Emily Autenrieth, Author at Vitanova

Tara Marlow’s Story – Life is Short. Make It Matter!

Tara Marlow is the travel blogger behind the site Travel Far Enough, where she and her husband inspire others to quit their corporate cubicles and live the lives they dream of. But her own life and dreams weren’t always aligned: until 2011, Tara worked 70-hour weeks and envied those whose lives revolved around traveling and writing about it. A road trip with her preteen daughter brought Tara’s priorities into focus, challenged her to drastically reorient her life around them, and compelled her to live her dreams. 

I grew up in Australia and took my first overseas trip as an 18-year-old. I was immediately bitten by the travel bug! At age 22, I moved to America, where my former husband and I thought we’d stay five years before moving on. The marriage didn’t stick, unlike the travel bug, but a beautiful daughter came from that marriage.

Five years turned into 20; I met my wonderful husband Rich and built a career in Texas. Before I realized it, I was drinking the Kool-Aid of corporate America and found myself working 70 hours a week. I got up each day to rush out the door, work at a frenetic pace, and come home only to work more while throwing dinner together before sitting down in front of the TV to work on my laptop. I had migraines a few times a month from the weight of it all.

Work was costing me my health and my relationships with family and friends. However, I stuck to my promise to my daughter that we would take a mother-daughter trip every year. In 2010, I knew I needed to get away from the craziness for a while and that our annual girly getaway would slip through my fingers if I didn’t make a plan. So, I asked her if she wanted to take a road trip. Without any hesitation, she said, “Let’s go to Mount Rushmore.”

I laughed because Mount Rushmore had never been on my list! But she’d learned about it in school. I thought, “Why not?” We agreed that we’d make it an epic two-week road trip and visit some other cool places along the way. We researched the stops to make, created road-trip playlists, downloaded audiobooks, found a questionnaire we could talk through, and came up with a mantra: “Try something new every day.” Little did I know that this wouldn’t just become a fun road trip; it would change my life.

My daughter and I reconnected as we traveled. Our reconnection on the road made me realize that I was missing out on her life when we were at home. I wondered what I had missed over the years of 70-hour weeks.

A year later, both my father and Rich’s father passed away. Around the same time, my daughter came to me while I was working and asked if she could talk to me for a few minutes. I replied, “Yes, but give me five minutes.” Three hours later, I finally went to her bedroom to find her sobbing on her bed. She said, “Mum, you said five minutes. It’s been three hours.” This was not a proud parental moment.

That was the absolute turning point for me. It was time to listen to what was happening in my life. I talked with my husband, and he said, “You know, yes. You are spiraling. You’re not in a good place. You should consider what else you can do.”

In mid-2011, I got my ducks in a row at work and gave notice. I rediscovered my passions for travel, writing, and photography and researched them like crazy. For the next year, I took online courses and sold my photography at local markets. Life was good. I could breathe again.

In 2012, our life changed again. My husband had his own “aha” moment after watching my transformation and decided to join my quest. After a family discussion, we decided to move to Australia. Even with the stress of an overseas move, my migraines stopped.

For our family of three, moving to Australia was the right decision. Now, I can spend three hours deliberating John Donne poetry with my daughter, take hikes with my family, and go camping or explore epic snorkeling spots in the middle of the week. And when my daughter graduates, Rich and I will be traveling full time. Life is open to us now.

We have a daily routine focused on family, health, and following our bliss. Over coffee and our daily vitamin D each morning, we plan our day. It may be writing, working on marketing, or exploring a new spot. When my daughter returns from school, we talk about her day at length. We make healthy meals together with the abundance that Australia’s farmers’ markets have to offer. Our evenings are like most families’, with a key difference: we ditched the TV when we left America. We love it. Life is healthier for us in every way.

I’ve thought about what drives me to make each day better than the last, and it’s simple. It’s what we talk about on our website: Life is short. Make your life matter.

Kay Stephens’ Story – Embracing Each Day

International model and businesswoman Kay Stephens’ life changed drastically in an instant one windy New York day in 2003. As she walked to class, gale-force winds hurled a 60-pound pole from a poorly secured construction zone fence into the left side of her head. She saw the wind knock down the construction materials like dominos as she blacked out. Her life has never been the same, but Kay hasn’t let her immense challenges get her down. Instead, she embraces each day as a fresh start and is empowering other brain injury survivors through her Faces of TBI campaign. 

Before my brain injury, I found success and fulfillment in many ways. Not only was I an international fashion model with work in my home country of Jamaica and in London, but I also had done public relations for public, private, and governmental entities, had run a grooming and modeling school in Jamaica, and published a book that sold 20,000 copies in the Caribbean. My wonderful daughter had just started high school in New York, where I was attending Queens College.

My concussion happened as I went to class one day. Right as I was feeling thankful that I’d made it to class in one piece, a metal pole from a makeshift construction fence struck the side of my head. My neck went one way as my body went the other. In the emergency room, doctors told me I had short-term memory deficits from the concussion that would remedy themselves within a few weeks. They said I was fine otherwise and did not do an MRI or CT scan. But the truth was that I had suffered many injuries, including herniated and bulging discs in my cervical spine, a torn rotator cuff and tendons, hip and right shoulder bursitis, pelvic injuries, and more. Some of these would not be discovered until years later.

The problems I experienced after that did not make sense to me, and I hid them for a long time, thinking I was going crazy. I couldn’t smell for three years. I had problems with my vision, hearing, and urinary systems. I could look, but I couldn’t interpret what I saw or read the words on the page in front of me. Sounds that are in the background for most people, like a clock ticking or a refrigerator humming, were suddenly loud and overwhelming for me because I couldn’t filter them out. I had terrible neck spasms and blinding headaches.

The true nature of my injuries was not uncovered until 2008, when I finally took control of finding out what had happened to me. I underwent neuropsychological testing, which revealed a “mild” traumatic brain injury, or TBI, which caused short-term memory and attention deficits and emotional deregulation. Parts of my brain had very low oxygen flow. I had to focus on each injury one at a time, and to date, I’ve had more than 1,300 appointments stemming from this one accident. My brain injury may be categorized as mild, but its impact on my life has been immense.

Life as I knew it stopped that day in 2003. My type A personality had to retire early, and surviving my TBI became my primary focus. I underwent so much treatment that I experienced secondary health issues; medications that helped me with aspects of my injury caused gastritis so bad that I wanted to die as I lay in the hospital. Help came in the form of a homeopathic nutritionist who gave me some critical advice: “Let your food be your medicine and your medicine be your food.” I cured my gastritis through an intestinal cleanse, dietary restrictions, and a commitment to the right foods. Combining this with my routine physical therapy and other treatments has allowed me to return to some of my old activities and manage my emotions.

I strengthen and center myself every day through quiet time and prayer. This time connects me with my inner strength and my spiritual sense of a higher purpose. Music is therapy for me, and I connect socially in small group settings with the people who have rallied around me. These things have helped me make my dream for the Faces of TBI campaign a reality. This campaign will raise public awareness of the invisible disability of brain injury to increase understanding, tolerance, funding, and emotional support for those with brain injuries.

I encourage others with brain injuries to accept yourselves. I couldn’t have gotten here without finding the courage to accept my new, disabled self and making changes to support my own success. Find someone to share your feelings with who is objective, while also building your support network of friends and family who accept you the way you are. Envision your new goals, renew your love for yourself, and do what brings you joy! Like me, you can choose to make each day a fresh start.

Turning Adversity Into Inspiration -Jennifer’s Story

Jennifer Babcock Bernardo spent two years subjecting her body to medical interventions that didn’t help her psoriasis. When she chose to pursue plant-based interventions instead, her life was transformed. 

Between high school and college, I found out that I had psoriasis. It was a very irritating case, linked with arthritis, and it felt like I saw every doctor under the sun in an attempt to find the right treatment. They treated me with the best medical intervention they could come up with, cortisone injections, but it felt like they were only treating the symptoms. I would go in, get dozens of little doses of cortisone injected into my scalp and all over my body, and experience two weeks of improvement. Then my symptoms would return worse than before.

I felt like I looked like a monster. I didn’t want to leave my house, and I stopped going to school. I couldn’t deal with how they were treating me—I felt like a monkey, a test subject. And I was dealing with all of this for something that did not work for my body.

I finally reached the point of pulling away from all the doctors and Western medicine. I decided not to put my body through more until I had figured out what I truly needed. I started changing the way I approached my disease; I began eating better and looking into alternative medicines and treatments. One night, I met with a woman who knew about the healing properties of botanicals and herbs. She talked me through the function of herbs and their interactions with each other. We then put them into a big pot to stew all night. The next morning, I ended up with a little jar of a disgusting salve. I began using the salve, and it immediately improved my skin and the way I felt. And it was not with cortisone needles or chemicals. My healing was created from the goodness of the earth.

After that day, I took the wisdom shared with me and I started refining it. Over the past eight years, I’ve worked with the recipe to make jars of salve that are better with each batch and have researched the ingredients to make it as effective as possible. I started giving away my salve to people with health issues similar to mine. Like me, they saw improvements and wanted more. It even helped them with other ailments besides psoriasis.

I started making bigger batches and kept refining the recipe to where it is today. Now, I have a business license. I sell to places around the state of California, bulk customers, and people around the country. When I faced my illness and embraced a new approach to medicine, I found not only my own healing through botanicals but I also became an entrepreneur determined to help others access inner healing from that which comes from the earth.

I’m continually amazed at what herbs and botanicals can do for us. I think that much of what Western medicine has done has gotten away from the healing of plant derivatives. Of course, even Western medicine has derived some things from plants, but their cures are removed from the source. True botanical cures are all organic and in nature.

Embracing the healing power of the earth has involved not just my salve, but how I approach everything I put in and on my body. I start every day by drinking an all-organic, vegan, plant-based smoothie product with banana and almond milk. Then I take my shower, which has become very ritualized for me. It’s not about comfort so much as letting it take care of me. I sense the water, pay attention to it, and acknowledge it against my skin. Then I apply my balms to the areas of my body that are still affected, even though my condition has nearly eliminated.

Throughout the day, I’m conscious of what my family puts into their bodies, as well. I didn’t used to think that way; I didn’t realize there was such a strong connection between the foods I put into my body and what was happening on my skin. I used to put so much junk in my mouth. Now, I’m so careful to choose foods, herbs, and teas that will support my family’s wellness, including that of my two-year-old daughter.

Jennifer’s balms are only available in certain states. They can be viewed at http://www.babsbalms.com/

How To Stay Beautiful and Healthy: Vicky Alvarez Covi

Vicky Alvarez Covi is a married mother of twin teenage boys in her 40s living in Denver, Colorado. After the birth of her children, she found herself gaining a great deal of weight. She felt unhappy and unhealthy. Through the power of a morning ritual, she reenergizes her body, mind, and spirit and supports her own daily rebirth. 

My husband’s company hosts a black tie event every year. I love it—it’s like a grown-up prom! I’ve always enjoyed shopping and dressing up for the event. Three years after my twins were born, I had a terrible time finding a dress that fit and flattered my body. When I saw a photo of us after the event, it hit me: I did not recognize myself. I had reached a pants size 18 and refused to buy a bigger size, but I hadn’t truly realized how heavy I had become until I saw that photo. I thought, “This is not me. This is not who I am!” It hit me all at once that day. I was finally honest with myself that I did not feel like the real me anymore. I didn’t feel attractive, and more importantly, I wasn’t happy. The sadness as I thought about letting myself get to this point was overwhelming.

I put that photograph up in my kitchen after the party and kept it as a reminder of how unhealthy I had allowed my body to become. I wanted to be healthy to see my children grow up and to be a good role model for them of a healthy lifestyle, eating good food and not crap, and giving a damn about myself.

To give myself the initial motivation I needed, I signed up with a company that helped me understand how to change my life and weight. I faced a hard fact: food is emotional for me. Some people drink or smoke in response to stress; I eat. I had to learn to see food as sustenance, as fuel for my body, not as a means to console myself. The program helped me learn new thought patterns and habits, but I will always have to remind myself how to see food—not as my comfort, not as my enemy, but as life—and work to overcome my greatest vice, portion control.

Staying in a healthy relationship with food requires a daily, conscious effort. I see my health transformation as a journey, not a destination, and I have to always remind myself that nothing tastes as good as healthy feels. I make my ongoing transformation journey possible by adhering to my personal morning ritual.

My ritual starts as soon as I get out of bed and put on my workout clothes. I get straight into them because it’s the only way I can be sure I’ll dedicate the time to working out. If I try to put it off, I’ll lose my steam just like everyone else because evenings are so full of distraction and exhaustion from the day. I brew my coffee as I wake up my boys, enjoy one cup with breakfast and one after dropping them off at school, and take my multivitamin and vegan protein. I work out from 8:30 to 9:30, and during that time, I think only about keeping my body as its best. I can feel the adrenaline kick in and my sweat coming down during my last rep as I tell myself, “I can do it! I can do it!” It’s my own form of meditation. My workouts lift the stress of 12-hour hockey tournaments on the weekends and of everything else related to parenting twin teenage boys in my 40s. And my workouts inspire me to become my best self.

My commitment to this journey of transformation also includes healthy eating. For me, that means not only getting plenty of fruits and vegetables, but adopting a vegetarian diet. While it was frustrating initially because I liked the taste of meat, I love it now—my body doesn’t like to digest meat anymore and I’ve enjoyed discovering new cuisines. I love Indian and Thai cooking; both are so vegetarian-friendly and rich with amazing flavors and spices. I’ve been eating healthily for eight years now and I haven’t looked back.

I see women like Raquel Welch and Sophia Loren and know that I want to look as incredible as they do as they age. They really take care of themselves, and when I’m in my 70s, I want to look and feel like I’ve taken care of my body all these years.

My daily transformation through my daily ritual, workouts, and healthy eating help me become a better person. I wish I had started before my late 30s! But I am so proud of my personal renaissance. My hope is that my sons will experience this drive to be in the best, healthiest shape possible because they look at their mom and see how healthy I am.

Ritual, Rebirth, and Turning 50 into the New 35

Scott Sutter has led a successful life, building a winery, raising three sons, and succeeding in the sport he most enjoys, competitive tennis. He shares how a serious sports injury placed him at a crossroads: he could either give up doing the thing he loves or rebuild himself slowly and get back into the game. Scott chose rebirth, and says his morning ritual was a key part of his success. 

I started playing competitive tennis when I was 10 years old. By age 13, I was playing tournaments; I worked hard through high school to be the top player. After college, I started playing with USTA League, our nation’s largest recreational tennis league. I still play as much as possible throughout the week. Here I am at 50 years old, and I’m still playing at a high level! That’s really important to me. And I met my wife, Ann, through tennis. We might not have ever met without having this common interest.

One of most exciting things about tennis is how I find myself through the game. Sometimes it’s great to hit the ball as hard as I can to get my daily frustrations out. After a while, the game immerses me. It really shifts my concentration from outside concerns to the game I’m playing, and I stop thinking about the bad or challenging parts of my life because the match demands all of my focus. This aspect of tennis is why it has gotten me through so many tough situations in my life.

So, when I suffered a serious sports injury to my arm a few years ago, I felt terrified. I thought I might never get to play again. So much of what had kept me healthy and happy was in jeopardy.

I couldn’t imagine losing the ability to do what I love to do, so Ann and I turned what looked like a terrible event into a catalyst for change. When we sold the Mt. Pleasant Winery not long after my injury and I shifted into a consulting role, I had the opportunity to spend time with the personal trainer Ann had hired me for Christmas. After just the first day of talking with a professional about my injury and aging, I really noticed a difference. I knew that if I stayed with the program the trainer had set up for me, if I approached it with the same consistency as I did my other rituals, I could solve this condition with my arm. And I did. I’m now hitting the ball like I did when I was 35 instead of 50. It took me three years of intense work but I not only got back to where I was, I got stronger.

Starting my day with a ritual is really important for me. Most people don’t realize that the patterns we choose each morning dictate whether we are going to go out and conquer the day or just sit around and wonder why we didn’t! My ideal morning ritual is to have the coffee pot programmed to brew at 5:30, drink my coffee, put on my workout clothes, bike to the gym, take a hybrid athlete class, do speed work, and hit the treadmill. I always feel much better when I get my day going this way. I have more energy and when I see it through, I see results.

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