Being BRAVE: After the Final Bow

I sat on the kitchen floor with my 9 year old daughter as she showed me the cut on her foot. Even though she scraped it a few days ago, it didn’t seem to be healing. She complained that it was hurting and was getting worse. As we prepared to clean it and apply ointment, she cautiously asked,

“Mommy, will it sting?” Yes, it will sting, I calmly responded.
“Will it hurt?” Yes, it might hurt, but it shouldn’t last very long.
“Why does it have to hurt?” When you feel the pain it is your body’s way of letting you know it is trying to heal.
“How will I know if it is working?”
Well, every cut is different and we just have to take extra time to take care of it. We have to pay close attention to see when it starts to feel better.

Healing. Hurting. Do they have to go hand in hand? As the body heals from injury, we are afforded the opportunity to see and feel the physical change. We know if the wound/injury is healing through the physical evidence. But how do we truly know if and/or when we are “healing” from our emotional scars?
I have found many ways to “feel better” after a depressive episode comes and goes. I have worked hard to research, study, and talk about a variety of strategies to “deal” with anxiety and those villainous demons that pop up into my story from time to time. I can talk a good game. I can back up my words with actions; yoga, volunteering, prayer, exercise, etc.

Co-producing This Is My Brave seemed to be a culmination of all my skills and interests all wrapped up in one experience. It kept my mind and spirit focused and connected me with beautiful and brave souls that changed my heart forever. It presented challenges that pushed me out of my comfort zone. It strengthened existing relationships and birthed new ones.
The audience applauded. Love poured in through social media and personal messages. My heart was full. My body was exhausted, but this was to be expected. My house was a disaster 😊 This was also to be expected.

But then after the final bow, an overwhelming sadness and confusion settled in. My soul experienced a deep burning and a curtain of despair quickly and fiercely fell into place.

Within a few days of being on such a high, suddenly my will to live, my desire to paint color in the world dissipated.

My good friend depression was paying a visit. Ugh. I can’t do this right now. Who let her in?
I did.

Here’s how …

Cancer has the power to destroy your body. It shows up in your story and can rob you of the life you planned.
Mental illness is like cancer of the soul. It has the power destroy your mind. It is a disease that shows up in your story and will suck you dry of the will to live. The culmination of this disease is suicide. Thinking about suicide brings relief to a hurting mind. To my hurting mind.

As I sit here writing this, I think about the pain that the human spirit is able to endure. Every moment of every day, someone we know is fighting a battle.

When I read excerpts or pieces that convey the message “you have a choice to be happy,” I want to tell them to shut the hell up 🙂 (kidding, sort of) What about those of us who are drowning in grief, sadness or hopelessness???

When I am in the depths of depression or drowning in anxiety, I do not have the choice to “be happy.” I wish it was that simple.

I do, however, have the choice to choose life. The irony of this is I can’t make that choice when I am swallowed by the dark shadows of sadness. I have to make this choice when those glimpses of joy permeate through the wall of darkness.

I must be willing to push through the pain. The kind of pain that healing requires. True authentic gut wrenching healing takes work. Hard work. The kind of work that requires more than just showing up.
When my daughter asked “does it have to hurt?” I need to ask this of myself. The answer I must give is YES. It does have to hurt. 

“Crying is one of the highest devotional songs. If you can cry with a pure heart, nothing compares to such a prayer.” ~ Swami Kripalu

Sharing a slice of my truth as part of the BRAVE cast seemed like the most authentic thing to do as a co-producer of the show. So, I pulled back the curtain on my private struggle and shared just a small glimpse in front of 200 + people. Okay. I was nervous as hell, but I did it.

What I now know is this experience of speaking my truth was a huge step in my healing journey. The sadness that I felt afterwards was my body, mind and soul beginning a necessary process. The process of embracing the pain, shame, embarrassment, guilt, confusion and despair that I had carried for so many years.

The coping strategies that I have mastered over the past 20+ years have lead me back to the same place again and again. Back to START. Each of these experiences has been and will continue to be driven by the “doing.” I am the master “doer.”

God calls us to “Be still and know.” I can be still, right? I pray. A lot.

But can I learn to just “be?” Who am I if I am not moving? The minute I stop moving, the darkness envelopes me. I know this in my head but I have never allowed my heart to feel this deeply.
After the final bow was taken and the show ended, I stopped moving. Darkness found her way in. The waters of self-doubt began to quickly rise.
The past few months have been all about me wading through these very waters.

Step ONE. Meditation. Mindfulness.
Has it cured me? Not yet, but I am working my tail off every single day to move this practice from my head to my heart.
Ironically, I have read, studied and even practiced meditation off and on over the past 20 years and found no solace or relief. So, why try again?
I choose life.

These words echoed throughout the quiet, calming space.
These words bounced around the room. Landing softly, gently and powerfully on my heart.

“We can’t take back what is done, what is passed. So lay down your fears and let us start from here. Come as you are.” ~ Damien Rice

My first meditation class. I came as I was. I laid down my fears and started from that moment.
Was it painful? Hell yeah.
Was it uncomfortable? Yup.
I am forever grateful to the teacher of my first meditation class, my friend Jordan, whom I met through my BRAVE experience. His passion for meditation is contagious and just what I needed to crack the code to begin my own healing journey.
How have I done since I walked out of that first class? Hmmm. Good question 😊
I have embraced not only the practice of meditation, but I have also spent hours listening to, reading about and learning from the experts. I still have much to learn.

“When that ocean of doubt comes / Don’t let me drown in my sorrow / And don’t let me stay at the bottom.” ~ Lecrae

I have fallen. I have cried. I have gotten back up.

I have begun to share my journey with my kids. Sharing my truth out loud at the show was step one.

I am honest with them. I am vulnerable with them. They respond to my honesty with raw compassion and love.

I practice and share pieces of meditation every chance I get. I even shared bits and pieces during VBS last week! LOL (Teaching kids and teens the art of being still, allowing God to enter their heart, and focusing on their breath was a beautiful experience.)

Writing this blog entry has helped me wade through the waters of fear. I started writing my thoughts several months back and the words sat dormant. Learning of our friend’s passing this week was a raw reminder that our journey is not meant to be kept hidden.

I am choosing life. In honor of those brave souls who had no choice.

Thank you for reading. I look forward to the next time we can share this journey of love and light with one another. xoxo

I am dedicating this blog entry to the following BRAVE souls who lost their courageous battle with cancer:
Jamie Singleton
Chad O’Neil
Drew Yanishak
Joan Kenealy
Jay Kenealy
And one very special BRAVE soul who continues to fight the fight:
Trey Keys
Each of these beautiful, brave souls are my heroes and inspire me to choose life.

Leaky Toilet

The Leaky Toilet

I may not win every battle, but I will fight to win the war.
Have you ever experienced a time when your toilet (or sink) started leaking? The floor seems abnormally wet and you know that this is eventually going to require some sort of maintenance. You find a few towels, soak up the water and quickly move on to your next task of the day. Then, a few days later, you notice the same thing and once again, you embrace the quick fix method, acknowledging in your mind that you really need to get it properly fixed. You immediately think – I do NOT have time to deal with this right now! Too much going on and hopefully, it will be fine for another week or two.

These very same leaks can happen in our mind, and they can be toxic. Lethal thoughts that silently creep in when you aren’t even paying attention. [You are disgusting. You are so annoying. You are not worthy of having friends. You are the worst possible mother. How could your kids love you? How could anyone love you?]
If I stay busy enough, they get wiped away. Small leaks don’t cause too much damage, right? Just wipe away the physical evidence and get moving. What other choice is there? No one has time or tolerance for this ridiculousness. Especially me.

What happens when you have ignored those leaks for so long that they are no longer a “small” issue?

One day we came home after being gone for about 2 hours. We discovered water pouring into the kitchen through the ceiling. [Has this ever happened to you?] The water was coming through the lights and pushing its way through a hole that had opened in the drywall. Good times! Who doesn’t love wiping up toilet water that has flooded your kitchen?? Who doesn’t love having a giant brown stain covering 1/3 of the kitchen ceiling?!! LOL
Those small, insignificant leaks that had surrounded our master bedroom toilet went untreated and eventually wreaked havoc on not only our kitchen, but our lives for many weeks to come!

Now, imagine those “insignificant” leaks seeping into your mind and eventually becoming so heavy and loud that eventually, the bottom falls out. Unlike the overflowing toilet, the mess that is created as a result of “overflowing” toxic thoughts isn’t as obvious as the flooding water. Instead, the disaster comes in the form of irritability, internalized anger, overwhelming sadness and a deafening silence. All of this and more wrapped into one ugly calamity. Yuck.

This is the best way I can describe how the holiday season feels for someone who suffers from mental illness. Or some version of it 🙂 Who has time to pay attention to self-care during any busy season?

As I continue to create and nurture a joyful, productive and blessed outer life, there is the flip side to this motivation and energy; the underbelly of this triumph. I think this is true at times for anyone.

A new year, a new start, a renewed heart. How am I supposed to create a clean slate for 2018? I am still numb from cleaning up the emotional mess left behind.

This “idea” of writing a blog that I had in 2017 seems outrageous now. How could I possibly believe that my story is worth sharing? That anything I say matters to anyone?

As these thoughts continue to creep in I am standing in my kitchen scrubbing dishes and listening to music that is softly playing from our new Amazon Echo (love that Alexa!) I suddenly become acutely aware of a conversation taking place on the radio.

The guest speaker was discussing the compelling difference between being a story KEEPER and a story TELLER. We are shamed into believing that we should keep those “ugly” parts of our story hidden. We are lead to believe that sharing the polished parts of our story is the only way to be happy. [Isn’t that what people want to see? People have enough of their own “stuff” going on that they don’t want or need to hear our sad or depressing story.]
True, genuine self-love and joy can come when our story is told from that raw place of pure goodness. This deeply hidden place exists in each of us.

If we can somehow wipe away the shame and fear, we can ignite the only true engine that will drive us out of our darkness; HOPE.

And as I am processing the message, a song comes on called Broken Things. Wow! Of all the songs on the radio, I couldn’t believe this one came on!
I had shared this very song at a retreat I attended recently. I used it to remind myself and others that we are ALL broken. Healing can begin to happen when the gap between our outer self and our inner self start to come together. We must truly believe that our inner self, our hidden story, is as beautiful and perfect as the image we ferociously portray to the outside world.
The pages of history they tell me it’s true. That it’s never the perfect; it’s always the ones with the scars that You use.” – Matthew West Broken Things

So, here I am once again. A new year, a new start, and an open heart. I am standing on the ledge between fear and hope. I am working hard to be hopeful for the adventures that are to come in 2018.

The toilet is fixed and the ceiling is patched. It still needs to be re-painted, which is an imperative reminder that there is always work to be done. Tending to those little, sneaky leaks is crucial to our survival. Being compassionate and attentive to those negative thoughts and feelings is a necessity in order to prevent a disaster.

I may not win every battle, but I will fight to win the war.

Let’s fight together. Let’s win this war, one leaky toilet at a time 🙂 

50 Miles

Before running the Stone Mill 50 mile Trail Run on Saturday, I felt different than any race I have ever run. Usually I sign up for races and just go run because I like to run! When I come home, right away the kids ask, “What place did you get dad?” to which I usually respond “100th, 1,000th or 5,000th.” They innocently wonder why I didn’t win and we get a good laugh. This race was different. I was running for a cause that affects my family so deeply and for the first time I was really nervous before the race. People were counting on me, thinking, praying, texting, emailing and calling me. Many of these people were family and friends, but some were people I didn’t even know.
When Tara and I shared our story a few weeks ago, we were absolutely blown away by the response. Tara was especially nervous to share, but realizing the positive impact that we can make by sharing our story only makes us want to do more. We are so humbled and thrilled that we have raised over $5,000!! We are excited to be bringing a This is My Brave show to Baltimore in the Spring. We will share more details soon!
This could not have happened without the support of so many people. We wanted to thank everybody who has reached out to us to share a piece of their story, have donated, have thought of us, and  have offered encouragement.
When I initially posted and shared our story, I opened by saying depression and 50 Miles don’t have much in common. After running 50 Miles, I realized there actually is a lot of common ground between the two in our family.  Being a spouse for 17 years of somebody who suffers from major depression has taught me many things. One of the greatest lessons I have learned is that it takes a team to help manage this disease and also found out on Saturday it takes a team to run 50 miles.
A 50 miler is a lot like life; there were so many ups and downs that happened along the way and the more people you have around you to help, the better things can be. My brother Pete and I trained together for many months and ultimately ran the entire race together. We were exhausted, hungry and sore but we knew we had each other’s back. For 11 hours we pushed each other and neither of us was going to let the other person quit. Pete was a machine out there and without him pushing me in training runs and teaching me valuable lessons about running/diet I would not have finished. My father left his house at 3:00AM and drove us both to the race and met us at every stop along the course with our gear. When you have nothing left to move in your body, and you see somebody there supporting you at every stop to give you a high five and ask, “How can I help?” … it motivates you to keep pushing. To keep fighting. My sister-in-law Kristin (Pete’s wife who has given us so much support), their three kids along with Tara and my four kids drove almost 2 hours each way to support us at two of the stops where we felt the worst. This turned out to be perfect timing b/c that is when we needed support the most! Seeing my wife Tara at mile 24 who has battled depression her whole life wearing her “This is my Brave” shirt made me forget about pain, tiredness, soreness and relish the moment and what we are trying to do. Tara is such an amazing mother, wife, friend and everything to people, she gives 120% into everything she does, and I love her more than anything. She battles depression every day and it can crash down at any second. You can’t predict it, you can’t time it but if you can share you story and have a team that supports you it can change lives.
Just like life vs a 50 miler, each part of the race presented unpredictable outcomes. On mile 15, I felt like this is easy; on mile 20 I didn’t think I could go one more mile (until I ate ramen noodles); on mile 35, I felt like I could go for 100 miles; and on mile 36,  I thought I was done!   But knowing what we are trying to do (and eating a lot of tater tots), there was nothing that would have stopped me from finishing.
When Pete and I had only 3.5 miles left in the race, my dad snapped a picture and sent it to our families. They all responded with relief and excitement knowing that we were just about done. Once again, just like life, you can never be too sure what lies around the corner. Just like mental illness, you never can truly predict when something will trigger a depressive episode or an anxiety attack. ½ of a mile after that picture was taken, a loose dog came sprinting behind us on the trail and knocked me flat on my back. I was in shock for a moment and quickly realized that had it not been for the water pack on my back, I may have been badly injured. Pete checked to make sure I was ok, I got up and together we headed to the finish. We crossed the finish line before the sun set and just at the point where we could not take another step.   The first person we saw was our father with a full smile after 11 hours of support.

This one day brought about an experience of teamwork and fight that my family battles every day.   To be able run for a cause that is so important to us, this made our family stronger and more determined than ever to make a difference.

“My competition is not against the runner next to me. It is against the runner inside of me.”




Now What?

Now What?
Somehow, we mustered the courage to start a dialogue that began with a small glimpse into our private world of living with mental illness. Somehow, we defied the powerful waves of doubt that came crashing down as we prepared to post our message on social media. Somehow, we took the first step. We allowed ourselves to be vulnerable.
Now what?

What happens after you invite the outside world to enter into your private domain?
The first and most important thing we want to do is say THANK YOU. Thank you to each and every person who took the time to read, comment, donate, share or just offer genuine words of encouragement. We have been overwhelmed by the compassion in people’s responses. The honest admission by so many amazing folks that also walk this journey has been profoundly comforting.

So many of us are touched by mental illness. I was moved to tears as I read and reflected on the responses and comments, both privately and on social media. The underlying theme is this: We are NOT alone. You are not alone. If depression, anxiety, or a different diagnosis has been woven into your tapestry, it is not something to be ashamed of.

Although it can be terrifying to own it out loud, by taking ownership and sharing our struggles, we can be empowered. We can start a conversation that may have been waiting for the opportunity to happen. We can begin a dialogue that may bring someone out of despair and assure them that hope is right around the corner.

Do people really care that much about mental health as a topic worthy of conversation?
WOW. Yes, many people do care about this topic. So many people. So many of us walk around hurting and suffering in silence. Validating that mental illness is REAL and an integral part of our story is just one small step in a lifelong journey.  Of course, there may be a small dose of judgment mixed in with the support and encouragement, but isn’t that the case with every choice we make? As many moments of our lives are shared on social media, we are inviting the good and the bad to find their way in.

Imagine trying to make a glass of lemonade from just a few lemons and no juicer. Doesn’t seem so hard, right? I begin by squeezing each lemon to get the juice out. I have eczema on my hands so they are dry and cracked almost all the time. When I squeeze the lemons, it stings. The juice is formed in the cup but it is sour at first. But then as I add sugar, the juice becomes sweeter. Telling my story is a little like this. The “idea” of sharing doesn’t seem so bad at first. Squeezing each part out is arduous, a little painful and can even sting at times. When the story comes out, it is bitter and unfinished. But once the encouragement and support are added, the experience becomes sweeter and easier to swallow.

So in an effort to destigmatize the struggle and continue the dialogue, I will squeeze one lemon at a time. One story at a time.

Espresso Our Story, being a mom

Most of the time, my kids see my outgoing and friendly attitude. They groan when I stop and chat with every person who says hello on our way out of church or school. They love helping me with events that I am working on and are sometimes able to witness me running a meeting or two 
But what happens when the smile melts away? A cup of self-doubt, a few tablespoons of negative thoughts, possibly a sprinkle of paranoia and anxiousness.

“When you are depressed, you don’t control your thoughts, your thoughts control you.”

I can sometimes recognize the onset or trigger of a depressive episode. Other times it comes out of nowhere. I furiously try to make it stop. I am fighting to be the best mom that I can be. Depression is stubborn.

Us moms are mad scientists when it comes to mixing all the emotions of our kiddos. We can often sense what kind of day they are going to have as soon as they wake up. We dedicate much of our energy trying to understand and tame their emotional journeys.

But what about our own emotions? How do we manage those? Is it healthy to let our kids recognize that it is OK to experience bouts of sadness or even anger from time to time? Is it ok for them to see us in our moments of weakness? I struggle with this time and time again. I fight against the waves of sadness when they come. Some days I can power through and keep my battles my own. Other days, I cannot.

My kids have seen me as I start to unravel. It just simply isn’t possible to pretend that I am always happy or emotionally present. I think this is true for anyone.

So after they witness a low point, I used to just pretend it didn’t happen and make a joke about it. Humor is always an easy and quick way to “fix” anything 

Recently, I have started to dialogue with them later that evening or the next day. I often use quiet time in the car as a time to share how I am feeling and what happened that may have been confusing to them. They don’t understand the complexities of depression, but they do understand what it feels like to be sad. I want them to recognize that uncomfortable feelings are ok to have as long as we own them and eventually talk about them. I want them to understand that sadness and anger turned inward can become toxic.

Are they actually absorbing my wise and insightful ways of dealing with the complexities of depression? LOL – do we ever really know if our kids are taking in what we are “teaching” them? I may never really know the answer. I know my story is told through simple, meaningful and faithful actions. Squeezing out one lemon at a time and finding simple yet profound ways to sweeten the journey.

“Be faithful in small things because it is in them that your strength lies.” – Mother Teresa



A heartfelt THANK YOU … for joining us on this journey

This Is My Brave

We are excited and honored to be aligning our fundraising efforts with this AMAZING organization! We read an article in the James Madison University’s alumnae magazine about a JMU alumnae who took her personal experience with mental illness and gave it not only a voice, but a beautiful and powerful platform.

Stories save lives. Be BRAVE and tell your story. Your story may change a life. This is the driving force of this organization. Brilliant.

Inspired by this outstanding organization, we decided to tell our story. We felt that the timing was right. We hope that our story will inspire other families to embrace their own struggles and know that we are not alone.

Espresso Our Story  The hopeful journey of one family living with mental illness

Running is an integral part of our story. Running as therapy, running as a sport, running as a way to lose weight, running as a way to stay in shape, and running as a means to achieve a goal. With each new chapter in our lives, we have redefined the role that running plays. I continue to embrace running with a somewhat unpredictable, inconsistent but well-intended effort  In contrast, Matt has always associated running with new and challenging goals. We both continue to embrace running for the many blessings it has bestowed on our entire family, both mentally and physically.

So, when Matt said he was going to train for a 50 miler (yup, 50 miles!), I sort of thought to myself … wow, even THAT is a lot for us! Matt has always had an uncanny ability to set a goal and achieve it. So, despite my reservations and doubts, I knew he would do it.

When he was a few months into his training, he came to me and said that he had been thinking very seriously about finding a cause to align with his training efforts. There are numerous extraordinary causes that our friends and family have advocated for over the years. We have been honored to support and participate in several of these and hope to for many years to come.


Matt went on to say that he would really like to raise money and awareness about something that has personally impacted our lives. My response was “Great! That sounds awesome! What cause are you thinking about?” To which he replied “Mental Health.” Oh. Oh ok. Silence. Then he followed up with “I was thinking we could share your story … Maybe we could blog about it?” Gulp. It took me a few minutes to process this request. I hesitated and responded with “Sure. That sounds ok. I guess. So that means I have to share my story?” Yikes. He calmly responded, “Yeah. Give it some thought and let me know.”

Wow. 42 years old and I was scared out of my mind. Sure, we all have a story. We ALL have a thought-provoking story that is worth sharing – right? I stood at the counter for almost an hour paralyzed with fear. The house was silent and my fear was deafening. I was thrust into my personal world of insecurity and self-doubt. I like the fact that my story has pretty much always remained private. It has always been protected by the outward life that we have worked hard to create. Sure, I have alluded to my struggles a few times in conversation and even one time on Facebook. But, no one has ever really had access to peak into the raw and ugly side of living with mental illness.

“Live your life from the heart. Share from your heart. And your story will touch and heal people’s souls.” – Melody Beattie
WHY share our story? WHY now?
We want to provide hope and encouragement to others out there that walk this road and think that they are alone. You are NOT alone. WE are not alone.

I continue the fight to free myself of the gripping fear of being exposed. I hope that by releasing my fears in the form of story-telling, I can do my part to bring this issue out of the darkness and into the light.

Espresso Our Story. This is what we decided to call our BLOG. I initially assumed I would come up with the title and call it “Espresso MY Depression.” But, the reality is, mental illness affects more than just the person with the actual diagnosis. Reluctantly, I agreed that using the word “our” would allow for a richer description of the struggle we experience together.

Why Espresso? Several years ago, in the midst of trying to find my way in a sea of darkness, I came up with a group called “Espresso Our Faith.” The purpose of the group was to encourage other moms/parents to gather together with just coffee and some chairs before our school’s monthly mass. It was a simple idea that started out as a social gathering and slowly evolved into a faith sharing/support group. Eventually, “Espresso” began to reflect a heartfelt opportunity. An opportunity to … STOP. BREATHE. GATHER. TALK. SHARE. LISTEN. (w/coffee and a few chairs )

The birth of this BLOG seemed to be a natural extension of this same opportunity. A chance for us to STOP amidst the crazy fast pace of life and BREATHE. An opportunity to TALK candidly and SHARE openly about the reality of living w/ mental illness.

The flip side of this “opportunity” lead to an urgent search for the courage to pull back the curtain on a struggle that has the potential to taint an image that I have fervently portrayed. Each of us has moments in our lives where we think “thank GOODNESS no one can see behind the walls of my life!” I too, am one of those people.

After many years of suffering in silence in high school and college, I was officially diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder in my early-twenties. It wasn’t until after I experienced medical complications following surgery a few weeks after the birth of my second child, that I finally found the right medication and took the disease by its horns. I was forced to accept that it was a matter of life and death.

At times, I have experienced … Loneliness. Misdirected anger. Being aloof, unapproachable and emotionally unavailable. Indifference in the midst of joy. Unworthy of being loved by another person and God.

“Depression is living in a body that fights to survive with a mind that tries to die.”

Depression is paralyzing. It can lead to a complete breakdown of your emotional immune system. Like cancer in your soul. Suicide can seem like a relief from the suffering.

Anxiety and panic. Friends of depression and friends of mine 

“T – we need you. You got this.”

I fight day after day to come out on the other side. And I do. The other side is a beautiful place to be. The sun shines and gratitude flows. Hugs are authentic and patience is genuine. Life is seemingly normal. Happiness is achievable.

Fragile. Delicate. I have heard these words used to describe me. Like I would break into a million pieces if something were to go wrong or the wind were to blow the wrong direction.

I would argue the opposite. I know that I am strong and feisty and full of life and above all else, right now I am brave. Brave can be defined as “ready to face and endure danger or pain; showing courage.” I fight like hell to wake up each day with a new start and an open heart. Like anyone, some days I fail miserably and some days I come out on top!


Thank you for allowing a small part of my soul to enter into your heart. We hope to share more of our story over the next few months as I prepare to bring a live show to the Baltimore area. This is the beginning of a journey that I hope you will consider taking with us.