Q: Tell me a bit about yourself and what you do.
I am a Mum, Stepmom, best selling author, speaker, cancer survivor, and businesswoman and dedicated to helping women to shine in everything they do!
Q: Your career focus is on helping women cope with massive life changes. Why are you so passionate about this topic?
Without intending to, I have had a very colorful life and had to pick myself up on more than one occasion and put the pieces of my life back together. The way I have pulled through, still believing I am the luckiest person in the world is by focusing not on the crises that have occurred but what hope lies on the other side of the change. The events I have been through are so extreme I know I have tools and strategies that can help others cope with unexpected crises.
Q: What life changes have most personally impacted you and why?
I suppose my life pretty much had the usual ups and downs early on. When I was 17, I was involved in a car accident where the young, drunk driver of the other car died in front of me. It’s an understatement to say it reinforced how precious life is. Then when I was in my thirties, my son was 15 months old and my daughter nearly 4, everything changed. We had been for a walk on a sunny Saturday morning. As we returned to our house in our picturesque, affluent suburb, a strange man pushed his way into our home, threatened to kill the children, held us captive and then bashed and raped me while they watched. My husband came home, the attacker fled and eventually there was a trial and he was sent to jail.
Two days after Christmas that year, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. A mastectomy and chemotherapy followed and then my marriage broke up. A decade of ill health followed, more operations and then just when I thought it was all over, my attacker was released from jail and brutally murdered a 17-year-old schoolgirl two suburbs from where we had moved.
My heart broke for her and her parents. The media flurry started again and our story was re-told while the community seethed that this monster was ever released. Now, he is safely back in jail and we all put our lives back together. I have used the coping tools and thinking patterns I have developed myself and what I have learned writing my two books to enjoy my life and to help and inspire other women through massive change.
Q: At the time, how did you cope with the challenge?
The interesting thing was that I found my approach to moving on from all these challenges was different from what others around me expected. For me, counseling was talking about horrible events I never wanted and had truly done nothing to deserve. I felt as though the way to moving forward was to look inwards and to re-connect with the person I was inside. I learned that everyone’s challenges are their own – no-one has a charmed life and everyone’s heartache is the most pain they have ever experienced. During all my crises, I never wanted to dwell on what had happened but look forward to how I could make every day count. Determined to master how to survive and then thrive through a crisis, I turned to studying and writing about coping strategies.
In my first book “Secrets of Cancer Survivors’” I found that the survivors I interviewed about their deepest fears and most intense feelings had a similar approach in terms of choosing what and what not to think about. These and other thinking patterns were echoed and reflected when I interviewed children for my second book “Happy Children – secrets of how they think.” The knowledge and my experiences have empowered me to continue to write and develop tools women can use to make sure that nothing or no-one dulls their shine.
Q: Often times change can involve a lot of fear and stress. How can people deal with these issues when going through change?
Any change when it’s unexpected and or outside our control activates the ‘fight or flight’ part of our brain. And this primes us for fear and anxiety rather than hope and happiness! When you are actually in a scary emotional, physical or financial situation it is really easy to focus on what is scaring you and dwell on the worst-case scenario. I’m not saying think happy thoughts no matter what and everything will be fine because that doesn’t work either! This doesn’t help anyone!
What I have learned from my life and my research and is that no matter what is happening you can choose what and what not to think about. This pattern of thinking is like working a muscle – the more you do it the easier it becomes.
Q: When going through hardships in life, it’s so easy to have a “victim mentality” and feel sorry for ourselves. How does someone remain optimistic, and choose to grow from the experience?
You know there’s a lot of times when I hear someone giving an introduction before I speak and I think “that poor woman!” And then I remember “Oh that’s me!” But I have never let myself feel like a victim. Life happens. You can spend many miserable hours asking ‘why’ something awful has happened but it doesn’t change the fact that the event has occurred. The awful event may be partly or solely due to your actions or may have nothing to do with you at all.
My experience and the experience of other survivors and thrivers I have met revealed the surest way to put yourself back together is to view any event however horrible as just an event. It’s like the sun rising each day or birds singing in the morning. It happens. Yes, it was a man who attacked me, his actions were horrendous but if I started to apportion blame, to him, to his family and friends, the school counselor who failed to recognize his sociopathic psyche, his abusive father – I could go on and on.
None of this would have changed what happened to me or make me feel any better. All the cancer survivors I interviewed for my book also refused to think about how or why their horrible event – cancer – had occurred. They accepted it as a fact and shifted their thinking to move forward. It wasn’t the easiest path for me or the cancer survivors but it pulled us through. My advice? Treasure your body and soul, surround yourself with loving people and be kind to yourself while you are coping with whatever has happened to you.
Q: There’s so much pressure for women to take on this “Superwoman” mentality, where we need to keep it together in all areas of our life. As a result, we often keep our issues to ourselves so that we maintain the perception of being “Superwoman”. What impact do you think this has on our mental health (especially when going through something challenging/difficult)?
This is an awesome question! I believe there are three factors to creating the Superwoman who can lurk in all of us from time to time!! There’s the media, our fellow ‘’sistas”, and ourselves who can apply pressure and feed this myth of perfection which is completely unattainable. This can get even worse if you are a Mom because you want the very best for your child and it becomes easier for external factors to influence you into worrying you could do better. Feeling inadequate or that secret terror that you are a fraud about to be found out is particularly destructive for our psyche. No-one ever gets everything done and there’s always something left on the ‘to do’ list at the end of each day if you are human! Trying to live up to Superwoman standards is bad enough when life is on track but when things are falling apart it is highly damaging. The more you pretend or behave as though everything is peachy, the harder it is to fully face the reality of what is happening and then so much harder to ask for help.
Q: Has your outlook on challenging situations changed since you’ve started supporting women through their difficult times?
I have become more passionate about women putting their own needs at the top of the list or even close to it but not at the bottom!! Whether it’s an illness, divorce, a business failure, or a random catastrophe there is always some fallout for your loved ones and those around you. I see so many lovely, caring wonderful women who try and reassure everyone around them that they’re fine and hide their pain because it might upset someone. Hidden pain always comes out – eventually and until it does you can’t live your life to its potential.
Q: If you could give one piece of advice to someone who’s currently facing a difficult time, what would you tell them?
Don’t let an adverse event define you. No one’s life is happy ever after in every aspect even if it looks perfect on their Facebook profile!! Remember you are a beautiful, precious, unique individual because of how you live your life, not because of what has happened to you.
Q: What’s your favorite wellness habit or hack?
I know if I meditate at least every couple of days I can think more clearly and keep all the different aspects of my life in perspective. But my mind is always buzzing so I love guided meditation that has music, Sitting still and thinking of absolutely nothing is a Zen state I have yet to achieve!
Q: What does “Living Well” mean to you?
Big question! My answer may seem more spiritual than practical because there has been more than once when I thought I wasn’t going to live to see my children’s next birthday. For me, a day well lived is when I know all my family are home safe, I told and showed them how much they are loved, to have treated everyone I had contact with that day with love and respect whether they were friend or a stranger and to have treated myself with the same love and respect. And if I was able to help anyone feel better about themselves, even in a small way then it has been not only a day well lived but a very shiny day!
Want to learn more about Elizabeth? You can find her at: More Than Being Mum