I’ve missed you! And, I wrote a new book!


It’s been way too long since I’ve written here, and so much has happened. I’m not sure how to organize it all!  I’ll just dive in, and hope you can follow along.

If you’ve followed my story, you know that I have struggled to write because of severe and chronic pain that makes it difficult to type. I have been able to type in short bursts, but rarely more than a page at a time. I tried dictation software, and it functioned fine, but my brain just doesn’t work that way. My thoughts flow more elegantly from my fingertips than they do from my mouth.

Last year, we moved to a new city for my husband’s job. We were just settling in to our new home when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I was stunned. My family has no history of breast cancer, and I didn’t have any of the known risk factors. Fortunately, it was caught early (please do all the recommended screening tests!). I had surgery and then went through five weeks of daily radiation therapy. The radiation left me exhausted. I spent most afternoons in my recliner, with my two Bichons (Lily and Larry), curled up on my lap.

When I was nearing the end of my radiation treatments, I was approached by a publisher with an offer to write a book on self-confidence. Initially I said “no.” I had written four books in the past, and I assumed that part of my career was over. It wasn’t physically possible for me, with my chronic pain and now my fatigue, to write a book. But, the idea kept popping up in my head!

Who thinks of taking on a huge task when they’re exhausted and in pain? I do!

Writing makes me feel alive! I want to do this!

One of the things I like about myself is that I’m a creative problem-solver. I knew if I were to write this book, I would need help. If I could find a co-author, it would decrease the workload while still giving me a meaningful project in which to immerse myself. Immediately someone came to mind—Celia Ampel.

I had met Celia in a round-about way through my son years ago. As a graduate of the prestigious University of Missouri School of Journalism, she is a great writer. I also knew she was interested in psychology as we’d collaborated on a few blog posts a while back. She lives in Florida now and I decided to text her to gauge her interest and availability. The timing was perfect! She had just decided to leave her job and do some freelance writing, and she said she was definitely interested. Yippee!

We signed the book contract and off we went! We met over Google Hangouts to discuss ideas and used a shared Google document to write. She was the best co-author I could have. We were always completely in sync (we decided it was because we are both INFJs on the Myers-Briggs test and “Rebels” on Gretchen Rubin’s Four Tendencies test).

We had very tight deadlines, met each one early, and completed the entire book in under ten weeks (while I was also still working my regular job)!

I can’t believe how much I was able to write, or the amount of time I was able to sit at the computer. I was on a mission. Writing with Celia was so much fun I didn’t notice the pain as much, and what discomfort I had was worth it. We both felt good that we were working on a creative project that had the potential to help so many people. At the end of the writing process, Celia came to St. Louis to visit. It was so nice to see her in person. My husband, Greg, took pictures of us together, looking confident, of course.

This week was the one-year anniversary of the tests that led to my cancer diagnosis. I went back to see my doctors and have more tests. Everything came back clean. Even though I had expected good news, I hadn’t realized how much these follow-up tests had been weighing on my mind. It sounds cliché, but facing serious illness changes everything. One thing I learned for sure:

I’m not ready to quit writing. I still have things to say.

Just this morning, The Self-Confidence Workbook: A Guide to Overcoming Self-Doubt and Improving Self-Esteem popped up on Amazon—it officially comes out October 23 and is available for pre-order now. I’m really proud of it, and believe in the approach we present. Celia and I found ourselves becoming more confident ourselves as we became immersed in the material. (We had fun texting each other big and small confidence victories along the way!)

28056538_1629523250464478_8840453932887660622_nAs I type this, I look around my office for inspiration. My eyes land on a small painting that my husband gave me after I completed my radiation treatments. He had asked a local artist to do a one-of-a-kind piece for me. I love the work of Janice Scherer who is known for her “Stripy Arms” paintings. She had met me once and didn’t really know me, but magically her painting fit me and my situation perfectly.

“Show up. Stand up. Speak up. Every day, in every way—I am overcoming and pushing through perceived obstacles and challenges to do what I need to do—to find my courage, my strength, and my voice.”

I had planned to tell you more about the book and why I’m so proud of it—but I think I’ll stop typing for now. I can do that later…



Stories and Compassion

“Everything is held together with stories.

That is all that is holding us together,

stories and compassion.” 

― Barry Lopez


I told you my stories, and you reached out with compassion. It helped. It continues to help. Thank you.

I have had a good few days, and I know it’s because of you. This is no small thing–being there for each other. Yet we underestimate its importance.

At first glance, there seems to be nothing new about valuing compassion. It’s an idea that has been around for thousands of years in both the religious and secular worlds. But perhaps it is the universality of compassion that has lulled us into underestimating its importance.

Compassion is a treasure hidden in plain sight,

which we often don’t notice. -Larry Dorsey, M.D.

A big trend in psychotherapy is  “evidenced based treatment protocols.” Even as a write that, it sounds so cold. Of course, there are techniques and methods that are effective for a wide variety of problems.

But research over a long period of time continues to find that the core ingredient of someone’s progress in therapy is the relationship between the therapist and the client. It’s what humanistic psychologist Carl Rogers called “unconditional positive regard.” Psychologist David Myers writes:

Unconditional positive regard is an attitude of grace,

an attitude that values us even knowing our failings.

noname-30Writing on a blog is not the same as psychotherapy, but similar healing happens. You tell your stories. You find others have similar stories. You learn you’re not alone. You are seen.

You find out people accept you even if

you’re a bit tattered around the edges.

Again, this is no small thing.

Again, thank you, friends.

Living the Questions

photo-61My blogging and social media is a mess! Despite seriously thinking about giving up blogging due to my chronic pain, I somehow have three blogs that I can’t part with. I have this blog, The Self-Compassion Project, and two on Psychology Today. The first blog I started over there is called Shyness is Nice (named after The Smiths song). The other is called Living the Questions (named from the Rilke quote to the left).  I’ve been doing this for about two years and I haven’t really found my voice on any of these blogs.  Writing books was so much easier for me!

A few days ago, I impulsively thought I should change my Facebook page name from The Self-Compassion Project to Living the Questions, so it would at least match one of my Psychology Today blogs.  I submitted the change to Facebook, not thinking they would approve it. I heard they were pretty picky about such things. The very next day, however, they had approved the change. Now I realize that I will have hundreds of links to change on my Psychology Today posts. Plus, I’m not even sure if I’m happy they approved it. I wonder if I could write Facebook back and say I made a mistake? I obsess over everything!

Who knows? Maybe this will free me up to write more on this blog. Really make it a personal blog, and not worry if I post too many pictures of my dogs, or that I write silly things, or that I’m inconsistent in posting.

Anyway, I just thought I’d let you know that if you notice the Facebook name change, it’s because I do not know what I’m doing!


Owning Our Story

These are some notes I jotted down while listening to an interview with Brene´ Brown, which was a part of the Alchemy writing class I took a few months ago. This post has been in my “drafts” waiting to be developed/polished, but I think I’ll just post it as is. #nomoreperfectionism

  • We are hard-wired for story…it is all the way down to a neurological, biological, cellular level.We desire connection to others by telling our stories, but we’re afraid, as well.
  • When you care about telling your true story, you leave yourself vulnerable. But the minute you stop caring about what other people think is the minute you lose your capacity for connection.
  • When Brene´ sits down to write or prepare for a talk, it is still hard for her. The anxiety and fear are still there, but she does it anyway. She says people think she has everything figured out, but she doesn’t.  She still struggles with being vulnerable. She still struggles with perfectionism.
  • She was given the message: don’t share too much about yourself; it’s not professional.
  • When she gives talks about her research, the thing people want to hear are the stories. They don’t care about the statistics or the graphs.
  • Her goal when writing is to tell the truth and walk away feeling proud of what she wrote. She cannot control the outcome. Whether it’s a blog post or a book, she can’t control the comments, the views, the sales, the reactions. You press publish, you put it out there, and you go from there.

Brene´ has a new book coming out, Daring Greatly, and you can preorder it from her website and get special “party favors” along with it. Who doesn’t love party favors?


This is the essay I wrote for the MORE model search, which I wrote about here.  The judging was based 50% on a brief (there was a strict word count) essay answering the question, “What makes you feel beautiful, inside and out?” and 50% on a photo of yourself. I used the picture to the left. At the time I entered, I couldn’t post the essay on this blog. Well, I didn’t win, but I’m still glad I entered. In case you didn’t click over to MORE’s site before, here’s what I wrote.

The truth is, I don’t always feel beautiful. I think it goes back to growing up painfully shy. I still remember one horrible day in school when a teacher announced to the class that I was the quietest student he’d ever taught. Everyone turned around to look at me, as if I was some kind of freak. I felt blood rush to my face and my heart raced. I hated myself for being so reserved. Despite this (or perhaps, because of), I went on to become a psychologist and wrote three books on shyness and social anxiety. Although I enjoy writing and helping others, I still find promoting my work challenging. The strange thing is, throughout all of this, I’ve enjoyed a love affair with the camera. It treats me well. And almost magically, seeing myself in a photo gives me objectivity. I can view myself through a lens of compassion, and am better able to tune out the pesky gremlins in my head that tell me I’m not good enough. But it’s still not easy—this feeling beautiful stuff—and I’ve learned to be okay with that. “Feeling beautiful” comes and goes, because feelings come and go. What matters most is believing I am worthy. Worthiness doesn’t have to be earned; it just is. To me, worthy means speaking my truth, owning my power, and taking risks. And you know what? That painfully shy girl, who tried so hard to remain under the radar, is no longer afraid to tell her story. Sometimes, the story line even reads, “Hey, I’m beautiful.”

Ode to a Third Shift Messiah

(We’re focusing on poetry in my writing class this week. I haven’t written anything share-worthy yet, so I thought I’d post this treasured poem written by my brother and given to me in July, 1988. I was in graduate school and  just starting out as a therapist.)

Ode to a Third Shift Messiah*

On Her Way to Work

*Therapist for Broken Revolutionaries

Breathe in

        taste the deep dust,

Breathe out

        feel a need.

Look in a mirror

        see a guardian of dignity,

Look again

       see a savior of pride.

Accept this power.

Go out to a field,

        hold fast to your courage.

Let your eyes preach the gospel,

        let your words work great miracles.

Be a prayer.

As ashen arrivals ride down from the sky,

       and songs of descending bond with the night.

Photo credit: Werner Kunz, via Flickr, Creative Commons

The Faucet

photo by Barney Craggs, Flickr CC

Here is my response to another writing prompt from Alchemy: The Art and Craft of Writing (the really cool writing class I’m taking), along with a few comments from participants in the class.

My mind is like…

My mind is like a faucet. I think I’ve turned it off, but no sooner do I get comfy on the couch to watch The Good Wife do I hear the drip, drip, drip of tiny little thoughts that drive me crazy. I should be doing this, or that…It doesn’t matter what. I may as well get up because my thoughts won’t let me rest. Sometimes the faucet doesn’t simply drip, it sprays in all directions. I’m flooded with ideas and feelings. I experience an urgency to write, to create, to make meaning of all that’s pouring out. But the water is getting things wet. Things that aren’t supposed to get wet. I need a paper towel. I feel pressure. Time pressure. Other yet unnamed pressures. I can’t follow each idea, explore each feeling. I have to pick and choose. I hate that. I can’t let water get all over the place. Can I?

Comment: There’s something interesting about the drip turning into a forceful flow – neither of which can be ignored.

Comment: I think water all over the place, the chaos of that, is something you should pursue. I sometimes write best, or get the best ideas, when I am totally on edge.

I’m curious, what’s your mind like?

Here’s a photo Greg took of water dripping off our deck. I like how the light reflects through the droplet.

Obsessions and Preoccupations

This was a fun exercise for the class I’m taking, Alchemy: The Art & Craft of Writing.  In order to help generate writing ideas, we were to come up with a list of obsessions and preoccupations. Here’s mine in no particular order:

  • Kelly Rae Robert’s art
  •  Pretty paper napkins
  • Tissue Boxes
  • Dishes
  •  Decorating
  • Ice cream
  • Coffee
  •  Bichons
  •  Target
  •  Paint chips
  • Color names
  • Pretty journals
  • Colored pens
  •  Mad Men (the TV show)
  • Naps
  • Writing
  • Psychology
  • Coming up with ideas
  • Quotes
  • Alliteration
  • Themes
  • Susan Cain’s work on introversion
  • Brene´ Brown’s work on shame
  • Sharon Salzberg’s work on meditation
  • Breathing
  • Kindness

This is actually a really good exercise because I could write entire blog posts on many of these items.

I have the strong urge to put these in categories or make some kind of order out of them, but I’m going to resist and let it be. Hooray for me!

There’s Always More to Say

I highly recommend this course!

I’m taking an online writing class called Alchemy: The Art and Craft of Writing. The course is full of juicy stuff, but today I’m going to share what I wrote in response to a “writing prompt” (you write anything in response to a phrase provided by the teacher). The best part comes at the end with my teacher’s comments.

The prompt:What I want to say…

What I want to say is that I’m sad for myself how I turn something that was supposed to be “for me” (this writing class) into something that’s not fun (Oh yeah, why am I surprised? I’m the person who skipped the chapter on fun in The Happiness Project…) As I was reading part of the lesson this afternoon, I began to cry. (Again, why does this surprise me? I seem to have no shortage of tears.) My thoughts go like this: Why am I even taking this class? There is already so much great writing out there. The world doesn’t need another blog, or even another book. We’re already on information overload. Everything I might say has probably been said before.  I can argue with myself as I’m writing this, but the fact is, my initial reaction to many things is one of pessimism, of defeat. It’s always one of why I shouldn’t be doing something. I shouldn’t be taking this class because it’s frivolous. I shouldn’t be typing at the computer when it increases my pain level. I should be making dinner for my husband who works full-time and provides us health insurance. I should be getting more out of the class. I’m not putting enough into it. I should be commenting on other people’s writing more. This is B.S. (I don’t really cuss, but maybe I’ll start someday). I don’t really think these things are true. It’s just so automatic to go down this path. The grooves in my brain are deep. In a second I go from a cheery, “Oh, I’ll look at the computer to see what’s going on with my writing course today” to a tearful “I’m no good. I’m in pain. I shouldn’t be doing this right now.” No wonder the last therapist I saw asked me in the first ten minutes why I wasn’t on a mood stabilizer! Interesting how this week is on Using Your Voice and I’m trying to silence mine. I’m going to post this now without editing or looking back, but I think (No, I know) there’s more to be said.

My teacher, Jenna McGuiggan, wrote this in response: 

Barb, well I do cuss, so let me help you out for a minute: BULL SHIT to those naysayer gremlins in your head! (I’m really truly hoping you laugh here and are not offended.)

Thank you for sharing your thoughts and feelings here. I understand so very well the feeling of defeat that there’s nothing new under the sun. (Even the author of Ecclesiastes in the Old Testament of the Bible was bemoaning that fact!) And yet… there is only one of me. And only one of you. And no one sees the world like I do, or like you do. People don’t stop reading books or essays or blog posts, even if it’s all been said before in one way or another. And we shouldn’t stop writing, because until we write it, it hasn’t been said by us, in our unique way. Besides, writing is for you as much as for other people. I want people to read what I write, and I hope that they like it or are touched by it in some way, but I’ll always write, even if no one reads it. I write because it’s how I make sense of the world. I write because it makes me feel whole and more solid. I write because there is pleasure in having written.

May you acknowledge your pain and fear and doubt, and may you find a way to move alongside it, through it, and past it. I know you can.