A Google search for chocolate led this psychologist to a level of emotional empowerment that’s helped her heal and grow a business.
There’s a saying that amazing things don’t happen when you stay inside your comfort zone. I know a little something about being uncomfortable. About putting myself dead last. Worrying too much. Moving a lot. Being separated from my family. Getting cancer. Fighting cancer. Losing a parent. Starting a business. (*catches breath*) And how I dealt with all of it, I’d come to realize, could either hurt me or help me.
I’m a psychologist and an emotional empowerment coach who isn’t immune to the effects of life’s curveballs and stressors. I need self-care just like my clients do. Like everyone does. And it’s the self-care practices that I do every day that give me the confidence and energy I need to keep stepping out of my comfort zone. To help others harness their own power to change their lives. And to keep making amazing things happen for my life and business. It’s an exciting, endless journey that’s moved me from always wanting to please other people to making sure I’m a priority, too.
No boundaries. Big problems.
Let’s talk about that people-pleasing thing for a minute. It started when I was a child. I was born and raised in Switzerland. When I tell you I was always the good kid, I mean I was that super-good kid who probably acted more responsibly and adult-like than I should have at my young age. I was the one teachers liked because I was obedient, helpful, followed the rules. Never bothered anyone or got into trouble. My parents didn’t have to worry about me doing the right thing either because I just did it. If someone needed something, I jumped in and helped. Funny thing is, this was me being my authentic child self. My parents never expected me to assume a serious, mature role. But, I did. Just came naturally. And I didn’t know how that helpful nature would be needed and tested until both of my parents got sick.
Keep in mind, I enjoyed being a helper. When my father became ill, I was a teenager. He had a genetic enzyme deficiency. It was a progressive condition that led to lung issues and, eventually, a lung transplant. I felt responsible to take care of him. I worried a lot about him and my mom and felt like his wellbeing was all on me even though no one was forcing me to step up as a caregiver. All of this was self-inflicted. I was an only child. (Subsequently, my mother was an only child, too.) I did not feel like asking for help. I never noticed what it was doing to me nor did I stop to think about why I was doing it. I kept going through the motions. I worried too much about what other people would think about me. I never stood up for myself.
Clearly, I had trouble with boundaries. I never stopped to think, What can I do that’s helpful and still make people happy without jeopardizing my own health and wellbeing? Why shouldn’t I pay attention to my own needs?
Less than psyched
It’s pretty certain that my inclination to help others led me to study psychology. During my training, my mom became ill. My dad had been sick for 15 years and had undergone a lung transplant at this point. And, while he still wasn’t completely well, he was in a better place health-wise. His transplant allowed him four more years with a much better quality of life. My mom, however, suffered something more like a nervous breakdown. The stress of my father’s illness and his inability to work affected her. So, I took care of both of them, helping my father through the end of his life, all while training and working as a psychologist.
Soon, I realized that my work was missing something. I couldn’t fully help people the way I really wanted to. Like a lot of healthcare practitioners, I trained for one thing. Yes, psychology is broad, but it’s not complete. There wasn’t an integrative approach to care. I was longing to help people more holistically. For instance, I wasn’t able to help with nutritional habits and needs, which are often tied to psychology. That stressed me out, too. And, I was becoming too engaged in people’s problems. Some were devastating. Heartbreaking. I still had trouble setting boundaries and separating work from my home life. I knew I had to do things to avoid the negative effects of my job. Stress continued to heap on. And I knew I needed to control it somehow.
Then came Canada. And cancer.
Yes, as if things weren’t stressful enough, my family moved from Switzerland to Canada in September 2006. My husband is a chemist and his job required us to relocate. He moved there six months earlier while I stayed to finish out my work in the Swiss school system and my daughter finished kindergarten. During that time, we saw each other twice. To make the transition even tougher, I had to move away from my mom, who was still recovering and had no other children or family there to care for her.
The move eventually happened and my family was together again. In Canada. Cold, cold Canada. Then, out of the blue, a year after we got there, I was diagnosed with cancer. I had no symptoms. I looked and felt the same. I was a little more tired than usual, but, generally, I felt well. My diagnosis was like a slap in the face. Are you kidding me? I thought. I was scared. My daughter was five and I was in my early 30s. Am I going to die? I wasn’t sure, but I started thinking about it. I even started planning my funeral. I was really pissed off, too. Why me? I had done all these things to help people who were sick. I’d tended to others’ needs. I helped my parents. I didn’t deserve this.
My cancer was very big and it had to get out fast. So, I had the surgery within a month. Doctors removed a seven-centimeter tumor from my thyroid in the fall of 2007. It most likely had been growing slowly for five years or so and I never knew it. I had regular check ups and even a small goiter showing. A biopsy found no issues, and all I can figure is that they must have missed the spot when testing. I’ll never know.
Moving (again) three weeks after treatment
In February 2008, I started treatment in Canada. I received radioactive iodine. If you don’t know what that entails, suffice it to say, it was a hassle. That’s because three weeks after my treatment, we moved to the U.S. Did you get that? Another move. This time to Washington State.
I also decided to spend my first week after treatment in a hotel where I could stay away from my family, particularly my young daughter, to avoid exposing her developing system to the radioactive contaminants. I was stuck in a hotel for a week in the middle of winter. (minus 22 Fahrenheit!) Alone. Nice, huh? I went out once to buy food. I had a kitchenette in my room and four Harry Potter books to read. After a week all would be fine. It may have been unnecessary to be that cautious, but I was playing it safe. I got regular follow up care and didn’t need any further treatment. I’ve been well ever since.
Chocolate changed my life
By 2010, a lot of things were behind me. Cancer. Treatment. Caring and worrying for sick parents. And taking on the stress of my former career. I’d been thinking about working again but I knew I didn’t want to practice psychology. I also started to focus on my health. I started to eat healthier and practice mindfulness. I was more open to learning on my own versus going back to school. One day, I searched organic dark chocolate on Google and found a website published by a woman who manufactured it. I learned that she went to a school that offered integrative nutrition and health coaching certification. I had never heard of health coaching before but it sounded like an appealing lifestyle. After some further research, I started crying. I remember thinking that this is exactly what I wanted to do. And, so, I studied, trained, and became a certified health coach.
Today, I feel like I’m using my psychology training more broadly and combining it with different tools, techniques, and knowledge that can be personalized to fit people’s lifestyles and unique needs. As a health coach, I give guidance, so clients find answers. I’ve provided support for nutritional education, emotional eating, and healthy lifestyle modifications, among other things. But my main focus and passion is in emotional empowerment coaching. Not many people provide this type of support, but I’ve had great results from doing so. At the core, I help people focus on the behind-the-scenes issues around their feelings that keep them from taking care of themselves. I work with them to get to the “why” of the matter. Whether it’s stress, poor eating habits, being stuck on a roller coaster pattern, or simply not knowing where to start to improve something in their lives, I’m here to help them stop this pattern and find a new direction. In my experience, people generally know what they need to do to fix the things that aren’t making them healthy and happy. They have the answers within them. With guidance, they usually can start to resolve their issues faster once they can pinpoint the “why” and understand the key role of their emotions.
Things happen for a reason
Through my process, I realize cancer was my blessing in disguise. It was also my wake up call. It wasn’t an accident. Instead, I believe everything happened when and where it was supposed to happen. The dark chocolate research. Finding the health coaching school. Finding new health-promoting tools and technology. My emotional empowerment trainers and mentors. It’s amazing how the universe lines things up when you’re open and ready for things to happen.
My journey started with a need for intense self-care. It’s also required me to come out of my comfort zone. To do so over and over again if I want to grow. After my cancer diagnosis, I started paying attention to my needs. I learned to pay attention to my feelings, my body’s clues, what those clues mean and what to do about it. I learned that in order to be able to truly be of service for others I needed to take care of myself first on a regular basis, and have boundaries. All these experiences propelled me to share this with others and to help them achieve a more fulfilling, healthy, and happy life.
Self-care matters. And it’s never one size fits all. Not addressing your personal needs can have detrimental effects on health, relationships, career, finances, and our overall quality of life. We all have the power to do something to help ourselves, but it can take support, require accountability and consistency. I’m no exception.
So, how does the self-proclaimed super caregiver take time to care for herself now? Each morning, I practice guided mediation for 15 to 25 minutes. I also focus on emotional empowerment. I drink plenty of water and do BEMER Therapy sessions. I focus on nutrition, walk in nature, get enough rest, and do things that I enjoy to recharge my body, mind, and spirit. All of this not only helps me relax and maintain a strong immune system, it supports my healthy business, too. By practicing what I preach through emotional empowerment, I’m able to be more productive and efficient. My self-esteem and confidence stay higher. I feel braver and ready to keep stepping outside of my comfort zone. And that allows me to continue moving forward. To amaze myself at what I’m accomplishing and what I can help others accomplish, too.
I offer private health and emotional empowering coaching to help individuals eliminate stress and emotional eating. I help them get to the “why” of their lifestyle challenges, then, learn ways to increase energy, regain health, and maintain wellbeing. I also specialize in BEMER Therapy sessions, rentals and products to improve microcirculation, in-home healthy cooking sessions, and teaching health and wellness classes.