort alarms going off to make sure that men feel at ease, that they get what they want, that their needs are more important.

Women in the Church, and in contexts of society that are influenced by “Christian values” are very frequently told what a little girl, grown woman, and wife should look like.  We need to be cute, feminine, calm, hospitable, nurturing, selfless,…the list could go on and on. I know it could seem like I’m slapping huge labels on this and broadly stereotyping, but I think if you look at overall patterns and the big picture, what I’m alluding to rings true.

Rape culture can sound harsh, too, I know.  But here are some examples, in no particular order, that I’ve seen or experienced in my own life that make me know that it is present.

1. As I mentioned quite a while back in a post on divorce, women in our culture know, either consciously or unconsciously, that marrying a man (and in some cases just being in a relationship with one) offers them a step up in status. This was externally very true in the recent past, but it is still true regarding how we are perceived by others. I personally experienced a dramatic up-tic in the respect I got from others in all spheres of my world when I got married. I’ve met a ton of women who know this happens, and who have admitted that they pushed aside their discomfort and married, not because of love, but because of the social benefits it brought them.

2. I went to a marriage conference once, years ago, by the authors of the well-known Love and Respect book authors.  I know these are good people with good intentions to help marriages, but I will unreservedly denounce the message in this book and all the other ones like it.  It irks me to no end that people can take a few lines out of a letter written almost two thousand years ago, from a patriarchal society, and use it to definitely outline how men and women should interact with each other today – especially when they are telling women to make themselves uncomfortable so that the men in their lives feel respected.  Disgusting.  During the conference, during a special breakout time for just the women, Sarah Eggerichs (the author’s wife), admonished all of us to just give our husbands sex whenever they wanted, because it “only takes a few minutes, ladies!”  This talk went on to include that men didn’t need to “earn” our respect….we have to treat them “respectfully” so that they can, in turn, be capable of giving us the love that we want.  Again, it all comes down again to women stroking men’s egos and making them comfortable, all the while having to weaken our own boundaries.

3. Why is the onus always put on women to moderate men’s behavior through our own actions and behavior?  Still, so frequently, when women are assaulted they are asked what they were wearing to provoke the attack?  Or, had they had a little too much to drink?  Or, were they out running late at night? Or, were they overly flirtatious?  In so many churches I’ve attended, girls and women are told to dress certain ways so that they don’t tempt men or cause husbands to stray.  The men can’t help the way they feel, and can’t control themselves because of their biological constitution. These kinds of statements blow my mind, because amazingly enough, I know SO MANY good men who are entirely capable of controlling themselves around women. And when did it become the responsibility of all females to protect the virtues of men? I’m pretty sure it goes back to a mythical story about the inherent sinfulness of a woman named Eve who caused her man to do wrong.  When we allow our girls to be taught this kind of logic, we are only perpetuating rape culture and giving men a scapegoat for their inappropriate behavior.  We should not be teaching girls how to dress to make other people comfortable.  We should be teaching our girls to dress in ways that make them comfortable, that gives them self confidence, that makes them feel self-respected.

4. Sex trafficking is a huge problem in this country, but one that doesn’t just happen in a bubble. There are real societal dynamics that help support it – dynamics that are rooted in so many of our “traditional values” and bad theology. All of us need to be careful that we don’t promote and normalize the dynamics that directly enable the sex trafficking industry.  Consider the following:

“But I don’t make rape jokes!”

While rape jokes are the most obvious example of rape culture, they are not the only things that perpetuate rape culture. Things like :

  • Blaming the victim (“She asked for it!”)
  • Trivializing sexual assault (“Boys will be boys!”)
  • Sexually explicit jokes
  • Tolerance of sexual harassment
  • Inflating false rape report statistics
  • Publicly scrutinizing a victim’s dress, mental state, motives, and history
  • Defining “manhood” as dominant and sexually aggressive
  • Defining “womanhood” as submissive and sexually passive
  • Pressure on men to “score”
  • Pressure on women to not appear “cold”
  • Assuming only promiscuous women get raped
  • Assuming that men don’t get raped or that only “weak” men get raped
  • Refusing to take rape accusations seriously
  • Teaching women to avoid getting raped instead of teaching men not to rape

And while I know this song/video isn’t perfect and it makes women look a little weak and in need of saving, I still love it:


In this post, I’m not trying to make the point that we as individuals should live our entire lives in a completely comfortable state.  I’m a huge believer that discomfort and obstacles are the paths that lead to change and growth.  In many cases, we have to learn that we ultimately don’t have control over much, and we have to learn to let go of our attachments to things. However, I believe our comfort surrounding our individuality as persons, our emotional health, and our physical wellbeing are things that we should hold as top priorities.  We are not obligated to make other people feel emotionally better. We are not obligated to give anyone physical contact. We are not obligated to ease another’s discomfort when it hurts us.  If we possess the self-agency to choose to do those things, that is another matter entirely. But the important point is that we have to be able to “choose” and have our “yes” or “no” respected. Every. Single. Time.

Other people may become angry or hate us for not putting out what they think we should. They may tell themselves stories about our motivations and who we are. But this ability to maintain autonomy is, I believe, one of the most important parts of being human.

It’s really hard for me personally, to put my own comfort level above others’. Part of it’s my personality and childhood wounds, part of it is the messages I’ve heard from people, the Church, and society, part of it is because I genuinely care about how other people feel and want them to be happy.  And, part of it is a lack of practice in strengthening the belief muscle that I will in fact not die if people think I come off as a bitch or cold or self-absorbed when I’m firming up my boundaries.

But I now know, where I once didn’t, that my boundaries as just as valid as others’. I have the same right to exist and feel safe and pursue my dreams as every single other person does. I am a legitimate part of the universe and existence.  I have the right to say what is OK for me and what is not. And so do you.


After all this on maintaining your own comfort level, it needs to be said that we need to respect the comfort of other people and their physical and personal boundaries. Though so much of this seems like common sense, we seem to miss the mark again and again. We make excuses about why it’s OK to step over boundaries and invade others’ personal space.

There is a great video that was made several years ago using the analogy of making someone tea to getting consent for sex. The video is simple and brilliant, and it applies to SO much more than sex.  Respect the personal boundaries of others, let their “no” be no, and don’t force others to become uncomfortable so you can get what you want.  It’s pretty basic, really.

Anyway, check out the video, and better yet, pass it on to your kids when they’re old enough to understand it. Maybe even pass it on to the adults in your life who think that what they want is more important than the things that make you uncomfortable.



The Songs That Undo Me

Music is my heart language.  I think in song lyrics (and can always provide a good song lyric for any situation I find myself in), and music is always running through my head.  I’ve had the unfortunate experience, on several occasions, to have a boss stop me in the middle of what they were saying and ask, “Julie, are you really humming (or singing) while I’m talking to you?!”  To my horror, I would realize that I was, in fact, humming or singing without realizing it, all the while completely listening to what they were saying.  I just can’t help it.

I’m one of those people who can get physical chest pain from an emotional experience elicited by a song or good lyrics.  I also think there is really nothing better in the entire world than speeding down a two-lane country road with the windows down while belting out a really good song at the top of your lungs.

I had a couple of conversations this last month with friends about songs that I feel define my life….the ones that undo me every time I hear them. There are five songs in particular that I call my “life songs”…the ones that resonate with me on a heart level. These are the songs I tell my best friends they should make sure and play at my funeral. Not because I’m morbid or anything, but because they speak to who I am and what got my attention in life; they speak to the human experience.  And also because I want it to be clear that I don’t want any “I’ll Fly Away” rapture style hymns sung when I kick the bucket.

So, listed in order of my favorites with a little commentary included for each, here are my life songs:

  1. Falling Slowly from the Once movie soundtrack

This song….OMG.  Gets me every. single. time.  My friend Jemima first introduced it to me about five years ago. The movie was wonderful and sweet, but the song lyrics are just amazing.  To me, it’s all about hope, making choices to change direction in life, to stop doing the same things that have always and only resulted in suffering. It’s about being seen and understood by someone who really knows and accepts you, and both of you offering hope to each other.  It’s a song about redemption, of having space and time to truly find ourselves and start anew.  This will forever be my heart song.

2. Holy Now by Peter Mayer

I still remember where I was the first time I heard this song.  My theological scaffolding was crumbling, and I was questioning everything Christian.  One day, about five years ago, I was in the sunroom of my house outside Boston, running on the treadmill, and listening to a podcast.  The podcast host mentioned this song, so I went and looked it up and listened.  I was completely bowled over.  I think I must have listened to it ten more times in the next hour that day.  This song represents EXACTLY how I feel about life now.  Once, I thought that the Earth was destined for the burn barrel and that miracles happened only here and there to other people.  Now, because of so many changes that have happened in my life, I am overjoyed at the goodness and grace I experience on a regular basis, even when life is hard. While I adhere less to “rules” for how to live life, I feel like I approach life with a gravitas I didn’t have before. EVERYTHING is holy, everything is sacred.  And this makes life worth getting up for every day, even when shit happens.

3. Human, by Christina Perri

This week every single area of my life blew up in my face. I was completely knocked on my ass and forced to remember that I am not invincible and that I have limited capacity. This is the song that reminds me that while I can do alot, I’m still just a human.  I have boundaries, I can be hurt by people, I can be overwhelmed.  Being human is OK; it’s who I am in this life, and I need to remember that margin and self-care and boundaries that protect my heart are good and necessary things. This is the song that comes to mind when I’ve reached my end and all there is to do is cry and reach out to my people who stand beside me when I have nothing left.

4. Hallelujah by Leonard Cohen, sung by Pentatonix

Is this not one of the absolute best songs ever written? It sums up so much of life and what it means to love, and how hard and devastating that can be. “Love is not a victory march; it’s  a cold and broken hallelujah.”  Agh!  Yes! Most love does not come easy.  Most love is painful, wrenching, heartbreaking and so often that love is not returned. But we do it anyway because love is good and right even when it doesn’t come easy.  We are baffled by life and love and all of those who we try but do not understand, and because of grace, we can say hallelujah anyway, even when we are spurned or facing death or feeling utterly broken.

5. Chasing Cars by Snow Patrol

When it comes down to it, don’t we all just want to know we’re not alone?  We don’t need to have all the answers, we don’t have to be perfect, we don’t require alot of stuff. At a heart level, I think most of us just want to know that we are seen and heard and accepted. Will someone be there if we crash and burn? Is there someone who will join us in the mindless things of life just because they want to be with us? Will anyone join us in our misery and just be with us when we aren’t able to actually offer anything in return? This is what I hear every time I listen to this song…the human desire to not be left alone.


What are YOUR life songs, and why?

I’m Drawn To Those Who Ain’t Afraid…

Oh, I am a lonely painter
I live in a box of paints
I’m frightened by the devil
And I’m drawn to those who ain’t afraid
I remember that time you told me,, you said
Love is touching souls
Surely  you touched mine ’cause
Part of you pours out of me
in these lines from time to time….

A Case of You, Joni Mitchell

I’m on vacation this week in Upstate New York, where I used to live. I come back here every year in the fall…to soak up the autumn colors, post a ridiculous number of photos to Facebook and Instagram, spend time with a best friend, and give myself permission to take a long pause from life, work, parenting, and all the things that wear me down.

The nice part of having these few days to myself is that I can ponder and reflect with few interruptions; there is silence and stillness without responsibility, and it feels like these trips literally save me and make me useful to others and hopeful again for the coming year.

This trip I’ve been thinking about the people that have come in and out of my life – some for days, some for years – and how they’ve helped create who I am now. In my last post, I talked about how I want my life to be influenced and colored by others who are brave and creative. I’m constantly amazed at the people that swoop into my life…people that I never could have seen coming, people that I never fathomed could actually exist in the world, people that brought me gifts with their presence, people that showed up right at the moment I needed them – even when I didn’t know I needed them.  This, again, is grace…when you’re given what you need before you knew you needed it.


Another thing about people that I’ve been thinking about, but which I don’t entirely like, is that sometimes, you can outgrow them.  Or, maybe you don’t outgrow them, but you grow off in opposite directions, and no matter how much you hash through things with them and try to come back to each other, you can never understand each other again. This growing away from people does not feel like grace, although it probably is in the long run.

Sometimes, the voices that you once trusted implicitly are no longer safe voices to speak into your life – they have become the devil, the accuser. And, it’s not because those people are bad or have ill intentions, but it’s because your paths have veered off in different directions and you lose the resonance that you once had with them.  You’re vibrating at different frequencies and when you try to merge together like you used to, the result is clanging dissonance. Maybe the flip of that is also true….your voice becomes the devil for them, as well.  You can no longer understand the path they are taking, and so all of your words, suggestions, and encouragements are useless and unhelpful.


Not long ago I met with someone who once knew me very well, someone who I allowed for years to speak into my life because we were on the same path.  But this time, I realized how far we had moved from each other.  It was like we were complete strangers talking past one another, and there was no point in agreeing to disagree because we were already too far gone.

I told my story of the last five years, in the same way that I tell most people that come into my life these days.  To my complete surprise, though, I was wrecked by this person’s response. I came away from the meeting believing for a few minutes that I was a selfish asshole who had really fucked up my life.  Why was I working so hard on my writing career?  Why was I going to grad school when my children are still little?  Why didn’t I just ask my ex-husband for more child support?  Maybe I’m just not cut out for marriage or committed relationships in the first place. Did I not realize I’m treating my children like bowling pins in the pursuit of my own self-expression and fulfillment and joy?  Was it not apparent that the path I’ve pursued is surely devoid of empathy and compassion towards others? 

I believed for a few short moments that what I thought was being brave might actually just be folly rooted in my own self-centeredness.  I questioned hard the joy and peace I feel most days now, where once I had little joy and no peace. That meeting was an encounter with my devil, my accuser….a voice that sided with the lingering insecurities hovering around my mind.


I’m so intensely attracted to people I see in the world who are being brave – not necessarily the ones who are doing nutty things that are dangerous – but the people who are ruthlessly pursuing themselves and searching for meaning in life even if means they risk losing everything.  When I come across these kinds of people, it’s almost all I can do not to grovel and beg them to let me just be around them once in a while.  Their stories help me to be brave, and there’s really nothing good that has come out of my life that has not been painted on or sculpted in places by these people.

After my momentary deep dive into depression and certainty that all of my decisions over the last five years were impressively horrible, I ran to a different voice – one who is resonating on my wavelength and has every right to speak into my life because she knows me and understands me, and somehow, I can do nothing wrong in her eyes.  [Side note:  EVERY SINGLE PERSON deserves a friend like this, where everything you do and say and dress like, plastered or sober, is accepted with love.  Grace, I tell you.]  I brushed away my tears, pulled myself together, and actively remembered who it is I WANT to be.  I don’t want to be a person who plays life safe and lives according to platitudes and rules.  I want to be a person who does hard things, and loves people easily and quickly, and shows my boys that sometimes the very best life is not the easy one – but the one with challenges and difficult decisions and a mom that will do anything to find herself, so that they can one day know how to really find themselves.

I want to keep chasing after the brave people and beg them to let me be in their lives, to show me how it’s done, to reveal more of the joy that I haven’t yet seen, to love me despite my fear and faults and failures.  I want to keep resonating with the amazing people I already have in my life who show me on a daily basis what it’s like to live wholeheartedly and authentically, even when they are still afraid.

I don’t know…maybe I am selfish.  Maybe it is selfish for me to try to squeeze every little bit of joy and glory out of life that I can, even when it looks irresponsible to some people. But I know there are people who resonate with me, who GET IT, who know that there are things you can’t unsee, places you can’t go back to, and ways of being that you can’t unbecome.


Is There a Protocol For This?

Photo credit: Sharada Prasad CS

I have recently come to the awareness that I have taken handmade pottery for granted my entire adult life.  I’ve always been one to go to craft fairs in Vermont and New York and scope out the pretty coffee mugs and egg white/egg yolk separators, and I’ve known a couple of people here and there who made pottery as a hobby. I also remember back in junior high when we would take those clay Christmas trees [you know what I’m talking about, right?], scrape the seams off with scalpels, toss them into kilns, and Voila!, out came ceramic decorations that we felt compelled to pull out every year and plug-in somewhere with plastic lights to sparkle and gather dust until we repacked them away in March.

But I never really stopped and considered the process and hard work of creating enough product to market, sell, and make a living on, all the while trying to maintain a balance of creating good art but doing so in an efficient manner.  I have also learned that apparently pottery is not as romantic as portrayed by Demi Moore, in Ghost. I hear the real thing is alot more like chronic back pain, frozen fingers, sweat dripping into the clay, and feeling like you’re sticking your face into the Sun when you’re checking all your baking goods in the kiln.  I’m really, really wishing I could get SNL to do a spoof off of that Ghost scene now.

Another interesting and lovely find lately is to discover that there are potter-philosophers out there in the world who write some really amazing stuff.  I guess this shouldn’t surprise me; there are plenty of other artists who view the world through their craft.  Anyway, I was delighted to stumble upon this phenomenon.


steve carrell

Working as a nurse, I frequently use protocols. They are basically an easy way for us to proceed in patient care without having to obtain doctor’s orders for things that are relatively straight forward and common.  So, for example….keeping a foley catheter in a person longer than necessary or without good reason is a surefire way to give them a urinary tract infection.  So, there are protocols for nurses to decide if that foley should stay put or if we should pull it. Or, if someone has imbalanced electrolytes, there are protocols to tell us which potassium and magnesium supplements to give, when to order blood redraws, and target values that let us know the protocol is complete. Basically, these protocols are step by step instructions for following a process to achieve a desired end result.

Sometimes I wish life had protocols.  Step by step instructions on how to get to where we want to be. Do this and do that until you arrive at your goal.  Be this and then that, and it will bring such and such into your life. I used to think life DID operate according to protocols.  It was called fundamentalist religion and contract theology.  It only took me 30 years of following all those prescribed rules to realize that God doesn’t really play by that game.  The Bible isn’t really a handbook for living, as much as people have told me throughout my life that it is.  If anything, the Bible is a guide for what NOT to do in life. I think the same is true with alot of other sacred literature.

The universe doesn’t seem to operate by a “you do this and I”ll respond in such and such a way” fashion much of the time.  This realization can be really hard when you’re coming out of a protocol-style faith tradition because it feels like you’ve lost ground to stand on and you no longer know the rules of how to play the game…..or if there are any rules at all.


One of these potter blogs that I’ve been reading over the last couple of weeks is written by Carter Gillies; it’s definitely worth your time to look at. He writes the kinds of things I have to reread multiple times to really “get”, and he’ll throw out passages that can bring me to a hard stop.  Here’s one that I read yesterday:

“There is much more to the world than the ‘given’, and it is art’s duty to not only explore this but show the magnificent expanse beyond the merely existing and leaden ‘facts’. We don’t just receive the world, we bring it into existence.” -from Sisyphus, November 10, 2018

OMG!  So good!  This got me to thinking about the idea of being co-creators with God (or universe, or insert whatever word works for you here.).  How often do I sit around and demand life to bring me what I want, to avoid doing the heavy lifting, to refuse to see beyond the superficial? I want someone to hand me the rules and teach me how to play the game so I can get to the goal that culture and society tells me is the whole point.

But….what if….we are the ones that are making the rules?  What if there is no preordained goal imagined by the universe and we have the creative power to design our own ends?  What if the world and what exists before us are our paints and brushes, or our clay and glazes, and our job is to bring more life into existence with them? We belong to the world, but the world also belongs to us and comes into existence through us.

Carter says in all caps:  EVERYONE IS AN ARTIST.  Wow, what would life be like if we all really believed that?


I definitely think there is a biochemical basis for depression, but I’m convinced that our beliefs play a strong role, especially when it comes to our sense of control.  If we believe we have no control over anything, and life is simply done TO us…well, that IS pretty depressing.  But, if we believe we have no absolute control over anything but that we DO have the power to reframe our perspectives, exert influence, and use our creativity to express ourselves in new ways and bring into existence things that once weren’t there….what’s depressing about that?

Protocols don’t leave any room for creativity or thinking outside the box.  This is one reason it was so freeing to walk away from fundamentalist Christianity. That God was boring, small, petty, and type A. There was little room for anything new and glorious because it was all labeled and judged as good or bad.  A protocol-less God/universe is freedom, grace, and space to make alot of mistakes with the knowing that there is always room and time to try anew.


I had a conversation with a new friend the other night about my goals as a floor nurse, and then later, as a forensic nurse.  He asked me what was most important to me when I cared for patients  Good question on his part, and I knew my answer right away.  More than worrying about whether or not my patients walk out of the hospital cured or pain-free, I want them to feel heard and seen. This is an area where protocol doesn’t completely fly.  Yeah, it’s great to get all the technical details right in healthcare, but I’ve met plenty of people who technically received amazing care and still recalled their hospital stays as lonely and terrible.  On the other hand, I’ve had patients tell me I was the best nurse ever, even after all I did was pass meds and sit and talk with them.  Which shows me….most people don’t care about protocol and the details of their medical care nearly as much as they want to be known and validated.  And so, I work really hard to ask my patients the good questions, to listen to their life stories, to empathize, and Lord knows I cry alot with them.

So, my friend pointed out…..maybe your style of nursing is also art? I’m bringing into existence something that wasn’t there before….something that couldn’t have existed if I had just stuck to the rules, and gone step by step through the guidelines created by some hospital committee somewhere.


Going back to the idea of everyone being an artist and my previous immature appreciation about the hard work of creating pottery.  I think we all want to have the sense that we know what we’re doing, and that what we’re doing matters.  Life feels safer that way.  But it’s also sterile and boring when we’re told what our lives are supposed to look like.  Are mass-produced lives, where we all follow similar paths adhering to the pursuit of the same life goals because someone told us to….really worth living? Is it really all that great to spend our entire lives consuming and never creating?

No, I want a life that I’ve helped create, not one that I’ve just passively accepted.  And I want a life that is influenced by other people being brave and putting their creations out into the world.  This gives me hope too; that the world will never remain just as I understand it at this very moment, because there are brave people out there who are constantly seeing with new eyes, creating their art whatever it may look like, and offering it without any stipulations for how it may be received or where it will end up.  People refusing to live inside boxes and according to checklist protocols are what contribute to the enchantment of all things.