The re-discovery of my empathy.

Earlier than I can even remember I was told this loud, caring, overly passionate child wouldn’t survive. Eventually I would have to grow up and leave her behind. She didn’t belong at dinner tables laughing uncontrollably, she didn’t belong when asking too many questions and more than anything she didn’t belong when she was sad. Get over it and move on was a turn of phrase I was told to live by. When it came to the overabundance of emotion I seemed to have one thing was known…my emotions were ALWAYS too much. I was told to use outlets to utilize the positive emotions and passion. This was easily translated to sports. Even there it was always this stress of push past, overcome and find a way to win none such advice offered opportunities to sit with the discomfort or pain. Overcome aka avoid the weakness. For me I started masking early on. Being me was only allowed certain places and when I got there everything was right. Outside of those arenas I didn’t fit. Outside of those places I was scolded for being the full me. I was allowed to feel sad. I had to be strong for no real reason other than Happy Hanna was who everyone wanted. So who am I if I allow myself all emotions? Who am I when I remove the layers?

We can start to see her, she is somewhere underneath a million motivational quotes. The mask I covered myself in. The mask I used to show up un-compromised as Happy Hanna for everyone else. Whether they couldn’t handle or didn’t want to handle the fullness of my expression of bad I just knew she couldn’t be there ever. She was a lot. Happy Hanna is an amazing part of who I am, no doubt, but she doesn’t come with only that. Someone who can show up passionate and motivating with the ability to push someone forward doesn’t also have the same force and emotion for the other. So not having an outlet for both such emotions creates a very unbalanced energy.

I suffered in the energy unbalance for a very long time. Most of which was caused by this narrative that negative emotions should not be allowed in for long. Optimism was my gift and I should only be that. Along with this knowing truth that anytime I exhibited full lengths of expression I generally ended up in time out, the principal’s office or having a quick conversation behind the closed door of an office. Since that was the general loving response to full me I didn’t let her out. Much if ever.

I am finding my way back to full me.

I don’t have a response.

I have been reading everyone’s amazing posts about COVID-19 and the state of the country I live in. I guess I wish I had a response. I feel like I have been shifting in and out of action this entire year. Most action taken with hesitant and unsure steps. I just want to be sure again. Like, I can’t even remember the feeling of making a decision with a high likelihood of certainty. I woke up in March to a very uncertain world. In the time I was supposed to care less, I started caring more. I couldn’t sit by and watch the suffering. I couldn’t sit by and absorb the uncertain energies anymore. It was exhausting. It is still exhausting even more so with each passing day. Even removed from the physical energy my mind still escapes me wandering into the minds of the people really suffering, while I sit thinking and hoping this all passes.

My mind slowly wanders into an action state but every move I make I am reminded that the world is still in pain. I feel like I am looking at a different world than anyone else sees. I wish I didn’t feel all of these things. I wish I could relieve myself of the added stress try not to think about the world’s problems. I wish the world was normal and I know it won’t be for a long time. I wish I could move. I wish my mind wasn’t stuck in this place of unresponsiveness.

I wish decorating early was the answer. I wish shopping for gifts was the answer. I wish reading, writing, cleaning, exercising or eating were the answer. I wish consistency was the the answer. I wish really anything but what is happening right now was going to be the relief. But it isn’t. None of it is.

My mind most days look like thoughts floating around but never absorbing. I am practicing ways to reground my mind. I am not sure what is working. More than anything I just wish I didn’t feel pain for other people. I wish I was sure in just one step I took today or any day. I wish I was in a world where I knew how to show up in. I wish I knew how to help but I don’t. I wish I could blame one person but I can’t.

The world is uncertain and because of that I have no response to it.

Iowa Fields of Opportunities

My life growing up in small-town Iowa was as basic as it gets. I got used to hearing these stories about the one person from my tiny town who made it big (you have one too). I wanted that life. The big one. The one that did not happen in small towns. So early on I dreamt as wild and as big as I could. The thought that big was possible for someone like me was slim to none, considering my middle-class non-college-educated parents. This ceiling was made known to me disgustingly early in my life. So I dreamt big but safe. The one thing no one could deny was my height so maybe I wasn’t smart but maybe I could trick the system. I decided I was going to make it big and be a D-1 athlete certainly that would lead to something. It didn’t happen and eventually, I accepted my reality. The one-shot I had was over, so I did what good Iowa girls do when they don’t make it big. Give up, move home, make babies, and live a life that is fine. I tried hard to suck it up and accept the only dreams left for me were helping my children live theirs, but it wasn’t enough. I started healing from the fact that I gave up at eighteen. Once I traced and told that story every story became easier and uncovered beliefs about myself that had held me back long before giving up. It wasn’t that Iowa, my parents, or my small-town upbringing held me back. It was the richness of the stories being told of settling growing up. The majority were people doing what I had done, giving up. I felt like I had missed out on the guide to Iowa right. I should be happy. I should be content, but it didn’t mean I was. As I continue telling this story so many Iowans have quietly contacted me. I have become subject to a lot of hidden lunch and coffee dates. People talk to me like I am a mistress. That I chalk up to this idea that the common thread of Iowans is to settle for a life of fine. So when people reach out to me or comment it is usually private because disrupting the normal or accepted life of fine is alarming when you live here. I want to change that. I want to stop people from dreaming small and realistic because of how we were raised. Iowa is actually the land of opportunity we just have to get people with talent to stop leaving because the common thread is the opposite.

A love letter to my future in psychology

My entire life I wondered how some people do everything they dream about and how some people don’t. What is the difference? I thought early on that it came down to privilege and connections. Since I hail from a small middle class community that was a conscious narrative most people clung to so I followed. The world was open for some but not for someone like me. As I continue to explore this thought I realize there is so much more that goes into chasing dreams. I want to know more about the things that hold people back. What holds me back? Doing my own self work I would discover a long standing love for the human mind, exploration and research. I want to know everything that goes on in a mind that holds people back. I plan to use research and understanding to help people dream again. It is so much more than being motivated or having connections. I believe there is beauty in every human mind. There is not a person on this planet who doesn’t have a gift that could change the world. I want to learn everything there is to know about the human mind so I can help heal people who were lost like me.

My entire life I was told and continued telling myself I was not smart. The best route for someone with the interests I had would have been psychology. The realistic one was public relations/marketing. Every move in my career as a marketer led me back to this place where I was trying to figure out the motivators of people. Sometimes in the marketing realm, sometimes in the management realm but always trying to better understand what people do and why. All roads always led back there. Eventually I would remove the narratives that no longer/never served me. The removal of those threw me into a world where I found myself trying to save myself from what had impacted my dreams. That journey brought me right here. Following the one thing I have always brought back into my stratosphere. I can’t escape wanting to understand the human mind.

I will find myself passionately writing, speaking and working in the field of psychology. Until then.

Change the world,

Hanna Nuss

Have you ever been turned down for a promotion? A habit to adopt to ensure it doesn’t happen again.

Every single fricking day people. I read in the book Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg two years ago that women are turned down for promotions or next level positions because they cannot speak about the great things they do. Women struggle to accurately own, recall and speak about their contributions.
I didn’t really believe this right away and then I thought about the last interview I had done. Then I remembered leaving feeling as if I had killed it. I didn’t get offered the position. So I after reading this I started reflecting on what I actually said. EVERY SINGLE THING I SAID I willingly chalked up to the team and told stories of how myself and everyone else accomplished everything. That moment I thought how do we stop this. How do I grow my own confidence to ensure I do not do this.
At that time I was coaching high school volleyball and I thought well maybe I could change the 100 girls I had with me every day. So we started our day with great things. Every day we started our day stating with our great things. It could be anything the only stipulation was that it had to be something they did and it had to be voiced confidently. Each day we showed up looking for greatness in our day. That practice transformed our work together.
Here is the deal the more we do this confidently speak to our greatness the better we can show up when it is called on. I am no longer willing to sit here and let women get handed the short stick because we are “team players”. If we know owning our greatness is a struggle then we can’t get past it unless we start showing up to reverse it. Practice makes perfect.

Maybe we didn’t believe we deserved more. (A letter to the “failed” athlete)

Maybe we could finally forgive ourselves for everything we never became. The life we had promised ourselves the one that was never meant to play out was the one we still wish we were in. We spent days, months, and years of wasted energy reminiscing and wishing. It wasn’t our fault we would repeat even though we knew deep down it probably was. Or what if it just wasn’t? How do you accept it regardless? Maybe in the releasing of the guilt and anger for everything we were never supposed to become we could finally become what we were meant to be. Every second we held onto what never was became yet another wasted minute living in what could never be. It was a toxic place to live. The air was thick with un-imagined realities.

The release of the pressure of that impossible life seemed to be the struggle we were fighting. If we kept holding on to that we would forever live in the shadows.

I think we both thought we didn’t deserve more. Our failed attempt at our dream life as we could see it right then was a life sentence. We had accepted it gladly like all of the failed before us. “You knew it wouldn’t last forever,” they would say. That didn’t mean we believed you. That didn’t mean we didn’t dream that it could. And that definitely didn’t mean we couldn’t dream again so why did we think it did?

What happens when you let go of that? Maybe we would stop chasing something we couldn’t touch. Maybe we could show up again. What if we started looking at the present moment instead of chasing past moments or worse yet only living for future moments. We had to release it but how? We had to grow up from here yet we still felt too young to have had our chance stripped out from under us. Either way, our chance was the one we were in like it or not. This life was our truth. This life was our reality and we had wasted too many years not being here.

The silence tried to kill me.

I mean here I am Friday writing about and talking about how amazing of a release silence is. Sounding like the professor of silent studies or something… What happened next no one could have predicted. Although I probably should have given my record.

So we get to the tent it is lovely surrounded by trees, creeks (criks) and nothing. This was exactly how I pictured it. So we go to dinner hang out around town and head back to the tent. We lie down for bed and it is quiet #goals. But not like normal quiet where you can here the constant white noise of traffic or quiet but you can hear a fan. This was like high definition type quiet. This was exactly what I wanted until it happened.

Then as my husband Jordan snoozed off the anxiety started to kick in. It was slow rolling as I lay there started with the thought of kidnapping, then turned into a mass murderer coming down from the hills and all the way into a bear attack because you know my mind is just running the show. Then the rain started. Then the wind started. Then cars were pulling up with headlights all aglow on the side of the tent. My life was ending one way or another in that tent and I couldn’t stop myself from visualizing every instance. As my mind raced the stories grew bigger and scarier and more dramatic. My husband rolls over because he can feel the anxiousness radiating from my body at this point. He says to me, “Hanna, we can leave we can find a hotel we do not have to stay here.” I look back at him in disgust. “Like seriously bro…I just did an entire blog post on the importance of silence. My brain is just going to have to suck it up.”

So he rolls over and falls back asleep. My brain would in fact not suck it up at all. Actually the thought of me demanding it do so must have set it off spinning further and faster than it was before. All of a sudden I dream up likely the most realistic death possible. Gas leak from the heater. I roll over to Jordan almost out of breath I say, “does it smell like gas in here?” He says, “no, Hanna are you sure you want to stay here.” At that point my thoughts went from the only thing spinning to the entire tent spinning. Cue full blown panic attack.

I stand up and let Jordan know I think I need some air. I stick my head fearfully outside of the tent and breath in deep. There was no gas smell, there was no murderer outside of the tent, and there were no bears. Within one minute I had seen first hand out how wildly out of control my thoughts had gotten. Once I had caught my breath I laid back down. More car lights, a weird sound coming from outside and the wind was setting me spinning back to where I just was. Since leaving was not an option I was willing to put on the table, I had to take control.

I grabbed my mind by the hand and we started taking an intentional walk towards rest. “Mind,” I would say in my head, “You can’t keep leading us down these crazy paths.” Then the wind would pick up and I imagine the entire tent lifting up of the ground and blowing away. “MIND…”

Ok, what works. What works. What works….

Meditation. Lets do that. It is the last option. I realize I am one more panic attack away from us just packing up and leaving South Dakota altogether…This HAS to work.

So I start counting. Staying awake only makes the anxiety worse. I focus all of my attention on the number I am counting. 10. Deep breath in and out. 9. Deep breath in and out. 8. Deep breath in and holy shit what is that sound what is… is that the zipper of the tent, someone is coming in we should have brought a gun or knife or anything. Can my husband fend off a murder? Can he fend off a bear? shit oh shit. Start over.

10. Deep breath in and out. 9. Deep breath in and out. 8. Deep breath in and out. 7. Deep breath in and out. 6. Deep breath in. WIND oh my gosh the wind again. “Hanna, you have control this is testing your ability to stay in control.” “So stay in control.” I say to myself. Stay in control. Start over.

10 Deep breath in and out. Only focus on the number nothing else. 9. Deep breath in and out. 8. Deep breath in and out. 7. murderer…stay in control. Start over.

10 Deep breath in and wind. Fuck. Stay in control. Start over.

10 Deep breath in and out. 9. Deep breath in and out. 8. Deep breath in what comes after 8. Stay in control. Start over.

10 Deep breath in and out. 9. Deep breath in and out. 8. Deep breath in and out. 7. Deep breath in and out. 6. Deep breath in and out. Sleep.

I would wake up and use the same strategy two more times to will myself back to sleep. I write this because I went into my vacation as a champion of silence and in that silence feared a defeat but still found a way to limp across the finish line. It is not about beating your opponent all at once. As much work as I had done with my mental strength in a true test we all falter. You can’t lose at life. You win by continuing to move forward. By the end of the first panic attack old Hanna would have been booking a hotel. This one was just as wounded by the fear but found away. Limping, broken, bruised but learning with every step forward.

Seeking Silence.

Today my husband and I set out on a weekend escape seeking silence.

Silence was a space I spent most of my adult life avoiding. I now know why. I was avoiding the pain of the moment I finally heard my thoughts tell me this path I was walking wasn’t enough and it wasn’t right for me. I knew if I didn’t put mountains of hurdles and noise in front of that voice it might be able to speak to me so clearly I couldn’t avoid it anymore. Maybe that is why mountains always seem to be the silent spaces I seek. Is it possible their physical existence relieve the need for mental ones to exist?

Looking back on my life the silent spaces delicately led me to the deepest discoveries. I was avoiding silence when it came to me but not when it came to others. The ability to sit comfortably in silence with my husband was the first signal that this was the right place for me forever. Silence again guided me as a mother on a path I wasn’t sure I ever wanted to go down. The silent moments looking at the life I had created moments before she woke up would create energy and love that would power me past a million morning feedings and unsure steps. Silence ushured me past my anger and resentment at a conference built to change my life. The entire arena didn’t go silent I did. Silence brought me the ability to finally come to terms with and release the person I was told I should be for the first time in my life. Silence has always guided me beautifully to reality and growth. Maybe that is why I spent so much time avoiding it. I knew it’s power and I wasn’t ready to fully embrace the power I might find in myself.

Here is what I know now. Seeking silence is the ability to look inward until you find you and the voice you have been hoping hear. I am forever more done avoiding silence.

I am can be found seeking silence forevermore.

I am real.

Three weeks ago I talked about identity on my podcast and how it was not in anything you could lose. I had recently experienced a major identity crisis when I left my 9-5 so this message was important. At the same time, I was challenged by it. When I really dug into the fact that my identity is not in anything I could lose that meant EVERYTHING, not just jobs… If my identity is not that I am a wife/mom then who I am? So I start challenging that thought. I start to think about deleting the podcast episode because I am a mom…that is one of my identities, but that could be lost. I naturally avoided that thought and wanted to believe what I kept telling myself was true. I am a mom, that is one of my identities. The repeating of the phrase didn’t make the statement true or untrue it was part of it was the reality but it wasn’t the truth. 

I am a mom and that is not my identity. 

Maybe in the stripping of it becoming our identity, we settle on the fact that we are just real. That while all of the things we do as a mom are true it is not all that we are. I think I had been avoiding that because if I am not that I am now nothing. So I didn’t delete the podcast but I was hoping to find someone who could speak to this who had lost the entirety of their identity I had known what it felt like to lose something I identified with (my job, volleyball) but the family identity, being a mom, wife, daughter, aunt, niece is what I couldn’t or didn’t want to imagine. I was lucky enough to find Lindsey and by luck, the way we meant would be hard to explain and that is how you know it is divine. Early on as children, we build our identity by stories we are told about the people we come from since we don’t have many of our own yet. Eventually, those stories start to become a part of who we tell the world we are. I am tall like my English great grandfather, I have easy to tan reddish skin from a far off Indian bloodline, and my red hair comes from some unidentified source on my dad’s side. What would happen if those people you identified with and wrote your story around suddenly weren’t your bloodline? What would happen if your identity couldn’t be that anymore? So I sat down with Lindsay. She would say all of the things I needed to hear to start convincing myself that while it is hard to approach identity this way, it is vital. Because it could all come to a screeching halt at some point. And I would still be real. My identity is not in anything that can be lost. 

Maybe that gives us a release and permission to stop losing ourselves in our children, relationships, jobs, and spouses. Maybe this story finally grants us the ability to let that go and start our way back to find our real selves. When we build our stories on removable identities the loss hits harder. Not only do we have to process the loss of a loved one or the death of a dream, but we will also have to process the loss of ourselves and the identity we once had. True to what Lindsay says you are real. You are not only the things we do. You are not only the things we have been told about yourself. You matter and your identity is up to you. If it is not in anything that can be removed, who are you? Don’t just avoid the hard realities none of us want to face. My identity is not that I am a mother. So what am I now? Maybe Lindsay gives us all the ability to remove the sting of thinking about that loss and just believing everything is real and removable so you need to build your identity around who you are and not who you have been told you are. I wanted to find a real person who could speak to this and I thought that would be the hardest person to find but it wouldn’t have. How many of us early on became mothers to babies we never got to see or hold and while the rest of the world told our story based on what they could see “you aren’t a mother,” we knew we were even if to everyone else that identity had been taken from us we still knew it to be true. That woman knows identity is not in anything that can be lost. She lost her outward identity as a mom but feels the inward impact it has had on her soul. So maybe identity can’t be in the stories we tell of physical being. Maybe it isn’t that simple. What if what we want to believe about ourselves is in the removable because it is easier. I can quickly find an identity in the work I do, or in the life I build but I can’t even begin to process the complexities of who I am as a real person if all of that was gone. Identity is in the soul. This means removable things can add meaning and depth but could never be who we really are. 

If everything went away tomorrow you would still be here and as you stood there in the rubble of your life can you tell me you aren’t still real? 

Listen to my conversation with Lindsay

I am this person now.

I used to be really tied up in who everyone wanted me to be. So tied up infact when I asked myself what I wanted I didn’t know the answer. People would ask what I envisioned myself doing and I honestly just thought someone would come along and call my next shot. One day I realized it wasn’t coming. People wanted me to have an opinion about my life more than I wanted to have one. Yet, I stood there convinced I was not old enough, wise enough, or smart enough to have a say. But no one was giving me answers anymore everyone was asking me what I wanted. The question about what I wanted to be made my skin crawl. I would exhale in nervous fashion and pretend I knew but I was grasping at stràws. I guess now I know having removed everything I could ever indentify with that I am still here. I guess I know that I am this person now. I guess I know this is not going away. Here I am. I am this person. I am: energetic, optimistic, a big time dreamer, relentless, strategic and a fierce supporter of dreaming big and making it happen. This is me.