Loving Women of All Thoughts, Looks & Abilities: World Down Syndrome Day

Loving Women of All Thoughts, Looks & Abilities: World Down Syndrome Day

World Down Syndrome Day is March 21. At WELL, we want to raise awareness of what Down syndrome is, what it means to have Down syndrome, and how people with Down syndrome play a vital role in our lives and communities. We asked WELLwomen Bernadette "Billie" Miller and her incredibly talented daughter Mary Claire to be our featured guest writers. At WELL, we celebrate women of all thoughts, looks and abilities every day. 

 WELLwomen Billie and her daughter Mary Claire on performance night of "Joseph and the Amazing Techno-colored Dream Coat" with  Arts Inclusion Company . Photo by: David Adam Beloff Photography

WELLwomen Billie and her daughter Mary Claire on performance night of "Joseph and the Amazing Techno-colored Dream Coat" with Arts Inclusion Company. Photo by: David Adam Beloff Photography

My name is Bernadette “Billie” Miller. I am a U.S. Army veteran, proud supporter of the arts, wife of 29 years, and a stay-at-home mother of three children. World Down Syndrome Day was established in 2006 by Down Syndrome International to raise awareness, to mobilize support, and to recognize the dignity, rights, and well-being of our loved ones across the world. My youngest child, Mary Claire, has Down syndrome. 

Mary Claire was born 16 years ago. At the time of her birth, we did not know that she had Down syndrome, nor did we care. We just wanted a healthy baby to love. The medical staff and its’ “caring” way told me the seemingly paralyzing news without my husband at my side nor my baby in my arms. No mother should ever have to endure that type of emotional distress.

Moving forward and simply put, Mary Claire brings unconditional love and joy to our family. She is a loving and caring young lady who spreads joy to all who come to know her. Mary Claire really enjoys the fine arts: dance, theater, and music. While dance and theater are definitely her passions, I want to focus on the role of music and its messages that shape her.

Needless to say, someone with a disability is presented with many challenges such as communicating effectively, socializing with typical-developing peers, overcoming physical shortcomings. However, this dynamic young lady navigates through life’s challenges with grit, determination, and ease. Not only do I admire her, but also try to emulate how she copes with life’s struggles.

The following are a sampling of her favorite contemporary songs. As she helped me compile her list, I noticed that the titles are enlightening not only to someone who has a disability in today’s world, but also are profound to anyone who desires happiness and satisfaction with one’s life and life choices.

"I Wanna Get Better” by The Bleachers

With her cognitive and and speech delays, she has academic and social challenges. Nonetheless, Mary Claire continues to make great strides in the classroom. Just recently, SHE led her annual teacher meeting, her Individual Educational Program (IEP), stating what her hopes for the future entail and how she wants to get there with the help she needs from the faculty and school. She seeks out opportunities at school and in the community by staying involved in extracurricular club and support groups. Last month, we met with Virginia state legislatures to advocate for an increase the funding on behalf of people with disabilities. Getting better, she has indeed.

“Born This Way” by Lady Gaga

She is a woman making her mark on the world with her artistry and philanthropy. Mary Claire might have Down syndrome, but that is simply a part of her. It does not make her who she is. The world is diverse in thoughts, looks, and abilities. We should seek to embrace our fellow human beings. Her dreams are like anyone’s who does not have a disability.

“Don’t Stop Believing” by Journey 

Remarkable that this daughter of mine - who is nearly forty years younger - chooses this song as one of her all-time favorites. This song never left my all-time favorite list since high school. Believing in yourself to accomplish goals, overcome obstacles, as well as enjoy life to its’ fullest. What more could someone want? Self-determination is definitely a strong motivator.

Although she may not fully understand the metaphors in the songs that she enjoys dearly, she lives through her music daily. From March 21st and beyond, great strides are being made in the realm of possibilities for our loved ones. It is the support of governments, businesses, communities, friends, and families that will have a positive impact on how successful our loved ones can become.

To learn more, visit: https://worlddownsyndromeday.org/

Dear Woman: You are ENOUGH.

Dear Woman: You are ENOUGH.

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BY: JANELLE BURCHFIELD

Speech given on March 8, 2018 for International Women's Day by WELL at lululemon in Town Center of Virginia Beach

When I was asked to be a part of this International Women’s Day event -  based on an article I had written a few months ago - I thought, sure, wow, I’m completely honored, thank you! Then the theme of “ENOUGH” and being enough -  was put on my talk and I felt like - is it too late for me to tap out?

I used to be a roll-outta bed and go kinda girl. My freshly tousled hair/bed head would fall perfectly-ish into place after showering the night before so I could catch that 10 minutes more of sleep after hitting snooze three times before rushing through my morning routine and applying only moisturizer and mascara while sitting in traffic on the way to work. We all have some version of that routine, right?

Then last summer, I was diagnosed with cancer - and the mornings became even harder, now my “get up and go” involves making sure my blood pressure doesn’t bottom out so I don’t pass out. Most mornings, I wake up completely nauseous, with a nosebleed and a headache. I plop on a wig that I kinda hate but don’t really feel bold enough to not wear, draw on my own eyebrows - which I’ve literally never done before- and apply a full face of makeup so I don’t appear sickly, all while pep-talking my way through my morning - “you’ve got this girl, c’mon!” “We can do it.” “There’s only a 10-hour workday separating YOU from getting back into this bed.”

My how things have changed -  all this just to feel like enough…

So, when I was asked to talk to YOU ALL in a motivational way about being enough I thought - you have picked the wrong person. I’m not even enough for this theme!

And then I started writing and thinking through this; putting my thoughts on paper, I became so incredibly grateful for this opportunity.

I will be the very first to tell you - as I’m sure you’ve already figured out - that I’m not a trained motivational speaker. I’ve learned A LOT in the past several months and even in the last week, and writing about my experiences is a wonderful way for me to process them. A way for me to think out loud.

And so quickly, before I dive in - Thank you to lululemon, West Elm, and WELLwomen for giving me the opportunity to share my story this evening, and thank you all for being gracious enough to listen.

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Diagnosis & Peru:

I’d kept my breast cancer diagnosis pretty private for the first couple of months while I processed, letting only those closest to me know.

I went to the first few appointments alone, and didn’t really tell anyone - “If I don’t make a big deal out of it, it’s not a big deal," I would tell myself.

So, imagine when I left the doctors office with my new cancer diagnosis in hand and - I texted, TEXTED my best friend -  “Hi, what are you up to? Sorry to text this - but I just found out I have cancer - breast cancer, actually….

Yeah, that probably should’ve been a phone call, right. He said where are you, and then we picked a dark bar to sit in, just in case I needed to cry.

I guess you could say, I’ve been working on my delivery.  

And then, I told another friend, while we were walking to my car in a parking garage. I just blurted out, “Hey, I guess I’ve been meaning to tell you that I have cancer, but - probably - I’ll be fine, I just figured you should know." Then, I could feel my eyes filling with tears, and I literally ran away to my car. I didn’t want them to see me cry because crying means I care about that cancer; crying means it’s real and I am not strong enough. Or so I thought.

Some women are so brave to share their story — I know that I haven’t been one of them. I knew from the start I didn’t want this disease to own or define me.  I didn’t want to be a cancer patient - I didn’t feel empowered by that label. I don’t really like labels at all, actually. I think labels box us up and can make us put weird expectations on ourselves, so I really took my time in deciding how to talk about my cancer and who to tell, and what MY story would be.

If I was going to wear a label, it would be one that I created.

So, it’s early August, and as I mentioned, I am diagnosed with Stage 2 Breast Cancer which we found out had traveled to my lymph nodes. I also received a call from a genetic counselor letting me know that I carry a cancer gene called BRCA2 that has given me a pretty invasive and aggressive type of cancer.

I would need a double mastectomy, breast reconstruction, chemo and radiation, they said. And had I thought about harvesting and freezing my eggs?

Cancer treatments would likely leave me infertile - but also the hormones I would need for an egg harvesting procedure - happened to be the same ones that were feeding my cancer and therefore put me at a greater risk.

It’s September now and earlier in the year I had booked a trip to hike and camp the Inca Trail in Peru for a week - a trip I’d been planning most of the year, after deciding to travel somewhere out of the country every year in my 30s. I was sure I’d need to cancel now.

But my doctor told me, “Girl, you go on that trip: remind yourself how strong you are, and when you get back, we’ll conquer your cancer.”  

He was right. Going on that trip was exactly the empowering adventure I needed before all of this. Wandering through those Inca ruins - and winding down the trail, often alone - going through the Amazon Jungle, the Andes Mountains, the Cloud Forest. There - I didn’t have cancer, I was just an adventurer with a fervor for life! I was enough, and perfect and whole and unstoppable.

My trail guide reminded us that the Inca and Pre-Inca people are still mostly a mystery, we don’t really know what Machu Picchu was built for or even how it was built, or any of the ruins along the way. In that way, they’re believed to be pretty magical and spiritual, because they can mean whatever you want them to mean - whatever you need them to be.

And, oh man, I needed those mountains and that trail to be a lot of things for me!

But being unplugged from the world for all of those days, not having to worry about my next doctor’s appointment or my major upcoming surgery - I found a new kind of gratitude and appreciation and love.

That trip, that I’d booked six months before I knew anything about cancer and had been planning for almost a year, was the exact gift I needed before diving into my new life, and in that way, I knew that the universe - or whatever you choose to believe in, had my back - and that things were going to be ok for me - even if “being ok” was different than what I had planned.

Finding the simplicity and beauty amidst all the complex and ugly, suddenly made the world seem brighter and lighter.

The day after I got back from my adventure in Peru - I underwent my double mastectomy, removing a tumor, both breasts, and 24 lymph nodes in my left arm and side.

In October, I began my first of 20 chemo treatments - today - I ONLY HAVE FOUR MORE TO GO!

It’s been a crazy and life-defining 8 months for me. When I look back at how naive I have been - making lists and new year’s resolutions each year - we can plan all that we want, but sometimes life is just going to throw you a curveball. I’ve tried to handle everything and navigate it with grace and humility and strength. And I’ve only been moderately successful at like 2 out of 3 of those, depending on the day.

Me Too:  

And, now that you have some background info, let me take a step back for a minute, because a big piece of my story and why I am here tonight was learning that I’m enough while navigating the male-dominated world of cancer treatment. And a defining moment of strength has been this particular appointment, with a plastic surgeon:

I began the appointment by telling him I was about 95% sure I didn’t want any breast reconstruction at all.

 “You’re such a delicate creature," the surgeon said, while I was undressed sitting on the exam table.

“You need to think about all the delicacies of being a woman.” And then asked me to catch a breast implant that he was tossing my way to prove how real it felt… quite the sales pitch right.

He reminded me to consider things like “my future partner’s feelings.” To not forget that “breasts are part of being a woman.”

I told him my health and getting well as quickly as possible was my top priority.  

He replied, "Do you want to look like a 12-year-old boy?"

Spoiler alert: I didn’t and won’t prioritize any potential future partner’s feelings over my own recovery. Unfortunately, I really had to fight for that and reiterate it over and over. At no time was “no breast reconstruction” even offered to me as an option. It was always: which type of reconstruction do you want? So, after I became my own health advocate and decided what was right for my body, what was ENOUGH for me - I had to demand it.

Just like cancer wasn’t going to define my personhood – my womanhood is not defined by my breasts.

The internet and common medical terms refer to my current post-surgery body as “disfigured.” We can do better than this, don’t you think? Because that certainly adds an extra layer to feeling like ENOUGH. The language we are using should support any woman’s decision to do what we want with our body.

When I left that appointment, telling the doctor I was now confident about my decision to not have breast reconstruction, that I didn’t feel like I, personally, was an implant-kinda girl, not to mention the multiple surgeries I would need while battling cancer and undergoing chemo to make that happen - he continued to try to persuade me, saying that he knows I’ll change my mind.

“Maybe ask the surgeon to leave some extra room so I can pop an implant in there later,” he says with a wink, and a charming British accent that I’m sure usually let’s him get away with this kind of talk.

This is sexist language that women shouldn’t have to endure at any time, let alone while fighting for their life. A man placing the aesthetic expectations of society over my clearly-communicated wants and need for health and life in a culture of harassment should not be normal.

The appointment ended with him patting me on the knee while I hopped up from the exam table - telling me - “Oh, you’re fiery. You’ll beat cancer for sure, but just don’t rule out breast reconstruction, I’ve seen what that looks like, and it’s not pretty…”

Forget being enough - in this instance, I was told I was being too much - too opinionated - too fiery. How dare I make a decision on my own without consulting a man first? I was being reeled in and put back in a box of subservient female sexuality because that doctor didn’t know what to do with me once I was bold enough to define my own body outside of male pleasure. 

Redefining Femininity:

So, what does it mean to be a woman? How do I reclaim and redefine femininity after losing most everything that society and our peers would say makes me a woman? How do I look at all of this and decide I am enough?

And I won’t lie, it has been very hard. I haven’t been doing any dating. I need all my emotional energy to play the mind game that is cancer, to survive these treatments. And I do have a lot of scars, that admittedly I’m not entirely comfortable with. A lot of days it’s really hard for me to look in the mirror or even imagine having my shirt off in front of another person.

But then, I am reminded how beautiful women supporting each other can be, and I have a renewed sense of confidence and hope.

For one of my surgeries, I had the most amazing female doctor, she was putting in my port for chemo, so there’s a little leeway in where it can be placed - you know, as long as it’s inserted directly into your jugular.

She asked, while making notes in a computer, “And have you thought about where you want this incision and scar?” That’s a weird question, right?

“Oh, I’m not sure,” I said, feeling pretty overwhelmed. “You’re a woman. I guess do whatever you would want.”

And she looked at me, and said: "There are enough pretty girls in this world. What we need are more warriors. You my dear, are a warrior. And I’m proud to know you."

Those words have really stuck with me over these past months. Even though cancer has stolen so much, I’m somehow walking out with more than I started.

Accepting the fact that I am enough, that we are enough is HARD. It is easier to internalize the criticisms, compare out. Over and over again I’ve tried to mold myself into a vision of “enough” that I constantly shift, because some days I feel like I’ll never achieve it.

There are days when I get it and days when I don’t. So, I keep writing and processing, because on the days that I don’t, I look to friends to help me remember and hopefully on the days that I do, they may come looking to me for that same thing.

When I write or try to process I am often in the middle or just on the cusp of internalizing an important message to myself or figuring something out. I’d rather write in that place than when I do have it all “figured out” because I think writing in the middle is so pure and so authentic. Granted, I may seem more scattered, but aren’t we all?

In the months that have passed since being diagnosed, I could write a book filled with all the weird things people have said to me, and the surprising thing is it’s not just men — it’s how women talk to each other as well.

I’d like us to think about new language to use when we’re talking about our bodies and our health. I shared some of my story originally on a private Facebook page,  which received almost 9 thousand likes and over 1,500 comments, mostly from others going through this same thing with their own but similar story to tell. It was both empowering to know I wasn’t alone in my experience, and devastating to know there are so many of us who are told we are not enough.

Finding Beauty:

I’ve found that a real source of empowerment comes from embracing our fears, our scars,  the things we don’t have control over. Once we stop avoiding those things that make us feel inadequate - we begin to find strength.

As much as I’ve been saying for months and even tonight, that I won’t be defined by this disease, the truth is I have been - but I’ve decided to also be empowered by it, to embrace it, to become an incessant happiness seeker, savoring every sweet moment life has to offer, rather than focusing on some unattainable version of perfection. I’ve decided to be grateful. The past 8 months have made me into a fighter, it’s made me really strong, and it’s broken me down in a way that I get to decide which pieces of me are the most important - and rebuild with only those.

When you lose everything that could make you beautiful by society’s standards, or even makes people feel like you’re cute, or even recognizable - the first time someone didn’t recognize me in public because I didn’t have a wig and makeup on (I had just come from yoga), I was devastated. I mean, I get it, have you guys seen a face with no eyebrows? Eyebrows are a real gamechanger...

We work so hard to create these personas - that really in the end don’t mean anything. I’ve lost my hair, eyelashes, eyebrows, breasts, fingernails, fertility, a lot of weight... but what I gained was a shift in perspective, realizing that I am so very lucky to even be alive. Lately, I feel more beautiful than I could’ve ever imagined - because I started seeking inner beauty, rather than an outer beauty.

There’s great beauty in finding how strong you really are.

There’s beauty in knowing the strong woman who grew out of all of this adversity - I get to keep her forever - and everything else is pretty temporary. 

By hitting rock bottom, I became stronger than I have ever been. Instead of viewing it as a negative. I decided to think - OK, like we found it, and we can literally only go up from here.  

By losing every single thing that I used to identify with 'womanliness' - or what makes me a woman - I have been able to redefine what that means to me - and it has opened my eyes to all the ways in which femininity can be expressed.

In Closing:

The more that I speak from the heart, and a place of feeling and knowing that I’m enough, and the more that I take the time to nurture the things that make me unique, the more receptive I find the world to be.

 Being myself requires far less work and because of that I am able to invest more time in developing who I am and finding my voice.  

The world needs us to be exactly who we are because nothing will happen if we aren’t.

WHAT WE ALL NEED IS A WORLD OF WOMEN WHO KNOW THEY ARE ENOUGH.

You are each an incredible person. I don’t even know all of you, but I can tell you - without a doubt - that there is something in you that sets you apart from everyone else.

Find that thing, embrace it. Nurture it.

YOU ARE ENOUGH and YOUR enough is what makes you extraordinary.

ABOUT JANELLE: 

Janelle Burchfield is the Director of Marketing and Community Engagement at Peninsula Fine Arts Center, and fills up her free time by activating her passion for art and community. Recent work includes serving as a Programming/Events Chair for Norfolk's Annual NEON Festival; assisting with events and promotion for the artist collective For All Handkind; and working as a producer for #virginiaAF pop-up gallery and project - a continuing community discussion through visual and performative arts in collaboration with the #americanAF festival in New York.

In her daily practice she's exploring new language and narrative on femininity today and its evolving role in our culture and community.

When You're the Leader, Don't Allow Leadership to Gobble You Up

When You're the Leader, Don't Allow Leadership to Gobble You Up

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This is a difficult subject; one that I’m not entirely sure I have found the proper words for yet, but I’ll try. 

First, let me start by saying I understand the feelings I’m writing about. I have been there. I have attempted to sustain my life with bad coffee in styrofoam cups or deliciously overpriced coffees in artist-designed cups. I’ve skipped meals or convinced myself that “oh, I had a yogurt parfait an hour ago” will be enough. I’ve worked overtime and then come home and put in more overtime. I’ve woken up at 3:00 AM every night for 5 years, consumed with this super vague but unrelenting anxiety; I could never pin point its root cause because too much of me was spread in too many directions. 

Second, if you find yourself currently in the “busy, go-getter achievement, full-court-press” phase, please don’t think that I am encouraging you to stop: I am not. In fact, I say to you: keep going. But keep going in a way that is far healthier than the course I took, for your own health and happiness. 

Thirdly, I write this from an entire different place. One year ago today, I started the process of pulling myself from the hurriedness. 

I started being more choosey with whom and how I work. 

I started putting limits on my days (how many times I check my e-mail; when I have my cell phone in my reach and when I don’t; how quickly I respond to e-mails or texts). 

I changed the requirements I had set on myself or had been bullied into me. (I really used to require that I respond to a text within 5 minutes of its receipt; respond to an e-mail within 12 hours; return a call within 30 minutes). 

I changed my relationships with people: if they have previously expected X, Y and Z of me (including how they treat me), I respectfully discussed with them and showed them why X, Y and Z isn’t going to work for me anymore, but how and why A, B and C could work. 

The lesson revealed to me through this process was one that I didn’t expect, but has impacted my thoughts moving forward: You can, unknowingly, slide into a completely different person than who you are because you get swept up in the hurry, the charge of the rush, the power of decision-making over others, and the seduction of your perceived control over everything. The speed, the control, the management, the acronyms, the calendars, the hand shaking, the deal making, the negotiating and the walking away. Fill another cup of coffee. Set another calendar date. Decide where your money will flow. 

[Vent session: the use of acronyms in the corporate world make me quiver. While we’re told they are used for efficient space holders on paper, to me, they are used the same way chips are used as a casino: they don’t want you to realize the heart and humanity behind the world, the mission, the cause. I spent a lot of time living “SCJ CTC 1 HR ASAP CC LEH.”] 

Now, I thought I was doing it well under these conditions! I smiled, I laughed, I proceeded with kindness. I hit all of my deadlines. I tried to empower others through my feedback notes, and I tried (to my deficit) to make everyone happy. 

It isn’t in my professional relationships that I noticed the problem creep up. It was in my personal relationships where it reared its ugly head: Did I really think I could manage, control, schedule and incentivize them? 

The utter unfairness of this hit me the other day as I practically stood outside of my own body watching myself deploy bad leadership skills on my partner. A question smacked me right in the face: Had I embodied the poor leadership tactics that are exhibited for me by the leaders of this world?

I made myself sit down and think this through. I wanted bad habits to stop here, today, and not move forward with me any longer. 

I made some promises to myself. I want to be the kind of leader who: 

  • Embraces the flow of natural growth and personal understanding. I want anyone who works with me or for me to have their own journeys of learning new skills and coming to new conclusions. 
  • Provides opportunities for growth of new skills, new thought patterns, new connections.
  • Celebrates when a teammate decides to take a growth opportunity or a step in a new direction.
  • Opens space for them to create from their own ideas, heart and enthusiasm. 
  • Sets people up for feel-grand successes; ensuring they have what they need. 
  • Asks questions and listens. 
  • Doesn’t fall prey to “how it should be” or “how it has been done in the past.” 
  • Doesn’t follow the generally-accepted rules of the game, but respects the important character-revealing ones. 
  • Understands when its time for someone to move on to greater things for themselves.
  • Doesn’t fear other people’s success (individually or as a business). 
  • Doesn’t fear a “bad year, financially” because it was an incredible growth or living year (that’s a success!) 
  • Treasures people and talent over anything else. 
  • Doesn’t backstab or discount or dismiss anyone. 
  • Doesn’t gossip or harm. 
  • Gives to my team, my clients and my community. 
  • Validates what is authentic, genuine, researched, loved. 
  • Explores what is curious, courageous, unsolved, undetermined, left astray. 
  • Replenishes what is lost.
  • Accepts what is lost.
  • Cherishes what is gained. 
  • Spreads light over what is dark. 
  • Speaks with grace; says goodbye with grace; provides constructive criticism with candor but still with grace.

These hopes for myself as a leader are qualities that I challenge myself to carry with me and apply to everyone I share this life with. The path I want to forge in this world will be a path of joy, understanding, acceptance, goodness for these are the only things worth living for and the only projects worth leading. 

Sheena

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WELLwomen provides coaching for leadership. Fill out of questionnaire, and a WELL professionally-certified coach will be in touch with you soon! 

You are allowed to evolve

You are allowed to evolve

“It probably has to do with the ease of remembering versus the difficulty of imagining. Most of us can remember who we were 10 years ago, but we find it hard to imagine who we are going to be. And then we mistakingly think that because it’s hard to imagine, it’s not likely to happen.

The bottom line is, time is a powerful force. It transforms our preferences; it reshapes our values; it alters our personalities. We seem to appreciate this fact, but only in retrospect; only when we look backwards do we realize how much change happens in a decade. It’s as if the present is a magic time, it’s a watershed on the timeline. It’s the moment at which we finally become ourselves. Human beings are works in progress that mistakingly think they’re finished. The person you are right now is as transient, as fleeting and as temporary as all the people you’ve ever been.”

– Dan Gilbert, TED talk, June 3, 2014.

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I finished graduate school in May 2014. One month before Dan Gilbert gave his TED talk and said these words that ended up profoundly impacting my life. 

For some unknown reason, I figured you had to be committed to something: a career, a personality type, a look, an ideology, a theology, a hair color, an attitude. I assumed that who I was, was set! I had spent a lot of money in education to be this person in this field in these clothes in this body! 

But then I heard Dan Gilbert's talk and I remembered: You are allowed to evolve. 

That posits the very important question of how do you evolve your life? Let's start simple and then move on from there. 

Idea No. 1: Change your look

Dye your hair that beautiful lavender color you've been dreaming about. Go for the bold hair cut or decide to grow your hair long. Wear the torn jeans or the 5-inch heels. Slip on the courageous red lipstick. Changing your look is an easy way to adjust your temporary mood, feelings, attitude or perspective. Our hair, our clothes, our jewelry have a tantalizing power in that way. Moving from one look to the next sends signals to our brains to adjust our feelings. For example, coming home from work and slipping into our pajamas and oversized sweatshirt says, "Relax... leave all of your stress: you're home, you're safe." The same voice you'll hear when the little black dress tells your brain, "You're stunning and elegant and can solve all problems." Changing your look is a temporary card on a large spectrum of opportunities to try on a new you for the day (or month, or year). 

Idea No. 2: Learn a new skill

Sign up for the cooking or watercolor class. Try Pilates. Ballroom dancing is nice. When you decide to learn a new skill, you'll find yourself in new situations: new classrooms full of new people who will become new friends. Your brain will be wrestling with new concepts and new vocabulary. Your body will be figuring out new fine motor skills (it took me forever to properly eat with chopsticks in Japan). Learning a new skill places you outside of your norm, and this will bring with it new opportunities. 

Idea No. 3: Seek out a new community of friends

Finding a new group of friends is a great way to alter your perspectives or schedule. New friends mean new thoughts and ideas and new events to attend! New friends also come with new jokes, new celebrations, new opportunities to grow in myriad directions. 

Idea No. 4: Adjust your surroundings

This one can be as large or as subtle as you'd like it. It could mean just painting a room in your house, or buying a plant for the dullest corner. Or it could mean buy a new house, rent a new condo, find a new roommate. On the grandest scale, it could mean move to a different city with different weather patterns. Adjusting your surroundings will change the day-to-day habits that we tend to auto-pilot ourselves through. It will force you to see, hear, feel, move, think, act differently.

Idea No. 5: Jump career fields

This is a huge one, and one that will most likely take a little more planning but it's possible! If you can see yourself working in a new field, then pursue it. Find out what you will need to do and start to seek out how to do it. No one requires you to stay in the same field your entire life. I'm 32 and I've already been in journalism, law, dance and education! Don't let people convince you to stay when your heart and mind are telling you to go. 

Idea No. 6: Change your look and learn a new skill and find new friends and adjust your surroundings and jump career fields! Heck, why not?!

Literally, that is the freedom of evolving. You can do a little of it or all of it. You can do some this year and some next year or you can do them all this week. The goal is to grant yourself the freedom to evolve. Treasure the different chapters of your life (no matter how different they are from each other) and keep going! 

This is how you evolve. This is how your write the story of your life. 

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WELLwomen, Inc. offers Life & Wellness Coaching. If you are interested in a coaching session to clarify your vision, unravel stress or learn how to evolve your current circumstances, fill out our questionnaire and a coach will be in touch with you very soon! 

Sheena

Are You Disrespecting Other Women?

Are You Disrespecting Other Women?

 Stay tuned for WELLwomen's workshop on female bullying: coming soon! 

Stay tuned for WELLwomen's workshop on female bullying: coming soon! 

Disrespecting someone means showing lack of caring for the feelings, traditions, rights or wishes of someone else. It also means lack of courtesy. 

Recently, I was incredibly disrespected by two women who I genuinely cared for, routed for, and supported. These women knew they had the power to choose how to handle something. Instead of taking a graceful, respectful route they chose a different route. I knew I was on the receiving end of disrespect, because there were 100+ other ways to handle this situation that would have left both parties feeling uplifted. Now, they may have their reasons for choosing this approach as opposed to having a professional, intelligent conversation, but here is where I pause: Is there ever good reasons to be disrespectful or hurtful or discourteous? 

I personally don’t think so. I personally don’t think disrespecting women (well, humans for that matter) is ever the way to move forward. There are better, more elevated ways to approach life. 

Are you knowingly or unknowingly disrespecting the women in your life? 

You may be disrespecting another woman if… 

You’re dismissing her thoughts, feelings, ideas, wishes or opinions. Being dismissive sends the direct message of “Who you are and what you’re feeling simply does not matter here.” Dr. Jamie Long, psychologist, says, “Invalidation is one of the most damaging forms of emotional abuse.” Are you ready to invalidate another woman? 

You’re standing by and allowing another female to be dismissed, bullied or disrespected. Being a witness and allowing it to happen makes us just as guilty. Know that you can stand up and say, "This isn't the best way to approach this." Standing up for your fellow females and keeping everyone in check, including yourself, is important here. It matters. 

You’re choosing to emotionally attack her personal attributes. As women, we tend to have easy access to our emotions. As author Emily V. Gordon says, women tend “compete, compare, undermine and undercut one another.” If you are choosing to personally attack a fellow female instead of having a professional, fact-based conversation, then you are actively disrespecting another woman. You are sending the message that she is not capable of having an important, non-emotional conversation, as well as ending the message that you are not capable of having that conversation either. 

You’re failing to return a greeting from a fellow female. Deliberately choosing to ignore another female is hurtful and immature. It only reinforces hurtful thoughts, feelings or behaviors on both sides. 

You’re speaking to a select group of people and not making eye contact or speaking with select others. This passive-aggressive attempt to not acknowledge another woman’s existence reminds me of behaviors you see on an elementary-school playground. It’s petty and clearly reveals your intention: to hurt someone else’s feelings, by choice. 

You’re name calling and gossiping. Talking about another woman under your prescribed label is extremely disrespectful to her, but also reveals your character and intelligence. It doesn’t help either one of you to live life at that level. Also, sharing a personal story of a fellow female’s that isn’t your story to tell is an invasion of her privacy and trust, sending her the message that you do not respect her. 

Your body language is closed, shut off or aggressive. This includes eye rolling, shouldering out someone, keeping your back to them, never making eye contact, avoidance. This body language reveals your inner thoughts of disrespect, anger, revenge, or whatever may be fueling it. Does this behavior make you feel empowered? 

You’re choosing to ignore the relationship. You may be friends or co-workers or family members. Whatever the relationship may be, if you’re choosing to move forward with actions or behaviors completely ignoring the relationship you have, you are telling the other woman that relationship doesn’t matter. You are telling that woman the time you spent developing that relationship doesn’t matter. 

You're knowingly manipulating her. If you have your own secret intentions and you’re using another woman, without her knowing, to achieve those intentions, that is manipulation. That is you using another woman’s feelings, energy, efforts, talents and time. Read that again: That is you using another woman. 

You’re withholding compliments she deserves. If another woman deserves a compliment but you’re choosing to withhold that, you are bullying her. For example, withholding deserved compliments such as, “Thank you for your efforts, time and energy here. You were an incredible asset” or “Your work here is wonderful. Your ideas really shined,” is a way of invalidating her efforts and time spent. Choosing to withhold a compliment is more about jealousy on the other end and less about what is fair and deserved. 

Nobody is perfect and sometimes we hurt our fellow females without intending to do so, but pausing before deciding to disrespect a fellow female will help our world. 

Instead of disrespecting her, show her the respect of a professional conversation. If she has asked for a response, provide her with a response. If she has asked for your assistance or feedback, and you are in a place to do so, uplift her with constructive feedback. 

Be the kind of woman you want to be and ask yourself: Do I want to be the kind of woman who chooses to disrespect other women? 

The goal is to encourage, uplift and support each other. Let us all move forward with that intention in this challenging but beautiful world. 

By: Sheena Jeffers, Chief Experience Officer, WELLwomen, Inc.

You are worthy. You can do this.

You are worthy. You can do this.

"I want to start running." This thought has never occurred to me before. It took me moving onto a sailboat where space is confined to first have this thought (at age 31). 

This morning, I got up, pulled on my stretchy gear, laced my shoes and started running? I have no idea what I'm doing, but I force myself to recall every running fact I could remember from elementary school: inhale three footstrikes, exhale for two; breathe through your nose and mouth continuously; run for one minute, walk for one minute. 

I ran through the small neighborhood that we have moved into. This is a quaint neighborhood and should definitely be used to film a movie one day. All of the neighbors know each other, so I'm "the new girl." I heard some whispers at the 4th of July parade: "That's the new girl. They live on a sailboat at the marina." They haven't asked me my name yet, but we're working on that. 

I said, "Good morning!" in the chirpiest tone I could muster while running and after only one cup of coffee. 

I ran all of the way to the bay then plopped myself down on the sand to catch my breath. 

That's when it occurred to me: I feel tremendously out of place

Who is this girl? Running? Living on a sailboat? Scheduled to crew in a race this evening? RUNNING?

When I start to self-doubt, I'm really great it. I immediately tell myself: You don't know what you're doing. You aren't strong enough (literally, muscular wise) but also, heck, while we're at it, you're not strong enough emotionally either. People know so much more than you. You're doing it wrong, for sure. You're making all of the mistakes. 

But as I sat there on the beach this morning I said to myself, "We aren't doing this. Not today. Not tomorrow. We're not doing this." And I reminded myself that I am worthy; I am strong; I am capable. 

So, just in case someone hasn't told you this today: 

  • You are worthy. Whatever you're hoping for lately, you are worthy of it. You are worthy of great love, of marriage (if you want it), of children (if you want them), of the promotion, of the life change, of weight loss or weight gain - whatever you're working on. You are worthy. 
  • You are strong. Physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually. Maybe you don't feel 100% strength every day, but the fact that you can ride the waves and remain yourself is strength. The fact that you recognize the give-and-take, the push-and-pull of it all, is strength. You carry your strength with you every morning and every minute of the day. 
  • You are capable. You can absolutely do this. There was ways to learn, people to guide, lessons to process. Whatever it is you're trying to achieve, know that you are capable. And if you're needing help figuring it out, do not be afraid of asking for help. 
  • You are powerful. Your energy is unique to you. Your thoughts are unique to you. Your approach, your desires, your skill set, your talents are unique to you. They are the patched quilt that makes up your visions, your decisions and who you are. That is powerful. That is a force. 
  • You will, you are making a difference. Throwing a small stone sends a ripple through the water for a long time. Everything you do, say, decide, choose, act upon sends a ripple. You are making a difference every moment of the day. 

I stood up from the beach feeling far stronger. And now when the taunting voices in my head say, "Who is this girl?" I have an answer: I am worthy. I am strong. I am capable. I am powerful. I will make a difference. 

I know you hear me, but are you listening?

I know you hear me, but are you listening?

So often we get caught up thinking that we are doing an awesome job at the whole listening thing.  We assume that we are nodding enough, that we are providing the right verbal prompts to keep the conversation going, that we can mentally multitask because this story is just draaaggggiinnnnngg on, we have to-do lists to make, and our coffee has gotten cold. 


Here’s the thing, hearing is not the same as listening.  This huge disconnect can sneak into both our professional and personal relationships with detrimental effects.  Not listening well can lead to misunderstandings, arguments, poor client relations and more. Let’s break it down…. 


Hearing is the act of perceiving sound by using your ears, it’s one of our five senses. We hear street noise, we notice a dog barking. For most of us, hearing just happens. 


Listening is an active exercise in hearing. Listening requires us to make the conscious choice to process the messages we are receiving and concentrate on interpreting (or decoding) those messages. 


There are TONS of barriers to listening, though, like:
•    We don’t think we need put work into listening;
•    We aren’t interested in what’s being said;
•    We don’t like the speaker or they aren’t speaking well;
•    We are constantly comparing what’s being said to what we already think/believe/know; or
•    We are succumbing to internal or external distractions. 


If we remove the barriers, listening still takes work because many of us fall into the bad habit of listening for the wrong reason. This can make us ineffective listeners if they aren’t the desired response from the speaker. Things like: 

Listening to respond
This happens when a person is speaking and mentions something that we relate or connect strongly to and we think of an awesome story or a great fact that we want to respond with and then….we stop listening. We stop listening because we are focused on what we want to say, not what the person is saying to us. 

Listening to judge
It’s a natural tendency to evaluate what’s being said as a person is speaking.  This gets sticky when we stop listening to learn/experience/empathize and we start listening to assess. Things like, “well, that’s not the best idea” or “are you sure that is what you want?” are statements judging what you’ve just heard.  Why is this ineffective? Because we get to the assessment before fully understanding the situation. Once an evaluative response is thrown out, it’s hard as a speaker to pick back up. 


Listening to fix
Have you ever wanted to just vent to a friend, colleague, or significant other and all they do is try to fix it? While sometimes helpful, it can end with feeling unheard or put off by the whole interaction. As a listener, it’s not our job to interject with solutions at every pause - it’s our job to listen until we’ve been asked to fix it which may not happen. (My favorite example of this is this very tongue in cheek video, check it out!)


So what do we do with all of that information? We practice. Listening effectively is an active choice to not be distracted and care more about what’s being said than about when you get to speak next. It’s about being active and present with the goal of understanding. A good practice if you are unsure of how to listen is to ask: would you like to hear my advice/experience/etc.? 


Listening is vital to connection and to progress. It’s not easy, but you’ve got this! 
xxJess

 

p.s. We're hosting on interactive workshop on the Practice of Reflective Listening on July 31, join us to get some practice!

Learning to Nurture

Learning to Nurture

This was going to be a commitment to a continuous series of actions to preserve something or someone I love. 

The Seven Devils

The Seven Devils

Poet Marie Howe said, "I love Magdalene. And I think of her as someone who really struggled with her subjectivity too and came into it and found herself. I’m fascinated by her as a woman who has lived over centuries, why she had to be made into this person." 

Mary Magdalene is a mysterious character in the Bible. A woman turned, verbally and through writings, into a prostitute and known for her physically intimate relationship with Jesus, which suggests kissing. 

The Bible says, "Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven devils had been cast out." Luke 8:2.

But Marie Howe was curious: "Why she had to be made into this person..." 

She wrote a riveting poem about Mary Magdalene, giving Mary her own voice, about these unknown Seven Devils that men wrote had been cast out. 

Note: Mary was not actually a prostitute. She was never described as a prostitute in the Bible or that she had a sexually intimate relationship with Jesus. It was just always said about her. Mary Howe gave her a voice.

The Seven Devils by Marie Howe

The first was that I was very busy.

The second—I was different from you: whatever happened to you could
not happen to me, not like that.

The third—I worried.

The fourth—envy, disguised as compassion.

The fifth was that I refused to consider the quality of life of the aphid,
The aphid disgusted me.  But I couldn’t stop thinking about it.
The mosquito too—its face.    And the ant—its bifurcated body.

Ok   the first was that I was so busy. 

The second that I might make the wrong choice,
because I had decided to take that plane that day,
that flight, before noon, so as to arrive early
and, I shouldn’t have wanted that.
The third was that if I walked past the certain place on the street
the house would blow up.   

The fourth was that I was made of guts and blood with a thin layer
of skin lightly thrown over the whole thing.

The fifth was that the dead seemed more alive to me than the living

The sixth—if I touched my right arm I had to touch my left arm, and if I
touchedthe left arm a little harder than I’d first touched the right then I had
to retouch the left and then touch the right again so it would be even.  

The seventh—I knew I was breathing the expelled breath of everything that
was alive, and I couldn’t stand it.
I wanted a sieve, a mask, a, I hate this word—cheesecloth—
to breath through that would trap it—whatever was inside everyone else that
entered me when I breathed in.

No.  That was the first one.

The second was that I was so busy.  I had no time.   How had this happened?
How had our lives gotten like this?

The third was that I couldn’t eat food if I really saw it—distinct, separate
from me in a bowl or on a plate. 

Ok. The first was that. I could never get to the end of the list.
The second was that the laundry was never finally done.

The third was that no one knew me, although they thought they did.
And that if people thought of me as little as I thought of them then what was
love?  

The fourth was I didn’t belong to anyone. I wouldn’t allow myself to belong
to anyone.

The fifth was that I knew none of us could ever know what we didn’t know.

The sixth was that I projected onto others what I myself was feeling.

The seventh was the way my mother looked   when she was dying, 
the sound she made—her mouth wrenched to the right and cupped open
so as to take in as much air… the gurgling sound, so loud
we had to speak louder to hear each other over it.

And that I couldn’t stop hearing it—years later—grocery shopping, crossing the street—

No, not the sound—it was   her body’s hunger
finally evident—what our mother had hidden all her life.

For months I dreamt of knucklebones and roots,   
the slabs of sidewalk pushed up like crooked teeth by what grew underneath.

The underneath.  That was the first devil.   It was always with me
And that I didn’t think you—if I told you—would understand any of this—

Copyright © 2008 by Marie Howe. Originally published in American Poetry Review

Hi, from Sheena & Jess!

Hi, from Sheena & Jess!

Hello, lovely! 

We are so glad you're here! The About WELL page introduces both of us, but we want you to know us a little better. 

How Sheena & Jess became Sheena & Jess...

You know how your parents always said "don't talk to strangers!"? Well, we don't really believe in that mantra.

In 2012, Jess was ending her first year of grad school at ODU (Let's go Monarchs!) and needed a new apartment.  She researched beach-y places and ended up in Ocean View, moving in with a young professional woman she didn't know beyond the interview lunch...did we mention she found the place on CraigsList?

A few months later, Sheena made the huge decision to leave her corporate role of several years and return to Hampton Roads to pursue a grad degree in the arts. She signed an OV lease (again, off of CraigsList!! Sorry, moms!) after only meeting one of the two roommates, since Jess was never free at the same times.

Two months after sharing a residence, we finally met in person. It's been an amazing whirlwind of projects, growth, coffee, yoga, wine, and sand ever since. 

Five things Sheena wants you to know about Jess:

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1. You cannot speak to Jess before she's had coffee in the morning. If you decide to proceed and talk anyway, she will stare at you and walk right past you as if she heard nothing at all. 

2. She is the best person with which to test academic research at a bar. 

3. She will point out important key facts to you at important key times. For example: "Sheena, that is not a tropical beach bird. That's someone's pet.

4. She is an excellent friend: giving you a listening ear, when you need it; following up on you, when you need it; celebrating or crying with you, when you need it. 

5. She appreciates receiving selfies with her cat, mostly because he won't pose with her.

 

Five things Jess wants you to know about Sheena: 

1.  Sheena will stretch on anything, anywhere. She'll do a full yoga flow in the kitchen. 

2.  She will say your name as a statement while raising her eyebrows to emphasize a point.  Example: "JESS. Jess, There's a bird in the house."

3.  Sheena has tiny feet, which comes in handy since her shoes take up less room.  Like the 10 pairs that are always in her car. Along w/the tutu.

4.  She's incredibly patient with her dance students of all ages and abilities. Even when those kids just won't stand on their dot.

5. Sheena's a passionate advocate for everyone in her life.  She'll brainstorm and fight for your dreams as hard as you do.