Introducing…

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Hello out there!

It’s been a while since I’ve posted, but I think I’ve got a pretty decent excuse…

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Meet Maeve. She was born July 8th, and (I may be biased, but) she’s MAGICAL.

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Labor was… absolutely nothing like I intended or expected. I will get more into that in another post, but for now… let’s just revel in those CHEEKS.

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Please join me in wishing sweet Maevie a quite belated welcome to the world. These past two months have been a complete whirlwind of emotion, growth, challenge, sweetness, love, and exhaustion. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

It’s been so long since I last posted here, I kind of didn’t even really know where to start anymore. But I miss writing terribly, and desperately need to reclaim a bit of normalcy in my life, so this is me gingerly dipping my pinky toe back into the blog world.

As a mom.

Because I’m a mom now.

Two months later, I’m still pinching myself. My little miracle is actually here.

(photo credit: Nadine Bosurgi, newborn photographer extraordinaire. I can’t recommend her highly enough!)


A new resource for victims of in-flight sexual assault

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You may remember that in 2011, I was sexually assaulted during an overnight flight. Since then, I’ve had the opportunity to advocate on behalf of victims of similar crimes in several news stories to try and raise awareness and encourage people who’ve been assaulted in-air to seek justice and support.

To that end, I’ve launched an online resource site for victims/survivors of airplane sexual assaults, called Take Back the Flight. It’s still new and being fleshed out, but it is resource center and safe haven for victims of in-flight sexual assault. TBF offers support, education, and a place to connect with others who have experienced similar trauma.

in flight sexual assault resource

There has been a serious lack of resources and support for this specific crime, and I sincerely hope this helps more of these heinous crimes to get reported, so that those who went through it can find peace through justice; and that at the very least, it helps provide a place of solace for the survivors of these assaults.

If you know anyone who has been involved or affected by in-flight sexual assault, please pass this onto them. I want to make sure everyone has all the support they need.


How I quit my antidepressant cold turkey and lived to tell the tale.

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I’m finally all healed up from my dual-surgery round robin in July. But because I’m such a glutton for punishment tremendous bad-ass, I couldn’t just leave it at that. Nooooo. I figured “why not tack on another major medical event, while I’m at it?” And thus begins the story of how I quit my antidepressant, cold-turkey, after 3 years.

Let me first be extremely clear: I do not, absolutely do NOT, recommend discontinuing any medication without the support of a medical professional and some very trustworthy friends or family. Getting off any psychopharmaceutical is a difficult and sometimes dangerous effort. Most doctors recommend a step-down, or weaning off process. I repeat: never stop your medication without consulting with a professional. 

In my case, it was time to quit. Pristiq quite literally saved me when I needed it most. Three years ago, I couldn’t manage my depression without it. Starting the medication was, for me, a last resort decision that was not easily made. But I’m so grateful that I did it. In certain cases, medication is the best, fastest way to help regulate the chemistry of one’s brain – and, in doing so, can save lives, both literally and figuratively.

But, after spending several years on Pristiq I was experiencing some negative side effects, and with a hope for pregnancy on the close horizon, my doctors and I decided it was a good time to try removing the medication and see if my chemistry could balance itself, given all the positive changes I’ve made and ongoing work I’m doing in the maintenance of my health over the past couple of years.

What positive changes and ongoing work, you ask?

Careful to never confuse my medication as a “cure-all,” the meds were, to me, merely a supplement to all the other, natural “treatments” available to me.

  • I changed my life dramatically to extricate myself from an unhappy marriage and start over. Not easy. Not fun. But so worthwhile.
  • I spent an hour each week exploring my triggers, identifying and correcting unhealthy patterns, and healing past traumas with a wonderful therapist who didn’t pull any punches with me.
  • I improved my health and nutrition by taking supplements, exercising regularly, and eating a healthy diet rich in whole foods and proteins, and low in refined sugars/carbs and additives.
  • I go for acupuncture regularly, which has helped balance my body and systems in ways I didn’t even realize I needed, but has made a tremendous difference in how I feel.

And, as a bonus, I stumbled into the most healthy, nurturing and satisfying relationship of my life – which every day blossoms more fully into a future that fills with me excitement, joy, and stability. Score!

In short, I learned to love myself, forgive myself, and to make taking care of myself inside and out a non-negotiable priority.

But even with those support systems in place, I was scared. Scared to quit, and scared not to quit. I really didn’t want to be chained to medication for the rest of my life, if possible. I wanted to be able to have a clean system for pregnancy. But I heard terrifying stories about the painful withdrawal experience. (Hint: stay far away from online forums. They are like mainlining nightmare fuel.) Pristiq has a high incidence of severe discontinuation syndrome, which I had already experienced milder forms of, if I was even just a few hours late in my daily dosage. I didn’t want to do a super-slow wean off, because I felt it would just draw out the uncomfortable effects of withdrawal for weeks, possibly months. I wanted to cut the cord, walk through the fire, and come out on the other side as quickly as possible… knowing I had a safety net of psychiatric professionals, and friends, and family to save me if I started going down in flames.

Luckily (and ironically), having surgery meant I’d be on some very strong painkillers for about a week, which numbs discomfort (duh) and keeps asleep more hours than I’m awake. So it was decided that I’d try a cold-turkey quit starting the day of my 2nd surgery, when I would be guaranteed to barely remember the first few days anyway, thanks to anesthesia and Percocet. I spent the week slithering from my bed to the couch, and back again… dosing every 4 hours with painkillers and every 12 hours with benadryl (as studies show antihistamines can ease the “Brain Zap” side effect of withdrawal, which was by far the most disconcerting).

brain zaps quitting antidepressant

Let’s be real: I was high as a kite, and it helped. But even through the fog of those drugs, I couldn’t shake the feelings of withdrawal. I spent a few days feeling completely underwater, like everything I experienced was in slow-motion and far away. I had flu-like symptoms of nausea, headaches, and exhaustion. And I was definitely tender, as evidenced by the amount of tissues I went through during Louie marathon that I was leaning on to distract me during my waking hours. But, unlike in my depression, I wasn’t sad. I was just… feeling. I wasn’t hopeless. I wasn’t drowning. I wasn’t scared. I didn’t feel alone. I had perspective. I knew, in my bones, that this discomfort was only temporary. And that I was loved. And strong. And I could make it through.

Randomly, these lyrics from Peter Gabriel’s Sledgehammer, were constantly in my head whenever I thought about life beyond medication…. beyond withdrawal.

“I kicked the habit. Shed my skin. This is the new stuff I go dancing in.”

Peter Gabriel, I love you.

Once my eye doctor cleared me to take easy walks again, about a week after my surgery and stopping the Pristiq… and just when the Percocet ran out… I started meditating.

A new studio called Unplug had just opened within walking distance from my house – a chic, stylish space geared toward teaching meditation without any of the religious dogma or “woo woo” propaganda that can sometimes be associated with the practice and turns a lot of people off. They offer the first class free, and I absolutely loved it. I immediately signed up for their monthly unlimited package, with the goal to attend at least 20 times in the next 30 days, as part of my recovery and withdrawal process.

It was such a relief to give myself 30 minutes a day to just sit in silence, focus on my breath, and accept every thought, sensation, and feeling as they came – without judgment. Some days were easy, some were insanely hard, and some days were amazing. But, giving myself a goal, a routine, and a new discipline to focus on was exactly what I needed. The walk there and back was a gentle re-introduction of exercise, with the bonus of some quality time in nature, and a great way to practice continuing my meditation outside the studio walls. I looked forward to it every single day.

And I learned that practicing meditation can actually heal your brain. It literally grows the pre-frontal cortex (which deals with logical thinking) and shrinks the amygdala, which adds up to an increased ability to regulate our emotional responses to stimuli. It also reduces the stress hormone cortisol in our systems, improves our memory, and can aid in the management of depression, anxiety, pain and a whole host of other health problems! I had no idea when I started meditating, but the benefits seemed uniquely tailored to my needs. Every single time I went, I walked out happier, calmer and more at ease and at peace than when I walked in.

With the help of meditation and getting back into my exercise routine after my eyes were healed, in addition to the other natural tools I use to manage my mental and physical health, I was able to breathe through the tougher moments of withdrawal and help my brain develop in ways that will continue helping me manage my challenges as they come. It took 4 weeks before I felt the last brain zap fade away, but now it’s been 7 weeks since I took my last Pristiq and I feel better than ever.

I realize that this is just one chapter in the novel that is my lifelong journey with mental illness. And I feel gratitude every day for being in a really healthy, happy, balanced place for the first time in a long time. There may come a time in the future that I need to turn to medication again to help guide me toward the light at the end of another tunnel of depression. But, this experience has taught me that with proper support and healthy self-care habits, I have more influence over my well-being than I previously knew. And that feels fucking awesome.

By the way, wanna see me meditate? LOL. The news was there filming class one afternoon I was there. Try not to be distracted by how much the teacher sounds like George Bluth. But at least you can see my studio.


He so does sound like George/Oscar, doesn’t he?! Hilarious.

And meditation has had fringe benefits I never expected! I got to meet a hero of mine, Arianna Huffington, in all her grecian goddess glory, at a special event that was held at the studio:

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…and I even asked my favorite teacher, Olivia, to officiate our wedding! Guys, she’s so awesome. I can’t wait. (Less than six weeks to go! eeeeeeep!)

So, I guess the moral of this story is multi-fold (like paper towels):

1. My story was UNIQUE, and I do not recommend cold-turkey withdrawal from any prescription without a doctor’s supervision. Everyone’s needs and experiences are different. Your mileage may vary.
2. BUT, in the right circumstances, and with support, it is possible to quit your antidepressant and live (happily) to tell the tale.
3. Whether or not you take medication for depression, don’t forget all the other natural therapies such as diet, exercise, acupuncture, yoga and meditation that you can use to support your physical and mental health.
4. Try meditation! It has changed my life. It will probably change yours, too. If you don’t know where to start, google “mindfulness meditation” + your location, and look for podcasts or youtube videos with guided meditations. Olivia has a few here. And read a few books. Amazon has a ton of great options, covering all different styles of meditation. There are a TON of styles. Chances are, one will work for you.

Lastly, let me say that if you ever feel depressed and need help but don’t know where to go, reach out. To friends, family, to me, or to a professional who is equipped to help. There is no shame in needing help for your depression, no matter how mildly or severely you experience it. Trust me. I have lived with depression my whole life, from manageable levels to debilitating and frightening depths. And I wouldn’t be here without the help I’ve asked for, and received. So please, don’t suffer in silence. The world needs you. And there is hope for a better tomorrow and a brighter future. I promise you that.

Ad astra per aspera, friends.


Kintsugi: aka my philosophy on life.

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For years, I’ve found myself identifying that the concept of turning obstacles into opportunity (or “ad astra per aspera,” dontchaknow) has become the distillation of my life’s purpose. Not just for myself, but also through leading by example, encouraging others to do the same.

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That simple philosophy has been such a major influence on my life, that it led me to create The Broke-Ass Bride, and this blog right here. It has gotten me through the many, many struggles I’ve encountered, and inspired me to fight ever harder to maintain an inspired life, positive outlook, and build a better future. Fighting through struggles, reaching for the stars. Not just surviving, but thriving.

if you can meet with triumph and disaster...

So, you’re probably wondering what Kintsugi has to do with all this. It’s a funny word, right? It means “golden joinery.” Today, thanks to the power of Facebook, and one of my heroes, Elizabeth Gilbert, I learned about the Japanese art of Kintsugi (or Kintsukuroi), in which broken pieces of porcelain are repaired with gold and lacquer to fill their cracks… thereby rather than masking their imperfections, they are made more beautiful by those imperfections.

Kintsugi as a personal philosophy

Isn’t that a beautiful way to approach the idea of repair? Whether in reference to porcelain or oneself? I certainly love the idea of practicing this at home when our dishes break. Artist Lotte Dekker developed a DIY Kintsugi kit that I definitely plan to order.

Anyway, the clearer my life’s purpose becomes, the more things like this resonate. I absolutely love this metaphor my core philosophy.

What do you think about Kintsugi as an analogy for life and how to approach it’s challenges? Have you identified your life’s purpose/core philosophy?


Darling Inspiration

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I think I ought to start referring to more people as “darling.”
Especially myself.
(Alone, naturally. Not in some creepy third-person way in casual conversation.)

It’s like being inspired with a timeless, kid-gloved hand. Which we all need from time to time, no? It can’t always be “tough love” all the time.

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Darling. Such a lovely blend of sophistication and affection in one graceful, soothing word. A most underutilized pronoun.

I have this one hanging above my desk:

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Have you seen The Grand Budapest Hotel? Ralph Fiennes bandies “darling” about with true artistry. See the movie. Not just for that reason, but for that reason among hundreds.

Meanwhile, I’ll be trying to track down one of these discontinued darlings from Kate Spade to carry with me as a reminder.

ive never been a millionaire...Until next time, darlings…


The eyes have it.

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You know what sucks? Waking up blind in one eye, out of nowhere.

It happened to me, in May, in San Francisco. Because nothing makes a romantic vacation better than a medical emergency, am I right?

So we found a retina clinic, post haste. Turned out I had a hemorrhage overnight, which caused my eye to fill with blood. The blood was too plentiful and dark to see through. (No, I didn’t cry tears of blood. Though that would have been fucking bad-ass.)

The doctor suspected that one of my 3 implants (2 glaucoma valve tubes and a slow-release steroid pellet) had rubbed against something and caused the hemorrhage. Not really a big deal, in the grand scheme. The blood would settle over the next week or so; my vision would get better; I could go on with my vacation and be merry. But he wanted me to visit my specialist when I got home, for follow-up.

If you know me, you know that for the past 17 years I’ve lived with an autoimmune disease that causes inflammation in my eyes, which is dangerous and blinding if left unmitigated. Over the 17 years I’ve had this disease, I’ve been treated with drops, injections, chemotherapy (which affected my fertility), lasers, and 17 surgeries (as of tomorrow).

Yup. I’m having eye surgery tomorrow. And, I had surgery just two weeks ago too. JEALOUS?

eye surgeryBIONIC, bitches.

Turned out, when I went to my local doctor for a follow-up on the hemorrhage situation, we discovered that my disease had come roaring out of remission, and I had significant swelling in my macula, which is probably what rubbed against my glaucoma tube and caused the bleeding. I needed the steroid implant replaced, so it could control the swelling and keep the inflammation at bay. It had run out of medicine early.

And since the implant in my left eye is only 4 months older than the one in my right, he advised that we replace it now, too, to minimize the chances that I’ll have the same problem in a few months, and need surgery too close to my wedding to allow my eye to recover.

So, this month… the eyes have it. 2 surgeries in 2 weeks.

But, on the bright side, once it’s all over, I should be good for another 3 years or so. Knock wood.

Also, on the bright side, PAINKILLERS.

Here’s looking at you!


The ghosts of daughters future: babysicles round 2 (electric bugaloo)

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How can you miss something you’ve never actually had?

Paul and I recently completed our second round of IVF embryo freezing, and through the miracle of science, we have produced another healthy female embryo. In addition to the two we produced the first time around.

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I’ll spare you the long, boring details of this round and skip to the meat of it: things moved more quickly this time, so I only stimmed for 12 days instead of 15. But I didn’t have as good an output – only 8 eggs this time, 5 of which were mature enough to fertilize. As of day five, there were only 2 blastocysts that had developed enough for the PGD (genetic) testing. And only one of the two was genetically viable.

And thank god for that one.

I can’t imagine how frustrating and painful it would have been to put my body, our family, and our bank account through all that strain… and have nothing to show for it. It was a hard enough pill to swallow, knowing that exactly half of all the embryos we made were so genetically imperfect they would not have survived. It’s a product of my type of fertility problems, having more low-quality eggs than your average bear. But it’s not something we expected.

But those three survivors are such tremendous gifts. I am so incredibly, awe-struckenly grateful for them, and the potential they represent.

And it’s ironic. Because I was so sure… deep down in my heart of hearts… that this time would be better. I did everything “right”: I ate right, I exercised, I went to acupuncture twice weekly, I took my supplements and herbs, and even added in DHEA (which is supposed to support egg production and quality). I wore bracelets given to me by a Buddhist monk. I cherished a talisman given to me by a Hindu man. I visualized white light into my ovaries every night. But, at the end of the day, my body is struggling… and nothing can reverse the damage that being on chemo for 4 years has done.

Science, man. I feel so lucky for the miracles that science has made possible. Our three miracles.

So, Paul and I talk about them, because they’re real to us.

“Oh, I bet we’ll do lots of that with the girls.”

“OMG, this would be so fun for the girls.”

“For real, when the girls are here, we’re definitely/never __________.”

“I wonder if the girls will ___________.”

And it’s weird. It’s weird having to wait for them. It’s weird feeling like I miss them… when they are (for lack of a better word), just possibilities, really. But it’s so totally surreal, knowing we made them. Knowing they’re healthy. Knowing they’re girls. Knowing they’re just waiting for a chance at coming to life.

But, still, I yearn for my future daughters. I can’t help it. Damned biological clock! Damned friends with adorable families! Damned hormones! Damned Pinterest nurseries! They all make me so impatient.

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And I know, there’s no guarantee my body will accept any of the 3 embryos we have in the freezer. There’s just no way to know, until we try. And even though my intuition failed me this last round, I still remain as positive as ever that we’ll have luck with pregnancy.

The time will come, soon, for them. And I can only have faith that at least one will find her way into our arms.


Divorce, and collateral damages.

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Divorce: v. A complete or radical severance of closely connected things.

When a marriage ends, it’s easy to put the focus on the “break up” aspect of the loss. But what is often not accounted for are the collateral damages. The fallout surrounding two people who used to walk together, but now walk apart. It’s been two years since I moved out of the home my ex-husband and I shared together… and I’m still realizing how wide my circle of fallout reaches.

Two years later and I’m only just now ready to start writing about it. And even though the meltdown of that marriage put me on the path to be here now – in the sunniest, happiest, most satisfied, comfortable and content moments of my life… working through the implications of my divorce reignites an ache deep within my heart that makes me short of breath as I sit here typing.

But I want to write about it. The fallout of my divorce took me by surprise then, and still does today. And I think probably a lot of people who go through divorces don’t necessarily expect it either.

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My ex and I got along very well on the surface. Our problems ran deep below… far enough below that, for years, we were both able to convince ourselves as much as every one else, that we were a terrific couple. Because on paper, we were. And pretending they weren’t problems was easier than confronting them. Or so we thought. But as the years went on, those deep-seated issues began bubbling up in all kinds of ways: from passive, insidious, nagging dissatisfactions to sudden, chaotic flares of emotion. The flaws in our foundation were causing the facade to crumble. Fast.

I grieved for a long time, toward the end. I grieved for the loss of our marriage long before I got up the nerve to put voice to it. I grieved over the loss of my husband, who I still very much loved as a dear friend and partner for the nearly 10 years prior. I lamented how unfair it was, to have what “should have been” such a great husband and wonderful relationship, and yet still be so unhappy, dissatisfied, and unfulfilled.

I fretted over the fact that, by leaving, I’d be letting down not just myself, but my family – who also loved him as one of their own; and the public – who’d been following our relationship through The Broke-Ass Bride for several years. I was weighed-down by staying in the relationship, but I feared I’d be completely untethered by leaving.

And I was. But I left, all the same.

I expected the emotional fallout of divorce. But I was side-swiped by the social implications, the uprooted sense of statelessness, and financial damages that came later and left scars on my heart, like the relentless waves that chip away at a shoreline after the storm.

(I)
Being the person leaving the marriage is a very tricky position. Without obvious causes like abuse, infidelity, or constant conflict, the one instigating the split is often pigeonholed as “the bad guy,” even if their courage to speak up, or move out, is better for both parties involved. In our marriage, I was often the one who took action or instigated change, and the same was true of our separation and subsequent divorce. I’m sure that people viewed me as the “bad guy” because of that.

The majority of our friends in Los Angeles were old college buddies of my husband’s who had taken us in and become our “LA family” over the 6+ years since we arrived. I really thought that, as adults, they wouldn’t be inclined to “take sides” when my ex and I separated. But life ain’t so easy. I quickly found myself being left out and left behind, and quickly realized that they were also collateral damage. It was a real shock to the system, and still is, in many ways. Looking back, I get it. Sort of. But, that doesn’t make it easier.

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A good handful of my remaining local friends were all made through the wedding industry. Ironically, I got my book deal just as I decided to move out, so I spent my days during the separation writing about planning weddings, and mining my own wedding and relationship for anecdotes. The whole process was just too painful for me to do that and stay actively engaged in the local wedding business, so I withdrew myself from those friends, and events. And when I was ready to come back, things just weren’t quite the same.

A few treasured souls made a concerted effort, reached out, and have shown me true loyalty and love in a time where I needed it more than ever. And for them, I am forever grateful. Divorce really teaches you who your true friends are. It’s a hurtful, but very valuable lesson. I’ve continued to nurture the friendships that survived my divorce, and have made lots of new friends that I treasure dearly. But that doesn’t stop the sting that I feel when I see the old crew posting pictures on facebook from events I would have been invited to in my past life.

(II)
I bounced around, a nomad without a real home, for seven months. House-sitting, couch-crashing, temporarily rooming with some of the few true friends I had left. Money was one object in the high-cost rental market of Los Angeles, but living alone was another altogether. I was scared. I hadn’t lived alone in 12 years. And I was in the darkest emotional space I’ve ever known. Being alone was really not ideal.

But after I hit my emotional bottom, and started to swim back toward the light, I realized that some alone time was the perfect next step. So I set about finding my own place to live.

I thought downsizing was a great idea. I didn’t need material possessions, right? I had already given my ex all of our furniture and most of our belongings when we split, since I had no home to furnish (and he did), and I didn’t particularly want to carry the energy of so many reminders of my past life into my next. I was eager to strip down to the bare necessities and really “find myself” as a single adult, starting over from scratch.

nothing

So I found a 300 square foot converted, pre-furnished garage/studio for $950, and moved in with my few remaining boxes of belongings. It was only just a little bigger than my college dorm room had been. I told myself it was “charming” and “quaint” and the perfect place to have my renaissance.

It was also inadequately heated, and not zoned for living. My landlord lived above me, and verbally abused me at every opportunity she had, suffering some kind of mental illness that was not apparent until after I moved in. My shower was so small I couldn’t bend over to shave my legs in there, and the light circuits shorted out every few days.

It was hell.

I met Paul just as I was about to move out of there, having found a one-bedroom in a nearby suburb for a few hundred dollars more per month. I had taken on some part-time freelance work to help me pay for the upgrade. He came over to help me pack, and was truly horrified to see what a hovel I’d been calling home.

We laugh about it now, referring to that time as “when Paul found me, I was living in a tiny garage…” like I was some rescue animal. But that sentiment actually rings of truth in more ways than I care to admit.

(III)
When we decided on divorce, using LegalZoom for the paperwork was the obvious choice. We didn’t own any property or have any children, so it was mostly a matter of signatures and beaurocractic processes. And it was fairly simple, and affordable. I think all told, the whole shebang cost about $1,000. But that doesn’t account for the peripheral financial losses – deposits on apartments, assuming sole responsibility for previously shared expenses like utilities, insurance, rent, and groceries. It doesn’t furnish your new home after giving everything to your previous partner. It doesn’t pay for the many social outings you agree to, in an effort to not be eating dinner alone night after night. Indeed, divorce is wrought with expenses that you’d never expect from the start.

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And for us, the legal paperwork to end our marriage was a separate transaction from me buying my ex out of half of our business. Though I had built The Broke-Ass Bride on my own, we had split the business 50/50 on the incorporation documents because… heck, we were married. It just made sense And he did help with the business in lots of ways, though I would never have classified his “time on the clock” or contributions as being anywhere near equivalent to 50% of it’s operation. So when the time came to change the business paperwork to reflect me as sole owner, I was quite surprised to find that this negotiation was the biggest struggle of our divorce. It took twice as long, and cost me many, many times as much money. Money that I didn’t have. Money the business never made.

A lot was revealed in the process of buying back full ownership of my brand, and there were some very ugly moments on both sides. If nothing else had convinced me that, without a doubt, ending our marriage was the right decision – this process confirmed it over and over and over.

So, two years since I moved out of my marriage, and the grief has finally relented. It took me longer than it should have to be able to settle in at Paul’s and view it as my own home too. To trust that I had landed, for good, and allow myself to relax and feather my nest. But now I have, and feel firmly and happily rooted once again.

I’m happier and healthier now than I ever was in my previous relationship… but only because I made it through the flames of depression, disappointment, fear, and isolation that plagued me for so long. I realize how lucky I am, and yet wouldn’t wish the path I took to get here upon my very worst enemy. In finding myself, I lost almost everyone and everything I had.


Obstacles into opportunity: the story of my in-flight sexual assault & it’s impact on the world.

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On August 23rd, 2011 I took redeye flight number 732 from LAX to ORD, and sat in seat 9E. Alone.

I was seated between two men. On the aisle-side was a 50-or-60-something year old man named Jim. We exchanged pleasantries, briefly, as one does on an airplane. On the window side was a highly-intoxicated man who fell deeply asleep within minutes of take-off.

10 minutes into the flight, a kid in the seat directly in front of me began vomiting. The vomit ran down through the seat and into my footwell, soaking my handbag and carry-on items in vomit. The crew was very nice about it, but noted the flight was full and there was nowhere to relocate me. There was nothing they could do but cover the mess with plastic and coffee grounds to mask the smell. That got the flight off on a less-than-comfortable note, to start. But that was nothing compared to what came next.

Later into the flight, I fell asleep. I awoke at one point to feel Jim’s hand… high on my upper, inner thigh. I thought it possible that it slipped down there while he was asleep, given the narrow nature of the seats on the craft, so I moved my leg away and went back to sleep. A while later, I awoke to find him pressed up against my arm, one hand on my leg, the other hand fumbling around my breasts… his jacket draped across my body to mask his hands from any passers-by.

I was terrified, and didn’t know how to respond. Stuck in the middle seat on a nearly silent, dark flight in the middle of the night, I was paralyzed with confusion and fear. I startled physically, hard enough that he removed his hands and shifted away. I couldn’t bring myself look at him. I couldn’t believe what was happening. I didn’t know how to get out of my seat and past him to signal for help, and I knew from the earlier vomit incident that there was nowhere to move me anyway, and I’d have to get past him to escape my seat at all. It was like an out-of-body experience: my mind was screaming “help me! Somebody, please!” but I could not make a sound.

I stayed awake and on-guard for the remainder of the flight, to keep him from making another attempt to grope me in my sleep. I tried to work up the courage to approach the flight crew or gate security, but (and this is something that you’d never fully understand unless you’ve been assaulted) that kind of violation and fear often leaves victims too stunned and shocked to take immediate action.

As soon as my parents picked me up from the airport, I told them what happened and immediately called Spirit Airlines to file a complaint. They had no idea to whom I should speak to file a report. Then I tried the TSA, to no avail. Then the police. And finally, the FBI.

There were no witnesses. It was my word against Jim’s. And when questioned? He said it was “consensual.”

That I wanted it.

You know why? Because I have a secret vomit-smell fetish and am attracted to men who are old enough to be my father?

No.

Because, he had a lawyer smart enough to advise him to do so. Because then, if a witness did appear, he wouldn’t be viewed as a liar for denying that he touched me at all. It was his safety net.

The FBI believed me, and were incredibly supportive, but could not press charges in a “he said-she said” incident like this, without witnesses. And I get it. I should have spoken up immediately, as it happened, on the plane. Unfortunately, “should have” flies out the window when you’re being victimized. My only reassurance with Jim is that the FBI gave him a good scare, he had to pay a lawyer for representation, and he had to tell his wife that he “cheated” on her with a younger woman on a plane who is now accusing him of assault. I take comfort in knowing those things must have caused him discomfort.

And if, god forbid, something like this ever happens again, I hope I will be able to make a scene and get the offended arrested, charged and jailed.

But because I could not bring my assailant to justice, I do the next best thing I can. I use my voice. I share my story to help other victims know they’re not alone. To educate people on this lesser-known type of sexual assault. And to help prevent it from happening to other people. Rather than letting this experience shut me down, or make me hide in shame, or negatively impact my sexuality, or cause a paralyzing fear of flying, I choose instead to “turn obstacle into opportunity” and it’s how I try to approach every negative experience I encounter. Ad astra per aspera, remember? It ain’t always easy, but it’s part of the healing process.

Sexual assault on plane

Recently, this issue has gotten a lot of press from local news stations across the USA, and I was asked to be interviewed for the coverage. Apparently, the news team in DC couldn’t find a single other victim who was publicly willing to speak about her assault for the news piece. What began as a piece for the DC local news, investigating why there’s no government agency tracking these cases, has evolved into a story that’s been shared across multiple state’s news networks including California and Florida. I was even featured on The Doctors TV show to talk about it.

The exposure of this vulnerability in aviation law has lead Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) to draft new legislation directing the FAA to collect and maintain data on sexual assaults that occur on aircrafts during air transport, including domestic and international flights that land in the United States. You can click those links to view the coverage.

When I heard that my story is helping introduce new laws to protect assault victims, I was filled with a sense of pride unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. I had hoped to help one or two people, but this could help hundreds. Thousands, even. It’s more than I dared to dream possible.

Airplane Sexual Assault

They say that one voice can change the world. While what happened to me was a horrible experience that I’d wish on no one… I am grateful, in a way. Because through that experience, and the power of turning that obstacle into the opportunity to use my voice for positive change, and to advocate for victims, I’m bettering the world – in my own small way.

If you have been a victim of in-flight sexual assault, please know that I am here. Feel free to contact me, if you need advice on reporting the incident, support afterward, or just an understanding shoulder. Anytime.

UPDATE: To help other victims of in-flight sexual assaults easily find education, support and resources to help them, I created Take Back the Flight. If you or someone you know has experienced an assault on an airplane, please visit the site for guidance!


Ad astra per aspera.

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Thursday, January 23rd, 2014 was my 36th birthday.

A year previous, I was just coming off of a nervous breakdown. Which is a phrase usually relegated to hyperbole, except this time, it was true.

In early December 2012, my already fragile enough mid-divorce-living-at-a-friend’s-place, trying-to-write-a-book-about-wedding-planning-on-deadline-while-dying-of-heartbreak, scared-to-death-of-what-comes-next world got rocked when I found out I needed emergency surgery on my eye (bringing the total count to 14 at the time), and also found out that my fertility was questionable, at best. I was collapsing under the stress, so right around Christmas, my psychiatrist suggested changing up my depression medication, to try and help lift me from the deafening numbness that encompassed me, and thus began weaning me off of the Pristiq that was only tenuously holding me together, and introduced Viibryd.

Within a week or so, I felt noticeably different. But… not better. I was painfully exhausted, and was beset with terrible headaches. Even worse that that… rather than numb, I began to feel empty. Desolate. Hopeless. And gradually, day by day, I became increasingly aware of a new feeling: a fear. Unlike I had ever felt before.

I was afraid of myself.

Afraid of what I might do to myself.

If left alone with myself.

And here’s the confusing part: I didn’t want to hurt myself. I didn’t wish I were dead. No. I wanted to live. I wanted desperately to believe that I could, once again, experience happiness and stability. I know that depression lies. I know better than to believe its insidious, manipulative whispers. My logical mind knows this very well.

But, almost as though my self were split in two, like some terrible after-school movie about a girl with split personalities, my emotional mind couldn’t trust myself not to do something stupid. I felt involuntarily pulled toward dangerous behaviors. Like I might inadvertently toss myself off the balcony. Or slice my skin open. Or begin walking into the distance and never stop. Or swallow all the pills in the house. Or drive off a cliff. Like a woman possessed, I felt as though I were being pulled against my own will towards self-harm.

And I couldn’t stop crying.

Luckily, I had enough sense of my logical mind to recognize that no good could come of this feeling. So I immediately alerted my psychiatrist, who agreed it was wise to discontinue the Viibryd, and ease myself back onto the Pristiq. And I mustered the strength to tell the friend I was staying with that, in no uncertain terms, I didn’t feel safe to be left alone. And thank god for him, because he had been in a similar place once, and he held me while I sobbed. He canceled plans to stay in and babysit me. Without judgment, he saved me.

And when he couldn’t be there, I called someone else. Which is no easy feat. Not many people knew how lost I had been to begin with. And finding a way to communicate that I was having terrifying urges, and inviting someone to just come sit on the couch and marathon Law & Order with me so I don’t end up accidentally taking a swan dive off the 2nd floor balcony was not the easiest call to make. I think Allie of Hyperbole & a Half said it best, in her incredibly spot-on depiction of what depression can be like:

“I discovered that there’s no tactful or comfortable way to inform other people that you might be suicidal. And there’s definitely no way to ask for help casually.

how to tell someone you might be suicidal

I didn’t want it to be a big deal. However, it’s an alarming subject. Trying to be nonchalant about it just makes it weird for everyone.”

But, surprisingly, my friends were really awesome about it. They came, without question, and sat with me. There was no excessive comforting, no uncomfortable attempts to “lighten the mood” or play therapist… just acceptance and understanding and loving concern. I’m so grateful, because if I had no one to call, I absolutely would have committed myself for my own safety.

And in the brief moments that I was left alone, or the periodic moments when, even with my roommate beside me, I felt so inconsolably anxious and bereft that I could no longer bear it… I remembered that Jenny once suggested that squeezing ice cubes in your hands can help quench those feelings a bit. And it did. (Thank you, Jenny.)

After a couple of weeks, the Viibryd eased it’s way out of my system, and my familiar friend Pristiq oozed back in. I started to feel, bit by bit, more myself again. Less at risk again. There was light at the end of the tunnel. I could see it. And for the first time in a while, I believed that I’d soon reach the end of that dark and lonely tunnel, and feel the sunlight on my face again.

By the time my birthday rolled around, I was almost there. And, as terrifying as those weeks previous had been, I always wanted to remember them, so that I’d always know that no matter how dark and hopeless things get, I can make it through. To remember my past, and look forward to my future – honoring my worst moments as essential parts of the journey leading to my best moments, and recognizing them for their beauty. Serendipitously, I was given the chance to share my story with an anonymous audience through The Listserve, which provided a great outlet, perspective and support in my healing process. And as a 35th birthday gift to myself, I got this tattoo:

Ad astra per aspera. Latin for “Through struggles to the stars.”

ad astra per aspera tattoo

Also, notably, the tagline for this blog 🙂