Wednesday, September 14, 2016
Friday, July 29, 2016
Today marks a milestone in my own personal journey: the release of Through the Eyes of an Eating Disorder, the 15th book in the Grief Diaries series. Although this book isn't about loss, it is about grief. Because living with an eating disorder wreaks havoc in our lives, creating a different kind of grief.
Many in my generation remember when the gifted singer Karen Carpenter died in 1983 from complications of anorexia nervosa at age 32. Her death shocked the nation, and brought a little-known eating disorder into the public spotlight. I was seventeen at the time, and I mourned alongside fans around the world. But I had never heard of anorexia nervosa, and couldn’t fathom what would cause a famous singer at the height of her career to starve herself literally to death.
So here is my secret. I live with an eating disorder on the opposite end of the spectrum: binge eating, an illness that caused me to live in secrecy and with great shame for much of my life.
I didn’t realize I had an eating disorder until I was forty years old. My struggles started long before, but like a lot of Americans, I just thought of myself as fat. I was too ashamed to ask for help of any kind. After all, nobody twisted my arm to eat that Big Mac.
Over the years my quest for control found me at the mercy of Slim-Fast, the Beverly Hills Diet, the Scarsdale Diet, Atkins and Jane Fonda. But they never lasted long; food was my heroin, my crack — my fix.
As a fat person, we're subjected to comments such as “You need to lose weight,” or “All that weight isn’t good for you.” Some people believe such remarks can shame us out of our eating disorder. Yet it only serves to inflict emotional harm, and is a criticism that insults our intelligence and appearance in the same sentence. Yes, I know I need to lose weight. Yes, I know all that excess weight isn’t good for me. Do you think I’m not aware of that? Binge eating is a mental disorder affecting my brain, but not my intelligence.
But, as embarrassing as it is, I shared my story in Through the Eyes of an Eating Disorder because I want the world to know this: eating disorders are a powerful, destructive illness that wreak havoc on our health, career, and family. Whether its binge eating, anorexia, bulimia, or all three, its controlling grip forces us to live with hidden behaviors. The secretiveness leads to shame, which leads to more destructive behavior to soothe the shame. It’s a vicious cycle.
But it is conquerable. It takes hard work, honest collaboration with your support team, and determination.
I’ve now been in control of my illness for ten years. I conquered the beast, shed one hundred pounds, and lived to tell my tale. But I’m not cured. Some days the beast is tame and docile. Other days I struggle to keep it confined in its cage. Stress, hormones and lack of sleep are big triggers for me. And so I remain vigilant; for a binge eater, all it takes is one moment of weakness and down the rabbit hole I go.
Eating disorders don’t just manifest one morning like a case of chicken pox. Anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating are a mental illness saturated in silence and secrecy. It’s not easy to share my journey with the world, but I have, alongside Jane, Deborah, and ten other women.
Taking that brave step to share our stories out in the open will help shed insight into a little understood mental illness, and bring comfort and hope to those who share our struggles. Because if we can conquer the beast within, so can you. XOXO
Friday, July 22, 2016
The story behind Grief Diaries
When I was a kid, I wanted to be a doctor. A brain surgeon to be exact. But life has a way of throwing us curve balls that force us down a different path. Sometimes those paths are most welcome, like mothering four wonderful children. My least favorite path? Losing a child. That path is a long and torturous one, and took me straight through the belly of hell.
My story began one night in 2007, when I had a vivid dream. I was the front seat passenger in a car and my daughter Aly was sitting behind the driver. Suddenly, the car missed a curve in the road and sailed into a lake. The driver and I escaped the sinking car, but Aly did not. My beloved daughter was gone. The only evidence left behind was a book floating on the water where she disappeared.
Two years later, on August 5, 2009, that horrible nightmare became reality when Aly died as a back seat passenger in a car accident. Returning home from a swim meet, the car carrying Aly and two of her teammates was T-boned by a father coming home from work. My beautiful fifteen-year-old daughter took the brunt of the impact, and died instantly. She was the only fatality.
Life couldn’t get any worse, right? Wrong. Hell wasn’t done with me yet. My dear sweet hubby buried his head (and grief) in the sand. He escaped into 80-hour work weeks, more wine, more food, and less talking. His blood pressure shot up, his cholesterol went off the chart, and the perfect storm arrived on June 4, 2012. In an instant, my husband felt a strange warmth spread inside his head. He began drooling, and couldn’t speak. My 46-years-young soulmate was having a major stroke.
He lived, but couldn’t speak, read, or write, and his right side was paralyzed. He needed assistance just to sit up in bed. He needed full-time care. Still reeling from the loss of our daughter, I found myself again thrust into a fog of grief so thick, I couldn’t see through the storm. Adrenaline and autopilot resumed their familiar place at the helm.
But I needed reassurance that the sun was on the other side of hell. As I fought my way through the storm, I discovered that helping others was a powerful way to heal my own heart. I began reaching out to individuals who were adrift and in need of a life raft. And a warm hug.
In 2013, I formed AlyBlue Media to house my mission. Comforting people who spoke my language, and listening to their stories, my mission took on a life of its own and came in many forms: a radio show, film, webinars, and writing.
Oh, and a national convention. I wanted to bring broken souls together under one roof, regardless of their journey. I had many wonderful speakers, but the one I was most excited about was a woman who had faced seven losses in a few short years: Martin Luther King’s youngest daughter, Dr. Bernice King. I didn’t bring her to the convention to tell us about her famous father. We already knew that story. I wanted to know how she survived.
Over the course of that weekend, I was deeply moved by watching strangers swap stories and become newfound friends. These were stories born from hardship, yet were remarkable on many levels. Touched to the core, I set out to capture them into a book series aptly named Grief Diaries.
Over a hundred people in six countries registered, and the first 8 titles were launched in December 2015. Now home to more than 400 writers spanning the globe, Grief Diaries has 14 titles in print with 16 more due by the end of 2016. Another 20 titles are set to be added in 2017.
At the heart of it all is a beautiful village. I might be the engine, but they are the force that provides the fuel for our little engine that could.
Where am I today?
Once a bereaved mother, always a bereaved mother. My heart is a bit like a broken teacup that has been glued back together. All the pieces are there, but they might not fit as seamlessly as they once did. Some days the glue is strong and unyielding. Other days that glue is wet, and threatens to spring a leak. Nonetheless, that teacup still holds water. Well, mostly coffee. Strong coffee.
Life can sometimes throw a really mean curveball that blindsides even the strongest. It’s important to hold out hope that the sun can be found at the end of the path. But until you find it, it’s comforting to know you aren’t alone. And that is what Grief Diaries all about.
For the record, I have found the sun. Some days I marvel at its beauty. Other days it hides behind clouds. But I now know those days don’t last forever. And my umbrella is much stronger than it used to be.
Helen Keller once said, “Walking with a friend in the dark is better than walking alone in the light.” If you too are looking for the sun, visit our village for a hug and stay for the friendship. And share our page with others who need the same. That’s what were here for: to offer you a spot in the life raft until the storm passes, and the sun begins to shine once again.
I'll even let you borrow my umbrella.
Lynda Cheldelin Fell
Thursday, July 14, 2016
Some days are harder than others, for all the wrong reasons. One computer isn't working, and the espresso machine broke down. It's times like this when I have to remind myself these are first-world problems. Truly not a big deal, right? Yet, I'm human. I feel impatient with both the computer and the espresso machine.
How do I turn my attitude around? By reflecting on gratitude. There is no shortage of places in my life where I feel gratitude, so for today's attitude adjustment I'll express gratitude for the writers of Grief Diaries: Living with a Brain Injury.
As we prepare a book for publication, I'm all in . . . my heart and soul, and every waking moment is spent seeing the incredible true stories come to fruition. Brenda and Carol who were both diagnosed with meningioma brain tumors, are sharing their journeys in the book. And then there is Stephanie who, at age 14, woke up from a 2-month coma only to find herself unable to walk. She now runs marathons. There is Amy, Lauren, Nancy, Matt, Jordan, PJ, Sue, Jewel, and Wendy who all suffered life-changing traumatic brain injuries. And then there is Carol, LiAne and Steve who walk a journey I know all too well: life after stroke.
With all these writers sharing their heartfelt stories, I can't help but marvel at their resiliency. And suddenly my gratitude tank fills to the brim. Instant attitude adjustment - from impatience at an espresso machine to feeling grateful for all I have.
No matter whether we face first-world or third-world problems, our impatience and irritation are natural reactions. But it's not hard to bring them back into perspective.
It's been said that a grateful heart is a happy heart. I believe this to be true. So next time I'm struggling with an attitude adjustment, looking beyond the edge of my own world into someone else's journey, and admiring them for being so brave, is a quick fix and - for me - works every time. XOXO
Tuesday, July 12, 2016
Do you believe in God, and the magic of heaven? Do you believe that love never dies, that the human soul transcends human death? Do you believe that heaven can inspire or comfort us?
I do. I dreamed of my daughter's death two years before it happened. Two years later that nightmare became reality when my fifteen-year-old daughter died as a back seat passenger in a car accident on August 5, 2009.
I arrived at the crash scene to find my precious third-born strapped to a backboard and draped by a stark white sheet. I knelt down beside her, paused for a second, and then sought her hand under the sheet’s edge. I sat there, with her hand in mine, for what felt like ages. For a brief moment, I looked up into the dark field that stretched before us, and that is when I saw her: my beloved grandmother, who had passed thirteen years before, had an arm around Aly and was gently leading her away. Aly was looking over her right shoulder at me as she walked beside the great-grandmother she never knew. Walking away from me — forever.
In the years since the accident, we have experienced countless events involving Aly. One time, our oldest son climbed out of his truck for two minutes. When he got back in, he felt a lump under his floor mat — a lump that wasn’t there just minutes prior. Lifting up the mat, he discovered one of Aly’s blue rocks. Her favorite color, she often painted fist-size rocks blue and placed them outside for the fairies. And now one was suddenly sitting under the floor mat of our son’s truck. It lifted his heart.
One night I was playing on my iPad. I began a fresh word game and waited for my device to dispense the new tiles. There they were, three tiles in perfect order, spelling out her name: A-L-Y. I smiled. How could I not?
I’m close to my family, including all my nieces and nephews. It’s was no surprise when my oldest niece went into labor with her firstborn on Aly’s birthday. But the shock came when an unfamiliar doctor entered the room to deliver the baby. The name on her hospital badge? Aly. Yes, Dr. Aly delivered my sister’s first grandchild on Aly’s birthday. What are the odds?
Our family’s list of unexpected incidences involving Aly could go on and on. But my family isn’t unique; our experiences are shared by many. Grief Diaries: Hello From Heaven is filled with 20 similar accounts of after-death communication from loved ones who had passed away. I applaud the writers for sharing such remarkable stories; one has to be quite brave to share such things, as not everyone believes in after-death communication. Some might even believe it is evil. How can something that brings so much comfort be evil? Comfort only comes from God, not disguised as sheep in wolf’s clothing.
One thing is certain: my faith is strong and unshakable. I believe in God and Jesus with all my heart. I also believe in the magic of heaven and the afterlife. I believe that there is more to life than meets the eye. I believe my dream two years before the accident was a heads-up from God, a divine glimpse into a path I couldn’t yet fathom. I believe my grandmother collected Aly that night in the field so I would know Aly was led safely to heaven following her tragic death.
Do I think Aly’s rock under my son’s floor mat was a coincidence? No. Do I think that three tiles spelling Aly’s name in perfect order is coincidence? No, again. Can some of our experiences be chalked up to coincidence? Probably so, if one tries hard enough. But many of our experiences are so improbable that even coincidence appears to be a stretch.
For some, no amount of convincing will make a difference. For the rest of us, Grief Diaries: Hello From Heaven will tell the tales of many who believe that after-death communication is alive and well, and so are our loved ones.
Yes, I believe. I believe in God, the magic of heaven, and that love never dies. With all my heart.
Saturday, July 2, 2016
I recently read something interesting about Jack Canfield, coauthor of Chicken Soup for the Soul series. I was intrigued and wanted to learn more about his backstory. In doing so, I uncovered a gem of wisdom worth of repeating.
THE BACKSTORYThe idea for Chicken Soup was born in 1993. Jack and his coauthor Mark routinely used short inspirational stories in their speaking gigs. People loved the stories and began asking Jack to compile the stories into a book that could be shared with family and friends. So Jack and Mark did. But their book was rejected by 123 publishers because (1) it was a stupid title, (2) nobody bought collections of short stories, and (3) the book lacked sex and violence.
But Jack and Mark believed in perseverance. They went to a book convention hosting over 4,000 vendors, and walked from booth to booth until they found a small health publisher out of Florida who agreed to publish their book. Jack and Mark didn't receive an advance, and they were told to just wait and see what happens.
In the meantime, Jack and Mark began living by the Rules of Five. Every day they did 5 things to promote the book. It could mean signing 5 books and giving them away for free. Or sending out free copies to reviewers. But every day they accomplished 5 actions.
The first Chicken Soup for the Soul book came out in July 1993. It didn't hit the bestseller list until September 1994.
The first Chicken Soup for the Soul book came out in July 1993. It didn't hit the bestseller list until September 1994.
THE LESSONIt is easy to get caught up in the rejections of life rather than staying true to one's mission. Regardless of how one is making a difference, it takes time for that difference to be visible. In the meantime, try practicing Jack's Rule of Five.
THE GEMI leave you with Jack's words of wisdom, a gem borrowed from a quote by the late author Joseph Campbell: If you have a vision and a life purpose, and you believe in it, then do not let external events tell you what is so. Follow your internal guidance, and follow your bliss.
Above all, don't give up.
Wednesday, June 29, 2016
This past weekend, my niece got married. I'm from a large family who has weathered some terrible heartaches over the years, some of which are still unfolding. Yet, in the days leading up to and the day of the wedding, our hearts were filled with nothing but joy. And when the music started, we danced the evening away, seemingly without a care in the world.
Did we forget the terrible life events we've weathered? Are we calloused to our struggles? Of course not. One never forgets ongoing hardships. But truth be told, although our hearts always carry the sadness of those hardships, my family embraces those moments of joy for all they're worth. I didn’t suddenly forget all my heartache. But the heart is capable of holding joy at the same time it holds sorrow. True story.
It's also an unspoken rule in our family that we refuse to be victims. Of anything. When people see me, do I want them to see the bereaved mother, wife of a stroke patient, sister of a cancer patient, so I can revel in the pity bestowed upon me? No. I want them to see me as an example of light, love and laughter. Because it gives them hope that no matter their own hardship, they too might laugh again one day. And they will.
Our family is just like any other family. Okay, so it’s filled with more than a little craziness, but otherwise we're just the family next door, with ups and downs like anyone else. But when we take a moment to look around, we're surrounded by blessings. And those blessings are what we choose to see.
So this past weekend, I danced with my family and enjoyed every second. Some of my family was missing. And my dear sweet hubby's stroke prevents him from enjoying the dance floor, which makes me sad. My heart hurts knowing that we'll never dance again unless it’s in the privacy of our bedroom. Being in his arms is the best feeling in the world for me. But one laugh can scatter a hundred griefs. And when you boogie with my family, you can bet there will be more than a little laughter, because most of us dance like an octopus with 24 arms. Another true story.
As news broke yesterday of yet another bombing, my heart was heavy knowing the untold number of people who now begin a journey our family knows well. It is an unspeakable journey, unlike any other. But try as we might, we can't fix it for them. And that hurts, too, knowing that there are no words that can make their fresh loss any less devastating. But I can pray for them, and wrap them in an invisible blanket of love and comfort.
And I can dance. So that one day, maybe they'll see that their hearts too will hold joy at the same time it holds sorrow. It will take a very long time for them to reach that point, but until then, I will be the best example of hope I can possibly be, by emanating light, love and laughter.
And a little bit of dancing. With my family. Because that makes me laugh. And one laugh can scatter a hundred griefs. True story.