I was in the third grade when I experienced the first explosion of pain in my head, and by the time I turned twelve years old, the frequency and extraordinary incapacitation caused by these attacks required medical attention. My parents took me to several specialists. None rendered a diagnosis, yet each prescribed a medication.
In the mid-1970s, my treatment began with a liquid antihistamine (even though I never had allergies) and escalated to include prescriptions for addictive barbiturates and opiates – which barely masked the pain. This was the beginning of my intimate involvement with the ways in which our brain can betray us.
Western medicine had failed me, and I was desperate to try almost anything that would give me back my life. I began Transcendental Meditation (TM) training as a high school student. TM helped in diminishing the frequency of these random assaults in my head. However, by the time I finished college my practice was intermittent –and my headaches became increasingly familiar.
I was stuck and scared. I had exhausted treatment options, and worse, no one believed my diabolical suffering. Even my neurologist treated me as if I were a pill-popping nuisance. As an option for hopeless patients, he recommended me to the University of Massachusetts Medical Center, where I was introduced to Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, and his Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) practice. I drove to the Center several times, and my battered sensibilities believed that the 45-minute drive each way only added to my anxiety.
I moved to Los Angeles, and my headaches moved with me. However, I was finally diagnosed with having Cluster Headaches, also known as “suicide headaches,” due to the ultimate choice made by many who suffer from days of this unendurable pain. I tried floating sessions in a sensory deprivation tank, which provided an inner sanctum of peace and relaxation that was different from my meditation experiences. Unfortunately, floating sessions were expensive, and after six weeks, three times/week I discontinued going to the tank – and resumed self medicating with my prescription opiates.
In 1990, the year I got married, I was determined to get off the painkillers, and to jumpstart my mindfulness practice. Here I was, at the precipice of a beautiful life with endless possibilities: a burgeoning career, marrying my soul mate, and looking forward to starting our own family together. I knew that somehow, I had to eradicate my past narratives of pain, suffering, headaches, and pill addiction all of which limited my ability to fully enjoy life. My truest intention was to show up as the best version of me—as a wife, a friend, a co-worker, and hopefully, as a mother.
I recognized how easy it had been for me to take for granted the good things and kind people in my life. I had kept a writing journal, intermittently, since middle school – but in 1990, I took a deeper look into gratitude and began writing simple lists of things for which I was genuinely grateful (i.e. no post college debt, owning a car, blueberry picking with my family).
Gratitude is a gracious acknowledgement of all that sustains us both great and small. It is confidence in life itself. In a moment, we can shift our identity and step out of what is called a body of fear. We can release what we’ve carried when we were –as we can be – so loyal to our suffering and become something bigger.
In 2016, after a successful career in the music industry, I took time off to write a memoir about mental health, The Rock Stars of Neuroscience: How a Groupie in Crisis Emerged as the Heroine of Her Family’s Victory over Mental Illness. My life’s path had made me an authority about pain, human suffering, and the enigma of mental healthcare.
Throughout my career, I developed a unique ability to collaborate with quirky personalities. I worked with some of the most brilliant, creative, and diverse artists and pop icons including Timothy Leary, Mel Brooks, Carl Reiner, Elton John, Donna Summer, Barry White, Frank Zappa, and the Monkees. Over the decades, I witnessed how mental illness extinguished the light of so many other great minds.
Drug and alcohol addiction, a soul-sucking disease, contaminated my bosses’ brains, the members of Aerosmith. I watched my brother’s life-long suffering from the crushing combination of his MENSA brain crippled by undiagnosed Asperger’s Syndrome (AS). Then my young sons both developed debilitating brain disorders – one had Tourette syndrome (TS), and attention deficit disorder (ADD); the other had obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), panic attacks, and depression.
Consumed with finding the best treatment outcomes for my family, I became a groupie of neuroscientists, which was rather natural after working on the road for Aerosmith. I spent more than a decade exploring traditional and alternate therapies, cutting edge technologies, and residential facilities. And as the Aerosmith groupie knew crazy details about the band members’ comings and goings, I knew the CVs of the country’s top lead investigators for neuroscience research grants, and clinical trials for drugs and behavioral intervention.
It would have been easy to blame myself, or the medical community for the suffering inflicted on those I loved. I allowed myself to grieve and mourn for what had been stolen from our past. My sons’ health dramatically improved and in 2013 they were off to university living independent lives in which they could make a contribution of their own choosing. In 2013, filled with gratitude beyond belief my transformation began.
I was ready to rebuild my life with joy and intention. I saturated my mindfulness meditation with a self-compassion practice. In addition to recognizing the years of pain and suffering mental illness had inflicted on my family, in order to heal, I learned how to wrap those wounds in loving kindness and self-compassion.
Cultivating compassion requires a leap of faith. It is a powerful practice because all of the unknown possibilities exist in this infinite, loving space. Self-Compassion is a choice to persevere, an opportunity to overcome the punitive thinking that somehow, we have fallen short. We all possess undiscovered superhuman strengths. We can be transformed, and emerge as heroes with death-defying courage, endurance, and love.
After writing The Rock Stars of Neuroscience, I volunteered for the UCLA Grand Depression Challenge team, and I continue to be a mental healthcare advocate & speaker. I became a Mindfulness Coach in 2019.
2021 innerMBA – Sounds True – LinkedIn- Wisdom 2.10 - New York University
2020 Power of Awareness – Sounds True – Greater Good Science Center, University of California Berkeley
2019 Radical Self Compassion with Tara Brach - Online course
2016 Journey into Healing – Chopra Center – University of California San Diego
2015 MAPS I, II – UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center
2015 The Science of Happiness – Greater Good Science Center, University California Berkeley
2001 Bertelsmann Senior Management Program, Annecy, France
BA, Honors English/Mass Communication, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ
Junior Year Abroad, Oxford University, Oxford, England