Surviving Tragedies With Heather Smith

Surviving a house fire can be tough for anyone, but losing an infant – a grief known by too many and discussed by too few – is even more so. Heather Smith experienced both tragedies. On today’s show, she joins Jennifer Whitacre to share her story and to give some resources, tips, and ideas on how one can get through tough times in life. You don’t want to miss this episode if you want to learn how to transform adverse traumatic experiences into a healthy, adaptive, happy lifestyle.

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Surviving Tragedies With Heather Smith

I’m excited to have our guest on the show. We’re going to talk with Heather Smith. She is a self-proclaimed proud holder of an MRS degree. She has two children, one an angel and one a miracle. What I love about our conversation with Heather is that many of my guests that I’ve had on the show in the past have been promoting their programs and books. It’s sometimes harder to connect in our everyday lives with somebody who is more of a public figure.

Heather is like you and me, an average everyday person. I am excited because I don’t get many people who fall into this demographic who even reach out to me and want to be guests on my show. This is important because this is the market that I’m trying to reach, the average everyday person. It’s work, but it’s not that hard once you get into it and once you learn how to transform adverse traumatic experiences into a healthy, adaptive, happy lifestyle. I’d like to welcome Heather to the show. It’s an honor to have you here. Heather, welcome to the show.

Thank you.

Tell us a little bit about yourself in your own words.

I’m Heather from Texas. I have an MRS degree. I met my husband at college. While I planned to finish, it didn’t quite work out. I have two kids, angel and a miracle. After we lost our daughter, I struggled to have my Marine volcano, but he’s here and he’s cute. He’s got an attitude, but I love him to pieces. I am an HOA instructor. I spend my days driving around and judging people. I also plan parties for the subdivision where I work. I spend a lot of time hanging out at home because that’s what we all do because there’s a plague. I keep fish. That’s my other weird hobby. I have way too many aquariums. I have six aquariums set up, which is a terrible idea because we’re in a two-bedroom apartment while we wait for our house to be rebuilt.

What made me mad is when that fire happened, the day before I’d finished setting up a 55-gallon aquarium. That was my pride and joy because I adore the Harry Potter series. The aquarium was Harry Potter-themed. It was amazing. It’s not a small fortune setting this aquarium up. It was my first big aquarium and then my house burned down. My fish survived but the aquarium did not. I have six in total and two of them have axolotls in them. They’re not fish. They’re amphibians. It’s a whole thing but I have four other ones waiting for the house to be finished.

That’s a big event to live through of a house burning down. How did you get through that?

I don’t recommend it. I’m still getting through it. I don’t like to think about it as tragic, even though I have no intention of ever giving a motivational speech. When you got those speeches in high school and college or whatever, it’s like nobody ever had a perfect life. I’m building at this point. I’m at the part of the story where things are getting rough so that things can get awesome later. That way, when I tell to whoever my story, I’m at the part that they can relate to, so that they can relate to the good part later.

As somebody who works with developmental and generational trauma, I’m sitting here excited wondering where did you learn this? Did you learn it? Is this something that you do and you’ve adapted it into your lifestyle?

Part of it is how my brain works. Part of it is I’ve been through a lot of therapy. I’m a big fan of therapy. Everyone needs therapy, whether you think you do or not. If you don’t think you need therapy, you need more therapy.

This is something that you have created for yourself. This is a tactic that can work for people. I’m not saying that it works across the board for everybody. However, picturing yourself or envisioning yourself, you’ve found a way to make this the plot of a story. You’re in the hard part. The hard part is the better the reward is later. Once it gets to the good parts again, it’s going to be that much better later on. This is an adaptation to help people survive and get through the rough stuff. If any readers are in a tough situation, try it. If you don’t try it, you won’t know if it works for you. We all come up with these little adaptive things that become resources and strengths that help us get through. Thank you, Heather, for pointing that out.

Everyone needs therapy, whether you think you do or not. If you don’t think you need therapy, you need more. CLICK TO TWEET

The thing is historically in my life, it’s proved to be true. The best example I’ve got is when we lost our daughter, whose name was Michelle. I’m a big proponent of if you are an infant loss family and you are comfortable and it makes you feel better to use your child’s name, then by all means you use their name. My daughter was real. She existed. That’s a whole other episode probably. When we lost Michelle, I had an amazing nurse named Jessica. I was like, “If I can’t have my kid, I’m keeping you.” It was a dark time in my life.

I didn’t know how I was going to make it through. There wasn’t a coping mechanism. Looking back, I can see where some good came of it, even though there’s no good reason to go through that period. No one should go through that. It’s awful. Because I went through that, I now help, Jess, that nurse. She’s now an educator. She teaches other labor and delivery nurses. Every year she brings me in to teach them how to work with families who are going through what I went through.

Because I didn’t lose my crap and I was able to work through it, I’m able to go in and teach them how to do the things that were done to me, not in the best way but how to do it better. My postpartum care was seriously lacking, but I’m able to prevent that from happening to another mom and another family. No one’s going to send the birth certificate lady into their room the way they did to me. Historically, it’s proven true. I’m waiting to get to the good part of the fire.

That’s another big experience in life. Most of us can’t even fathom the loss of a child. My heart goes out to you. I am going to do a little compare and contrast here to past guests. You don’t have to write a book. You don’t have to develop the program. You don’t have to be this international worldwide personality in order to help people. It can be as simple as how can you help in your local community? How can you give back? That’s exactly what you’re doing. You’re taking that experience. You’ve metabolized it and you’ve turned it into something. Even through the discomfort and the pain, you’re giving back, you’re helping and you’re serving other people. Don’t get me wrong, I am not religious by any means, whatsoever. I am anti-religion if anything. However, when it comes to religious texts, many religious texts say “serve.”

That’s what our purpose is, it’s to serve. This is a perfect example of how you take an adverse experience and you turn it into something where you give back and serve. I know that you and I talked because we were both about the same age as children when we lost a parent. I was 13.5 and you were 14. You were talking about adult adversities. They go far back. Sometimes life is hard. It’s harder sometimes for some of us than others. Even as a kid, how did you survive that? What was your strength to get you through the experience of the loss of a parent?

When I lost my dad, it was a unique experience. There was a lot of sadness because he was my dad, but also, he wasn’t the best person. Also, guilt because it’s like, how dare I would be relieved that someone died suddenly? My sister and I had two completely different dynamics and relationships with my father. She was daddy’s girl and I am much like my mom. We were never going to get along. She and I have two vastly different memories. It was a lot more emotionally trying on her from losing her daddy. Whereas when I lost my dad, I had to dealt with all of these feelings of guilt that I’m a horrible person because I’m glad that I don’t have to go there anymore, and that he’s gone because that’s a stress off me.

Also, I miss what could have been like, what if he had gotten better? He died when I was fourteen. I was living on my own, but I wasn’t dating my husband yet. I was nineteen when it finally all came to a head. Although my husband was a feature in the story, it was Father’s Day and out of the blue, it came crashing down like a ton of bricks. I was like, “I need to go to his grave.” Anybody who’s never been to Texas can’t quite comprehend how huge it is that it will take you a solid ten hours to drive from one side to the other. I was living in Northeast, Texas, going to college. My dad is buried in a cemetery in Dallas, which was about a two-hour drive from where I was going to college.

It was summer. I drove this big stupid truck that got both miles to the gallon. I worked at a coffee shop making minimum wage. I had no dollars. This is back when gas was $4 a gallon. I had no business going off on this wild goose chase. The cemetery he’s buried in is massive. It’s several city blocks. I had been there three times. Once when I was nine, that’s when my great grandmother passed away, dad’s funeral, and grandmother’s funeral years later. Both times I’m crying. I don’t remember where anybody was. I see pictures but I don’t see words. I don’t know if there’s a name for that. I don’t have an advanced degree in brain things.

I knew it was somewhere near to the front office, but we’re talking of rows and rows. There are plaques on the ground and not normal headstones. I drove around the cemetery for probably an hour. This was back in the days of MapQuest . I had already gotten lost in Dallas twice trying to find the place. It’s on both sides of the street. Finally, I go in and I’m like, “I need to know where this is,” to the people in the office. They’re like, “We don’t have anyone by that name here.” I’m freaking out. Conspiracy theories are running through my head. He’s dead because they did a closed-casket funeral because it was several days before they found him.

My parents were going through an ugly custody battle. Dad wasn’t the greatest at paying child support. By that, I mean he didn’t bother. We lived three hours away to the middle of nowhere. We’re pawns in there backing and forth. Dad’s only asking for visitation so he can see my sister. It’s a whole thing. He dies on us and we never see the body for closure because it was a week before they found him. There’s this rush funeral. Autopsy says heart attack. I read a lot of true crime. I’m like, “What if it’s fake?” I’m like, “Tell me where my great grandmother is and I’ll find it.” I find it. I’m sitting there. My mom called me at some point in time hearing all this and I’m bawling my eyes out. I’m like, “I’m the worst daughter ever. I can’t find dad’s grave.”

She’s like, “He’s next to Mimi? Calm down. Why aren’t you in Dallas? What is happening? You have no business driving that truck to Dallas.” I’m like, “I did.” It’s the crap I do when I am upset. I am standing in this massive empty cemetery yelling at my dad’s grave. The nineteen-year-old me had not quite developed the affinity for the word fuck yet. I am yelling at my dad’s grave, telling him how much he has screwed up my life by traumatizing me and then dying on me so that I cannot tell him this to his face. I then turn to my grandmother’s grave and I started apologizing for saying bad words in front of her because I’m having a mental breakdown. I look over and this white Honda pulls up, and out get my best friend and future husband. I’m like, “Why are you here? How did you know I was here?” He’s like, “Your mom called me. Let’s go get some ice cream. Do you feel better now?” I’m like, “Yeah, this sucks. Ice cream sounds like a great plan.” Sometimes you just need to scream at the world and then get some ice cream.

You’re saying that you were having a mental breakdown. However, from working with trauma, how I interpret this is not a mental breakdown by any means. Your mind, that narrator part that verbalizes, narrates and judges all the time probably told you that you were having a breakdown. What I’m seeing is this buildup of pent emotions that came out and thank goodness it came out. You let it come out in a safe and healthy way. Emotions are not rational, reasonable or verbal. We often put words to them because a lot of times we’ll let our emotions control our words and actions, which is how we get into dysfunction in our lives.

You went to this place and you let yourself have those emotions. Sometimes that’s what we need to do. Sometimes the emotions have to come out in that burst. You didn’t hit anybody. You didn’t hurt anybody. You didn’t destroy any property. What matters is that you got it out and your friend came, the man who became your husband later. You had some resources and support. This is how you get through the tough stuff in a healthy way. It doesn’t feel healthy when you’re in it. At the same time, what would have happened had you not done that? What would have happened had you not followed that gut feeling like, “I don’t know why I’m doing this, but I got to drive to Dallas and go to the cemetery?”

Sometimes the thing we need to do to heal is the most irrational thing to our thinking narrator mind, but it’s the most logical thing we can do to our subconscious, to those nonverbal parts of ourselves. I want to point this out to the readers because these are brilliant and healthy adaptive mechanisms. What matters is that you’re not hurting anybody in the process. Many people and I’ve been guilty of this in the past where my emotions come up and my words hurt other people. We’ve all been there too. I’ve been both in the harmful words and kind words. It’s through the experience that we realize where we want to stay. Thank you for sharing.

These are healthy mechanisms. I know you and I talked about I can relate to having that experience of this whole myriad of feelings around my mother’s deaths. It sounds like she was different from your father. At the same time, she was the type of person who the side of her that she would show to the world wasn’t always the side of her that she showed to her family. My mother died from cancer and she used to tell me that I was the reason she had cancer because I was such a bad kid. When people would come to visit her when she was sick, she would point at me and say, “Look at her, look how she’s acting. She’s going to be the death of me.” On cue, she died.

I’ve carried around a lot of mixed feelings because I loved my mother and she blamed me for her death. Because of that, I’ve hated my mother. I saw the dysfunction in the house of living with somebody who was passive-aggressive. I’ve also experienced that guilty gratitude because there is guilt attached to it of, “Thank goodness. I haven’t had that following me my whole entire life.” That’s important to talk about. That’s a dirty little secret that many of us have. I’m curious how you have dealt with that gratitude and guilt in that intermingling of the thank goodness, but I’m a terrible daughter. How have you dealt with that?

I’ve been dealing with that again. My son is at that age where he’s formulating the familial units in his head. He’s well-spoken for such a tiny person. He’s always known about his sister. I don’t question him knowing about his sister. I accepted it’s a thing. That’s my life now. I don’t believe in ghosts, but I have one. He understands that my husband’s parents are Sissy and Pops. He understands that my mom is Gigi, but he doesn’t understand why I don’t have a dad. My husband, while he’s adopted, comes from the most amazing family. They are the quintessential. His mom’s a teacher. His dad works in sales. They are happy. They are in love. They work together. They communicate. I’ve never heard them yell at each other. They’ll raise their voice. They’ll get stern, but they don’t scream. They don’t insult. I’m like, “You all are healthy. I don’t understand. This is functional.” I don’t understand it.

They do this weird thing where they pay attention to what their kids enjoy. Even if they don’t understand it, they go out of their way to get them things as gifts. For instance, I love Dr. Who. They have never watched an episode in their life. Do you know what they got me for Mother’s Day? A tortoise transferring Dr. Who mug because I like coffee mugs. They purposely found me a Dr. Who mug where the tortoise moves from one side to the other. It was the greatest thing ever. It was a cheap mug, but I was excited to get it. My dad never bothered going out to take my freaking coffee. It was such an out-there thing for me. That is what my son associates, a normal functioning family.

I don’t talk to 95% of my family. It’s not that they’re bad people. We just don’t have a relationship and that’s fine. We’re not close. I talked to one of my cousins, sometimes my other cousins on occasion, on our birthdays. To put it this way, when my house burned down, all of my husband’s cousins got together and pulled together money for our house fire. Keep in mind, a house fire is a couple of hundred thousand dollars. It’s usually a 1% deductible, maybe 2%. They got cash for that within three days. Nobody from my family called to check and make sure we were okay.

It’s not that they don’t care. It just didn’t occur to them. I posted on Facebook so I’m okay. They didn’t think to reach out and check because if something was wrong, I put it on Facebook. Except I’m not going to put that I am struggling in social media. That’s not what people come to Facebook to see. They come to see pictures of my kids. Back to your original question, dealing with the whole how I feel about being relieved that my dad’s not in my life now, the concept of him having access to my precious, obnoxious, sassy little munchkin makes me sick to my stomach because as an adult, now I can realize he was never going to change. As someone who spends 90% of her time listening to psych podcast and true crime and all that, it was a matter of time before he did something stupid. He was a ticking time bomb. While I doubt it would have been a violent crime. It was probably something that would have landed him maybe not in jail, but I would have eventually end up cutting him out of my life.

Maybe not, I don’t know. I’m Southern. We’re big on that Southern guilt stuff. There’s no way I would have let him near my childhood. Part of me was like, “That’s not cool. He’s your dad,” but also like I don’t care who you are but nothing is going to hurt my baby. I worked too damn hard to get that kid. I went through hell and back to get him. I mean three months of bed rest and roughly 25 shots in the booty. Now Sam will ask me and he’ll be like, “Why don’t you have a dad?” At first, I was like, “I don’t have a dad.” He realizes that everyone’s got two parents whether they’re around or not because he’s far too smart.

Finally, he was like, “I know you have a dad. Who is he? Where is he?” I was like, “He passed away.” It chapped me to say he was in heaven, but I don’t want to explain the concept of hell to him. You said you were anti-religion, but I’m in the South. You can guess what religion I am. I don’t give a crap what other religion people are, do your thing. I don’t want to explain the concept of hell to him because he’s still five. I’m like, “Bible can’t be bad. Read the text when you can read.” He passed away and he’s like, “He’s in heaven.” I’m like, “He’s somewhere maybe. I don’t know.” He’s like, “He was your bad dad.” I’m like, “That.” He calls him up my bad dad and I’m like, “I probably should correct this.” It’s a weird place to be.

Sometimes you just need to scream at the world and then get some ice cream. CLICK TO TWEET

How do you appropriately explain that to a five-year-old who’s on an eight-year-old intelligence level? He’s essentially an only child. He’s five and he can explain the water cycle. He’s got great communication skills, but he’s still five. Emotionally he can’t comprehend like, “Grandpa used to make mommy feel like dirt.” Even if he was alive, he wouldn’t be near him. There’s no way to explain that to a five-year-old. At the same time, I don’t want him to build them up in his head. I don’t want to give him a special name. It doesn’t mean names have power. I always use Michelle’s name or her as my daughter. My son is Samuel or Sammy or Moose or whatever.

The grandparents have special names and aunties. I’m big on the family of choice. All my best friends that I’ve had for years and years, they’re all the aunties and they all have special little nicknames. Part of that might need because my name is Heather and there’s no way to shorten that into a cute name. I refuse to give him a grandpa name because he doesn’t deserve it. His dad, my granddad, talking about a rough loss. That one was hard. I still deal with that one. I lost him when I was pregnant with my son, but he was my sweetie pie. As bad as my relationship was with my dad, me and my granddad were thick as thieves. Now that I found out that they weren’t biologically-related, that makes a lot more sense.

Hearing your story, it’s amazing how many little resources that you’ve pulled out for yourself and having your grandfather being a resource for you in life. That’s wonderful to remember back to the good times because those resources are how we stay healthy emotionally, by remembering and tapping into our resources. A lot of times when people have experienced adversity, especially multiple adversities in their life, they disconnect from their own resources and they disconnect from those things that feel good inside themselves, and you haven’t.

That’s coming through in every story that you tell that you haven’t completely disconnected from those things that feel good. That’s the thing that happens when people have experienced trauma or adversity where it’s almost like this guilt or the shame like, “I shouldn’t feel good. I shouldn’t feel happy. I shouldn’t be having this multisensory experience that feels great because I’m having an experience of gratitude or joy or euphoria or whatever that is.” People will often feel guilty about that. Those are what helped help bring us the strength to get through the trauma. It’s the conscious disconnect from it that holds us back and you haven’t.

When you are a parent of an infant loss situation, it turns out like the world gets a lot small. We call it the Southern Effect. It has an eighteen-syllable long Latin name, when you become hyper-aware of a certain situation because you’ve been in the situation now. I never met anyone who lost a baby to now I know everyone who has lost a baby. It seems like whenever I meet someone that is a lost parent or is having a rainbow or whatever, everyone always hits you with all that, “It’s God’s plan.” To anybody reading this, if you know anyone that loses a baby, do not tell them it was God’s plan or the universe’s plan or anybody’s plan. There’s no reason for it. We hate that. Also skip “At least you can have more kids.” That’s not okay either.

When you have been through that and you meet people that are going through it now, the best thing I have found is to be obnoxiously blunt. My friends will call it my Mrs. Weasley complex because I love Harry Potter. It’s my thing where I’m blunt and straightforward. What I say is it’s okay to be upset and it’s okay to have good days. If you are 100% okay all the time, there’s something wrong with you. I want what drugs you’re on. Please share. Nobody never has bad days and nobody always is happy.

If you’re having bad days all the time, that’s no way to live because what the hell is the point of existing if you’re going to be sad all the time. You got to find a way to make it better, whether that is better like chemistry or through therapy or a combination thereof, or pitching yourself giving a TED Talk because something’s got to go. Otherwise, it’s exhaustion all the time. There’s good exhaustion where you’re busy and fulfilled. You’re hitting all of those Maslow’s hierarchy of needs or whatever if that’s still a thing.

If you’re always stuck in one state of emotion all the time, and this is purely my opinion, there’s no point. You can’t have happy without having sad and the other way around. I was talking with one of my girlfriends who’s going through a rough time. She’s getting out of an abusive relationship. She’s got a disorder of some sort. She was at my house. She couldn’t comprehend how she was ever going to be happy again. She’s like, “I don’t feel like I deserve it after so long with this guy who told me I didn’t deserve it.” I was like, “Do you feel like your kids deserve to be happy?” She was like, “Yeah.” Do you think I deserve to be happy? She’s like, “Yeah.” Do you think I’m capable of it? “Yeah.” I was like, “Why the hell wouldn’t you be allowed to be happy? Why aren’t you capable of it? If anybody deserves happiness after everything you’ve been through, it would be you.”

See yourself the way I see you, like see what a beautiful, wonderful person you are and how much you deserve the world. That’s how I feel about all of humanity. I know that sounds cheesy, but I am the, “I believe the world will be a much better place if people would follow that golden rule that we learned about in kindergarten.” Follow the rules and be an inherently good person, and we probably would have a lot less crap happening in the world. There will probably still be a plague. People would probably be less bitter about it. Basically, don’t suck as a human being.

Here’s the thing that I’ve learned over the years. There is a choice point where you can choose your emotional state. However, if you have an external locus of control. If everything in the world around you and everything in your environment, the people around you, your job, your friends, your social life, whatever it is, if that determines your happiness, then you have an external locus of control because you’re looking outside of yourself for happiness. If that’s you and you have an external locus of control. You’re not going to be able to see that choice point and you’re going to call bullshit on it.

That was me for many years. I call bullshit. I’m like, “No, I don’t have a choice on how I feel. I feel how I feel. I can’t control my emotions. I can’t control whether I’m happy or sad. It happens.” As I went through my own therapy and learned how to deal with my own trauma, somebody taught me how to find that choice point within myself. It’s a skill. It’s not something that happens. It’s not something that’s innately born into us. It’s something that we learn. If our parents know how to do it, then as young children, we can learn this by observation. What you were saying about telling your friends, like, “Why wouldn’t you want that happiness for yourself? You want your kids to be happy, but why not you?”

Surviving Tragedies: If the world around you determines your happiness, you have an external locus of control because you’re looking outside yourself for happiness.

That is important. I will go into a little touch on neurobiology. I’m not going to go into a deep lesson, but when we consider mirror neurons, that’s important because mirror neurons are something that we naturally do as humans. That’s how children learn. Do as I say, not as I do approach is not a good way to parent your kids. If you are always giving away of yourself and you’re always exhausted because you don’t have anything left for you, your kids are watching that. They’re going to learn that by living in the house with you and observing. If you look at your lifestyle and I’m talking a lot to the readers, not so much to you, Heather, for anybody out there, if you look at your lifestyle, is this the lifestyle that you want for your children?

Is this the emotional and mental state that you want for your children? If it’s not, then you might want to look at yourself because that’s exactly what you’re going to give to your children by modeling the behavior to them. There’s the fact that if you understand the whole tuning fork thing and resonance, if you have two tuning forks that are at the same pitch or that are tuned to the same thing, if you hit one and get it to vibrate, the other one will vibrate because of the wave going through the air.

If you put weight on that second one, it’s not going to do anything because they’re not at the same pitch. Whenever we put this out and we put this frequency out, our emotions do emit frequency and people who are on that same emotional frequency are what we’re going to attract into our life. If you’re always angry and complaining, you’re going to attract into your life the angry complainers, the gossipers and the people that keep you there. There is science behind this. I can share some of the studies, especially the resonance study, that comes from MIT, from their CSAI laboratory, which is Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. There is actual science behind what I’m saying. It’s not a woo-woo bullshit.

I’m able to apply the science to what you’re saying. I want to point that out to the readers because what you’re saying are practical, real-life applications on how to work with this stuff. You might not even realize that you’re doing it in your life and that’s why I’m pointing it out because it can be helpful. Some of these things that we do and people will oftentimes try to come in and tell us that we’re wrong, or we need to do it the way they think we should do it. If it’s working for you and if you’re finding a resource, the heck with all the naysayers. Thank you for sharing your stories because there are some brilliant, self-survival and healthy adaptive mechanisms that you’re sharing in your stories.

I will say one other thing. You mentioned about support systems. One of the big things that get me through especially when I have the bad days is, I probably have the most amazing best friends on the planet. I’m lucky that I have a lot of them. We call ourselves awesome nerds. I have several sets of friends and we don’t necessarily intermingle a lot often, but I have several safe spaces where I can talk about different things. My nerds, we were able to talk about everything. It wasn’t by design. It just happened that we find each other.

Some of us have been friends since high school. Some of us met in college. Some of us are cousins. Some of us work together and we grow together. I’ve got online friends, my pocket friends, and I’ve got my work family, and all that. While they all know each other, they don’t all hang out together. Having those people to support me, and the most crucial part is sometimes I can be like, “I don’t need solutions. I just need to say it.” I need to complain about it. I need to whine. I need to bitch. I need to talk about how unfair this is so that I can move on. I need to put it out there like that time I was screening in the cemetery. I don’t need you to offer me solutions. Please do not because I’m going to feel like I have to refute them and talk more about how horrible it is. I need you to agree that it all sucks. Tell me to drink a glass of wine and go on with my day.

What you said in there is brilliant, “I don’t need solutions.” How many of us are guilty of trying to be Mr. or Mrs. Fix It, “I had something similar that happened to me,” which is where we go wrong in the conversations. Instead of holding space and listening to the story, we like to interject and say, “That happened to me too.” We start to tell our story, which overrides the other person’s story. We say, “It will help get us through.” A lot often times it comes across in the moment of somebody being emotionally vulnerable. It comes across as you’ve done something wrong. What you’re communicating in the moment of somebody’s emotions like “I can’t even now,” it comes across as you’ve done something wrong and “Here, let me fix you.” What’s happening is if we’re listening to somebody in an emotional outburst, we’re not able to handle it. We need them to be quiet so we can feel comfortable.

This is one of the reasons why years ago in my practice, I stopped handing people tissues because as soon as you hand somebody a tissue, that is a nonverbal cue for that person to clean themselves up and stop crying so I can feel better. It’s a nonverbal signal and it seems compassionate but it isn’t. If you want to hand somebody a tissue, wait until the crying comes down. Wait until they’re not in the hyperventilating crying. Wait until they start to come back into a little bit of regulation in their body. Usually, for the average person that takes ten minutes or less. For most people it’s a lot less, but sometimes when it’s something big and emotions are not rational, sometimes we need to vent.

I take people through shadow work. One of the practices in shadow work is looking at what burdens can we set down and not carry on our shoulders? Do I have to carry this burden with me everywhere I go? By letting yourself emote and rant or get that out, that’s how you’re setting your burdens on the side. I’m curious, Heather, once you do the ranting at your friends and you get it out, do you continue later down the road and go back and revisit the same things over and over again and go through the same rants over and over or are you done with it?

It depends on what the rant is. Sometimes we discard it and I’ll think about it tomorrow. Tomorrow is another day. Sometimes I need to complain about my husband, I want to twatwaffle him and then we let it go, except that sometimes people just twatwaffles. Unless it becomes a habit attending a twatwaffle, we don’t readdress it. A lot of times it’s in a group chat on WhatsApp. We can scroll back up and be like, “Hold on, there’s a pattern emerging here. He’s developing a habit of being a butt munch. We need to communicate with this.” We are big on communication. I’m a Millennial. My generation gets a bad rap for being a needy generation. I will say one thing we are super good at is vocalizing and communicating in a clear way. I’m probably not the best example of that.

Especially our emotional needs, which is how we want to put the label of snowflake. Within our little niche family, there were days where one of us or sometimes all of us. We seem to all hit that little emotional wall regularly. Sometimes we hit all in a row or I’m having a rough day and we’re all saying, “Let’s talk it out.” It’d be like, “I feel a need that I need to get this emotional stuff.” I will flat out say that, “Is it okay if I unload on over a little while? You do not have the emotional capacity to deal with this. It’s okay. I have other outlets if I need to. I don’t want to burden you all overly.” It is okay for us to be like, “I can’t take that on right now.” We all respect that. That’s important as someone who has anxiety or depression or whatever, or even someone who has neuro norm or whatever it’s called to recognize your own boundaries. There has been somebody like my best friend in the whole wide world, Lindsey. She and I have been best friends since the first day of high school. She was misdiagnosed as bipolar when we were in high school.

Sometimes, we don’t need solutions. Sometimes, we just need to complain or whine about things so that we can move on. CLICK TO TWEET

It turns out she has the super extreme PMS. She gets psycho if she has her period. I could have told her that because I’ve known her for a million years. They used to pull me out of class when she had panic attacks because no one else would calm her down. They would call up to whatever class I was in and be like, “We need you in the ad shop. Lindsey’s losing her shit.” There are vivid memories from high school of me calming her down while she’s crying in the fetal position in the bathroom. We are super close. We named our kids after each other. She knows that I am here for her, but there are some days where I am struggling with fire stuff or if there is a storm because my fire was caused by a storm. She knows not to come out with emotional shit.

I can’t do it. It’s everything I can do to pull my shit together that day. To my knowledge, I don’t have PTSD, but I can’t think that there’s a storm happening now. It used to be that was the best sleep. Now I’m scared that another tree is going to pull into my power line and set my roof on fire. I can’t sleep until that storm goes away. I’m going to lay there and listen to it rain until it stops. Tornado is even worse because I’m going to be texting everyone, I know making sure that they’re safe because I don’t like to lose people. No one does. If you do, there’s something wrong with you. I have a tornado kit because if I’m prepared, then there’s a plan in place and then I can relax a little. I’m laying there reading instead of laying down hyperventilating.

You already know what can calm you down and what you need to do to get through situations. That’s the whole point. That’s the point that I want the readers to pick up on is knowing what is going to get you through in the healthiest most resourced way possible. If that means having the emergency kit or having the bag packed or having whatever it is ready to go. It doesn’t have to be the extreme doomsday preppers. You don’t have to be a doomsday prepper. At the same time, you can still be prepared without having a concrete bunker buried in your backyard.

When I say emergency kit, I had a fear of fires as a kid. It’s not lost on me. It’s been ever since in elementary school they would bring in firefighters in full gear so that way you would not be afraid of the firefighter. Something about that freaked me out. It was the Darth Vader breathing and the mask. I always made my sister let me sleep by the window, which looking back was horrible. We were home when the fire happened. Because I had spent many nights as a child thinking what would I say when my neighbor beat on my door and said, “The house is on fire, you all need to get out.” The first thing I did was shove my son out the door because that’s the most precious thing and then I grabbed my Teddy bear I had my entire life and my daughter’s memory box. Those are the things I took.

I didn’t save my purse. My husband grabbed that because he’s smarter than me, but I saved the two things in that house that could not be replaced because. All there is a 30-year-old Teddy bear and my daughter’s box. That’s everything I had of her, every last piece of her stuff. It’s all in a little wicker basket. I grabbed my jewelry box because it had my original wedding bands. Everything else, I didn’t get shit. I didn’t grab my son’s toys. Chuck survives. Those were the things I cared about. If tornado season comes, that box goes straight into the closet in the most interior part of my house. Those are little things that give me peace of mind. Now I’ve had to do that emergency evac, I know it works. I’m able to give myself that peace of comfort. You know this is an effective plan.

It’s important is to know yourself and be prepared enough to know yourself. It sounds like you do a lot of envisioning and mental rehearsing. That can be a strength for some people. It depends on how you do it. Some people that mental rehearsing is what drags them down the rabbit hole into even more suffering. Sometimes that mental rehearsing is what pulls us out of the rabbit hole and becomes a resource and it becomes our strength. It’s how you do it and how you use it within yourself that matters.

This is such a valuable conversation because this is truly one of the first conversations I’ve had on my show where it’s brought it down to not promoting a book, not promoting a program, not working with somebody who’s a specialist or an expert in the field. I had started to be a little concerned on my end about is this show even relatable to the average person? Sometimes I get feedback, sometimes I don’t, and readers, I love when I get feedback so please feel free to reach out to me if you have any questions or comments.

I do love the comments and whenever I don’t get a lot of interaction, the mind starts to go to, “Am I reaching anybody? Does it matter? Do people care?” This to me is such an important episode. Thank you, Heather, for coming on and for sharing your story. Are you open if anybody has questions for you? Are you open to connecting? Where’s the best place where people can connect with you if they’re interested?

I am open and feel free to message me. The easiest place is Facebook. You can send me a message.

I will do that in case anybody wants to reach out or has questions and anything like that or sometimes people want to comment and say thank you for sharing. It takes a lot to come on a show and be vulnerable, honest and share some of these things.

I’m happy to answer your questions. Especially if someone is going through a similar situation to what I’ve gone through, fire-wise and infant loss, especially. I encourage them to reach out to me because I am happy to walk with anybody through those situations. There is so much that I’ve done wrong. If I can help someone avoid those mistakes, I’m happy to do it, especially when it comes to insurance claims on fires. Feel free to reach out if someone has questions, comments, concerns, as long as they’re nice comments. Don’t say mean things to me. Please don’t message me telling me how awful I am. I like my self-esteem. I get enough of that at work.

Surviving Tragedies: Our emotions emit a frequency, and people who are on that same emotional frequency are what we’re going to attract into our life.

If you don’t agree with something, that’s fine. You don’t have to be mean about it. You cannot agree in a kind way. You don’t have to not agree in a mean way. Don’t say mean things to anybody, please. Heather, do you have any final tips or bits of wisdom to leave with our readers?

This is going to sound random, but if you live on your own, write down everything you have, put it in a spreadsheet and save it to the cloud. I realized that is no way mental health-related, but in the event you ever have to make a claim on your insurance, it will save you roughly fourteen months of time and also take pictures.

Walkthrough your house and take a video of everything in your house. Turn your record on and that can help too.

They’ll still make you fill out a spreadsheet. That’s my advice. That’s what I tell everybody.

Heather, thank you. I appreciate you for being here and for sharing yourself with all of us. For all of our readers, thank you for being with us. Please subscribe. Please share this with your friends. Feel free to sign up for my newsletter on the homepage of my website. If you’re at the episode on my website, all you have to do is flip over to the homepage, sign up for the newsletter and don’t miss any episodes. Thank you for being with us. I will see you next time.

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About Heather Smith

Heather Smith is the proud holder of a MRS degree, the mother of two kids (one angel, one miracle), an aquatic fanatic, a redhead, and she who fixates on projects for a sense of control. In the words of Captain Cold – make the plan, memorize the plan, expect the plan to go sideways, and ditch the plan.

Heather has bounced back after several tragedies, including the loss of an infant, a grief known by too many and discussed by too few.

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envisioning house fire infant loss mental rehearsing recognizing boundaries support systems

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