In honor of Martin Luther King Jr day, below is a quote from his “But If Not…” speech that is often shared, but the last paragraph is most often left out which I think is actually the most powerful and poignant point of the whole piece. Here is the missing piece.
“You died when you refused to stand up for right. You died when you refused to stand up for truth. You died when you refused to stand up for justice.”
These compelling words from MLK and the fears he speaks of in this speech are timely for me because this is the exact fear that has been holding me back. If you are a changemaker, an activist, an idealist, a lightworker, you most likely have held similar fears. Recently, what MLK speaks of is the personal issue I have been consciously working on reconciling.
You know that thing you resist the most is actually the thing you need to work on the most. This is mine.
Will you choose courage for truth, justice, and the higher good of all, or will you choose regret. Because that is what will happen if you continue to hide and suppress that calling in the name of the safety of silence.
This specific wisdom and call for action from MLK is so needed right now especially for those of you who have been feeling a calling inside of you for a long time and you have yet to move forward on it because of fear.
You are needed, now, my fellow changemakers.
To hear these words in MLK’s voice will shift you. Listen to the video.
He was killed one year after giving this speech, at the young age of 39. MLK was most definitely an old, wise soul. I can almost imagine if we could talk to him on the other side, he’d say that he has no regret for standing up for what he believed in and not letting fear stop him from his purpose work.
Can you imagine if MLK let fear hold him back and he stayed quiet, and we never heard from him?
What a great loss to the advancement of humanity. And no doubt, he had no idea what the impact of standing in his truth, and shining his light would have years beyond his physical time on earth.
My bestie and I were having a conversation all weekend about the life of a lightworker, and how I have been struggling harmonizing my spirit life, and my earthbound life. I associate joy with one, and brutality with the other, and that’s a problem because this spirit is contained in an earthbound human body.
I do not fear failure or success. I’ve experienced both and understand its the ups and downs of the process, the delight and suspense of the journey. I have deep seated fears and anxiety because I have experienced painful loss and physical violence when I speak truth and step into my light and shine that light on the dark.
I’ve been hiding, staying off the radar for a long time, and for good reason. Time for healing is important too. I won’t diminish the significance and need for that time.
But, there comes a time when hiding no longer serves the higher good for me. My need for safety which does serve me well also inhibits, refrains, this deep calling that burns inside me and aches for release. It also inhibits me in my relationships and developing new ones, more specifically in love and work co-collaborators.
The last paragraph in this MLK quote makes me see that in my perceived sense of safety, at this point, I choose an internal death.
I cannot live like that, but I also do not know how to reconcile this calling for truth and justice with paralyzing fear and need for safety because the idea of being literally beaten and assaulted again mitigates me. I live with PTSD, anxiety and panic attacks so it’s very real.
My biggest lesson in this has been learning self care, compassion, and patience but also tenacity, perseverance, and strength.
On the upside, I am fully conscious of what currently holds me back, and I can observe it and no longer make it a part of my identity like I have for a long time. That evolution I feel good about. The work now is to figure out how to move forward because I have work to do. At The Flexi 21, my boss is Mother Nature, and I have signed up to be of service for the higher good of all.
If you are feeling this too, and it has stopped you, held you back, I so get it. If you have been able to find a way to move forward, first bravo! and I would love to hear how you did it, how you manage.
********** From MLK Jr, “But If Not…”
“You may be 38 years old, as I happen to be. And one day, some great opportunity stands before you and calls you to stand up for some great principle, some great issue, some great cause. And you refuse to do it because you are afraid…. You refuse to do it because you want to live longer…. You’re afraid that you will lose your job, or you are afraid that you will be criticized or that you will lose your popularity, or you’re afraid that somebody will stab you, or shoot at you or bomb your house; so you refuse to take the stand.
Well, you may go on and live until you are 90, but you’re just as dead at 38 as you would be at 90. And the cessation of breathing in your life is but the belated announcement of an earlier death of the spirit.
You died when you refused to stand up for right. You died when you refused to stand up for truth. You died when you refused to stand up for justice.”
OMG! You guys, this is a big deal. I think the change is starting to happen for my mom, the avid meat-eater! Yesterday morning, I walk into the kitchen and mom is sitting at the table watching Bobby Deen on the Cooking channel make vegan dishes.
I know. I had to do a double take.
Bobby was making a vegan Creme Brulee which immediately got my attention. Here is the recipe. Going to have to try this one!
I swear I felt like I was in a parallel universe, first, seeing Bobby Dean, son of Krispy Kreme bacon burger making Paula Deen, cook vegan food, and then seeing my mom watch him cook.
I sat with mom and watched the show. This was kind of a big deal too because I normally do not watch regular TV. It was some nice bonding time with my mom, and I was feeling a bit closer to her because I felt like she was taking a genuine interest in something that means so much to me.
I was all excited about mom watching a vegan cooking episode, and then this morning, I walk into the kitchen like I did yesterday and mom is cooking. I say to her, "Morning mom! That smells good. What are you cooking?"
She says, "Oh, I'm making Mungo beans vegetarian style. I'm experimenting."
*My jaw hits the floor. I'm frozen in gleeful disbelief.*
I look around the kitchen and seriously wonder if we got transported into another timeline the other night while we were sleeping. Normally, when mom is cooking, I'm always telling her that she needs to eat more veggies especially leafy greens, and she just mostly appeases me with, "Yeah, yeah, sure," and I walk away saying not a word back to my room to work, business as usual.
But today, was different. I did the positive encouraging thing and responded to mom with joyfulness,"Really?! WOW! That's so cool mom. I can't wait to try it when it's ready. I'm so excited that you're experimenting with vegetarian Filipino food. YES!"
My friends, her dish was EX-CELL-ENT!
Of course, I took a picture of her experiment. She did use patis, the fish sauce, so technically the dish is pescatarian. Traditional Filipino Mungo Beans are made with pork and shrimp (or just pork by itself.) Just the fact that my mom took it upon herself to try and make a veggie version of one of our favorite Filipino dishes was HUGE in my book. In fact, it's a ginormous step!
These are the moments that remind me to stay hopeful about creating a better food system. Change can happen, one dish at a time.
(I asked her for the recipe. When I get it, I'll share it.)
I’m one of those “half-full” people that believes everything happens for us versus to us. As an example, my friend Darya at Summer Tomato wrote this great post about transformative gifts:
A transformative gift is any circumstance or event that feels negative in the present moment, but ultimately reveals itself as a gift that benefits your life tremendously.
These gifts help us become a better human being. Often, we don’t recognize these gifts at first because they can come in the form of tragedy, loss, or disappointment. When we begin to see the why of something, the a-Ha happens. This scene in Evan Almighty, one of my favorites, best expresses what’s happening.
My biggest transformative gift came in August 2001 in the form of a nervous breakdown in the HR lady’s office at my fancy Silicon Valley job.
I’m not kidding when I say that I lost my shit and had an epic meltdown at work.
I was put on medication and forced to go on medical leave for three months.
Back then, I self-identified being the strong, perfect, super woman who would never dare show signs of weakness or vulnerability. I was competing in male-dominated Silicon Valley so I was the gladiator.
I pushed myself to unrelenting expectations…just so I could get ahead.
Sound familiar? Can you relate?
With a mentality like that, you don’t willingly go take care of yourself because that would appear weak. You have to be taken out at the knees so you’re “forced” to go. So, that’s what my body did. She took me down! She got drastic for my own good.
I was given many signs and opportunities to change, but did not.
I was arrogant and ignorant.
It wasn’t until a few years later that I was able to see my transformative gift, that this breakdown was really a breakthrough. This gift of going on medical leave not only helped me learn about healing, and surrender, but it helped me find my life purpose.
Before medical leave, often, I would stare out the airplane window on my latest work road trip and look at the clouds and the earth below and get existential. I would ask God why I was here.
I believed I could get a better answer because I was in the sky closer to God.
I wanted to know what was the point of my existence. On the surface, I had a life many people were envious of, but deep down, I hated the person I had become.
I love reading the HONY (Humans of New York) stories so here’s the backstory HONY-style on what happened during medical leave that helped changed my life for good.
When did life as you know it change?
It was a week after 9/11. I was on medical leave from my high-paying Silicon Valley job. I came home from a doctor’s appointment and collapsed on the couch drugged out from new meds.
I dropped my bag on the floor and everything fell out. My eyes focused on the letters W,T,F on my pill organizer.
I didn’t see Wednesday, Thursday, Friday. I saw What The Fuck.
Looking up, hypnotized by the spinning ceiling fan in my drug-induced state, I thought, “What if I died suddenly like all those people in 9/11?”
Clarity struck. I decided, fuck this. My legacy will not be a depressed, pill popping, corporate servant.
I want to feel alive.
First step. No more pills!
I was determined to get off the meds. I hated the side effects. I didn’t feel better. I felt worse. I went to see a naturopathic doctor for the first time in my life to see if alternative medicine could get me off the pills. This was a big deal because I grew up believing that Western medicine was the only way to heal.
It’s the first time I saw empathy in a doctor’s eyes. My ND figured out the true source of what was making me sick, and she got me off all the pills.
That’s when I learned the difference between creating health and disease management. That’s when I learned that food could be a source of disease as well as a source of healing. That’s when I was grateful that I trusted what my body told me.
I am well. I have been pill-free since 2002. I want to be pill-free when I’m 75.
That clarity was righteous indignation. I just absolutely refused to accept that pill popping was my future. That way of life was unacceptable. I didn’t care what those doctors in my fancy hospital told me.
When I was a kid, I dreamed about becoming a pilot or an architect. It never occurred to me that one of my life goals would be being pill-free. Why would it?
Look at what our culture has become today. We’re Generation Rx where pill organizers are becoming as common as having a water bottle.
Here’s a simple question. How many people do you know who are pill-free? How many people over the age of 60 do you know who are pill-free?
Let me start with my physical health issues, and then I’ll share the emotional/mental health issues.
I had Adrenal fatigue, Irritable bowel, Leaky gut, bloating, gas, and diarrhea. I suffered from hives and big patches of eczema that would appear on my body and never go away. I always felt tired even though I’d sleep 8-10 hours.
Turns out the source of my physical health issues was food allergies, vitamin and mineral deficiencies, and metal toxicity. The pills my Western doctors were prescribing me were actually useless at healing me.
I started to see the light. We don’t have a healthcare system. We have a disease management system.
Although, I had a bad experience with meds, I am not anti-pills. Many meds help people and save lives. Pills are not the problem. It’s the business model behind them. What disturbs me is the profit made off keeping humans in a perpetual state of unwellness.
There is no profit in wellness in a disease management system.
The Naturopathic doctor was the first doctor to ever test me for food allergies, vitamin and mineral deficiencies, and metal toxicity. I had some of the best medical insurance and was going to one of the best hospitals in the Bay Area, and not one of my doctors tested me for any of these things. It turns out I was allergic to over a dozen foods. Dairy and eggs were the worst.
Egg-white only omelettes and organic cottage cheese, foods my trainer and nutritionist told me would do my body good, turned out to do my body bad.
I was highly deficient in tryptophan which is a key building block of serotonin which monitors our moods. Getting my tryptophan level back up to speed so my body could produce the proper levels of serotonin was key in helping me get off the SSRI I was taking for depression.
I was toxic in mercury, lead and tungsten. The high levels of mercury were because of all the farm-raised seafood I was eating like salmon, tuna and tilapia. Through doing elimination diets, I also discovered that my body reacted negatively to artificial and highly processed ingredients like food dyes, preservatives, artificial sweeteners, and food thickeners.
Like many, I bought into the low-calorie, low-fat story. I focused on calories of food versus the quality of the food.
The industrialization of our food system has turned food into a significant source of disease where it should be a source of vitality. I want to live in a world where no one suffers from disease or sickness like I did because of the food they eat. Getting sick from food was insight into my life purpose work.
It’s time to end Generation Rx and create generations of Wellenials.
Now, onto what was happening on the emotional/mental level.
Here I am on a yacht I rented for my birthday party, four months before I went on medical leave.
I had the glamorous life I worked so hard to get. I had a high-profile marketing job at a successful tech startup that went IPO and made all of us rich. I lived in a swank apartment. Bought my Mercedes with cash. I traveled all over the world, ate at the finest restaurants and partied at the coolest clubs. I could shop and buy what I wanted and never look at the sale rack.
I had it all.
That’s what I told myself. Inside was a whole other story.
Here’s the beautiful smile masking the pain.
Oh, and there was A LOT of pain.
I suffered from things that have shame and stigma attached to them. Coupled with the physical issues, this is why I ended up on medical leave:
Panic and anxiety attacks. I worked in an environment that was highly toxic and combative. I was constantly living in fear and anxiety about when I’d get attacked or thrown under the bus. Working in a predominantly male industry, I also had to deal constantly with men making sexual advances and inappropriate behavior.
Eating disorder – bulimia
A boyfriend sexually assaulted me several years prior to me going on medical leave. I told no one and tried to rationalize it in my head that it never happened, and buried myself in my career thinking I could work it away, but yeah, no dice.
PTSD from the sexual assault
Alcohol abuse – I was self-medicating to numb my pain and it got to the point of me blanking out and not remembering what I had done or said that night.
Agoraphobia – Had a mild form of this for about 3 years after medical leave. I would go out but only to my regular places where I felt safe like my gym, the grocery store, gas station, Target or to the homes of friends and family.
So yeah, long story short, I was effed up. Not even going to sugarcoat it. Straight up, it was like VH1 Behind The Music BAD.
Along with my naturopathic doctor, to help with my emotional and mental health issues, I also saw a great therapist, and tried a whole bunch of alternative healing treatments like reiki, breathe work, past life therapy, chakra therapy, hand analysis which taught me plenty about why I was depressed in my career, crystal energy work, and a whole bunch of other things.
I kind of went on a metaphysical safari trying out all these new agey treatments mainly because I was just so fascinated with it all. Much of it was kinda hocus pocus, but there were a few that wow healed me faster than anything I experienced in any western hospital. I’ll save all that for another post.
I started blogging in 2005 and shared my experiences because I wanted to help bring some light to health issues that have shame and stigma attached because there is no need to hide, to deny, or to feel embarrassed or ashamed.
The more we talk about this stuff, the better it gets.
I want you to know that if you are early on or in the middle of your healing process, that you can and will come out the other end better. You can thrive.
For me, the work of healing looked daunting and overwhelming in the beginning, so believe me if you feel like it’s too much, I totally get it.
There will be some really shitty, ugly cry, painful-ass days where you will feel like you got the beat down of your life from Apollo Creed like Rocky in the ring, not going to lie. But, you can get through this and come out victorious.
I love the final fight scene in Rocky because it perfectly embodies metaphorically my experience, and was an inspiration while I was in the healing process. Medical leave was the fight of my life for my health and future. It was time for me to reach into that warrior spirit of mine, get back on my feet and not give up.
Kris Carr refers to cancer as teacher. I relate to that. Since I am a Sci-Fi lover, I refer to my health issues as Jedi mentor, the Yoda to my Luke Skywalker.
When I returned to work from medical leave, I resigned after 5 days. I chose my health, my life. Many thought I was crazy for giving up security; a paycheck, pre-IPO stock options, and medical benefits especially since 9/11 happened.
I reasoned, I can always make money. I cannot get time or my health back.
So, I quit. I was done pretending to be happy.
Leaving my job made all the sense in the world. And 9/11 was a slap of reality for me that life was too short. I wasn’t going to waste any more of my precious life for a job that literally made me sick and was killing my soul.
What I didn’t know at the time, my resignation was the end of my corporate career. I was beginning my life as an entrepreneur, and a changemaker.
I have been pill-free since 2002. I dropped 40 lbs and have kept that weight off since 2008. I no longer diet. I just eat. I learned what my body needs to be well.
Going on medical leave, my transformative gift, I came to see that you are not given the life you want, but are given the life you need. Things don’t happen to you. They happen for you.
I am grateful for the blessing of my gift.
For more details, I wrote a book about my medical leave experience called, “Death of a Road Warrior,” available on Kindle for $2.99 or free if you’re a Prime member.