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When the Hard Stuff Happens . . .

With With Nora McInerny, Author, Podcast Creator, and Public Speaker

Season 4, Episode 9 | November 2, 2021

At one point or another in all our lives, we will all go through hard things. We typically can’t prepare for them and they can catch us off guard, and yet we often often judge ourselves for how we react or behave in those moments — and after. Nora McInerny, author, podcast creator, and public speaker, joins us in this episode to talk about how to cope during those times, the ways they shape and change us, and why we can never move on or go back, but we can move forward.

Nora McInerny is an author, podcast creator, and public speaker whose work focuses around redefining resilience and living life after loss. Her podcast is Terrible, Thanks for Asking, and her books include It’s Okay to Laugh (Crying is Cool Too), No Happy Endings, The Hot Young Widows Club, and Bad Moms.

In this episode, McInerny offers advice around wading through the hard stuff, including the following:

  • Reconsider your view of resilience. In the dictionary, resilience is defined as the ability “to return to your original shape.” However, we are permanently changed by the experiences we go through — especially the hard ones. McInerny says to her, resilience is more about learning how to exist in a new shape.
  • Understand hard things are new things. There’s no way to prepare for some circumstances. Whenever you get hard news, it’s a situation you’re experiencing for the first time. Many people, especially high achievers, want to feel good about how they react or behave in these moments, but really survival mode is enough.
  • Recognize your relationship boundaries. Not everybody in your life deserves or wants to know the truth about your emotional landscape — but some people are and it’s OK to make that discernment. The people who truly care about you and who rely on you need to know the truth, otherwise it’s impossible for them to help. It’s also useful to consider what your needs are from a particular person: Is this someone who you need validation from? Or perhaps to problem solve for you? Going into a conversation being clear about this improves the chances your needs will be met.
  • Know you might be surprised where support comes from. You may have wonderful people in your life who are imperfect or might disappoint you in moments of need. That’s part of being human. But the magical thing is that someone else can step in — even appear out of nowhere — to fill that void.
  • Throw out the notion of a timeline. It’s a common mentality to aim to quickly “move on,” but that objective has never healed anyone. Grief has no timeline, and you really don’t ever move on — but you can move forward. And if it’s at a pace that people don’t understand, that is OK.
  • Find someone who can relate. A single person who understands your experience can do what all the friends and family in the world who don’t understand or have not been through a similar situation cannot. Whether it’s one person or a group or community connecting with others who’ve been through something close to what you’re experiencing can make a huge difference.

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Transcript: When the Hard Stuff Happens . . .

Season 9, Episode 9  | November 2, 2021

Jamie Martin

Welcome to Life Time Talks, the healthy-living podcast that’s aimed at helping you achieve your health, fitness, and life goals. I’m Jamie Martin, editor-in-chief of Experience Life, Life Time’s whole-life health and fitness magazine.

David Freeman

And I’m David Freeman, Life Time’s national digital performer brand leader. We’re all in different places along our health and fitness journey, but no matter what we are working toward, there are some essential things we can do to keep moving in the direction of a healthy, purpose-driven life.

Jamie Martin

In each episode, we’ll break down the various elements of healthy living, including fitness and nutrition, mindset and community, and health issues. We’ll also share real inspiring stories of transformation.

David Freeman

And we’ll be talking to experts from Life Time and beyond, who’ll share their insights and knowledge, so you’ll have the tools and information you need to take charge of your next steps. Here we go.

[MUSIC]

David Freeman

Alright, we are back. Super excited about today’s episode. Jamie, we had so many great moments on this episode. We had Nora McInerny. And we were talking about the resilience of how people will deal with grief. And she created this redefining of what resilience is. So what were some of the biggest takeaways that you had from this episode?

Jamie Martin

Yeah. You know, we both have connections with Nora from the time that she worked at Life Time, and some personal experiences as well, just as friends and having gone through life experiences. And so I think when she was talking about resilience and the definition of when you look it up in Webster’s, it means going back, right?

Like going back to the shape that we were. And that to me, it’s just like something that needs to be talked about. Because when hard things happen in our life, how do we go back? We’re changed. We’re different. And how do we then talk about that, and normalize the conversations around like, I’m different.

The world is different that I’m living in. Now it’s time to like move ahead, move forward. We’re not moving on, but like keep moving. And for me, having heard Nora talk about these things over the years, since a lot of this happened back in 2014, those have been the things that have really resonated with me. And then hearing her talk about it all these years later — you know, it’s almost seven years since this stuff happened — it’s just really eye opening. And it’s a reminder that life can be hard.

David Freeman

Yeah. And allowing yourself to have that grace period. And she says it all the time. It’s OK to not be OK. And giving yourself that grace is huge. As humans, we’re supposed to evolve, right? We’re not supposed to remain the same or bounce back to what we were before.

Those experiences shape us and allow us to grow in this space in so many different ways. So how she was able to take us through that journey and give us a lot of those little different tidbits and best practices, I feel like a lot our listeners are going to appreciate that a lot.

Jamie Martin

Mm-hmm. Well, I think the reality is that we’re all going to go through hard things in life. And you know, it’s not a matter of if, but when. And just knowing like it’s going to change us. And we can still move ahead day to day and live life and find meaning in life and joy in life and survive really hard things.

So I don’t know. I mean, having been through some things myself, and I know you guys and your family have gone through some hard things too, like just knowing that you’re not alone, that we’re all going to go through this at different times in our life. But it’s a reality of being human.

David Freeman

Yeah. I think one of the big ones that it just came up in my head, as far as sometimes it’s going to be the perfect stranger that can be there for you and help you get through some trauma and some troubling times. So it might not necessarily be a family member or a close friend. So once again, we don’t want to spoil this episode. So you want to give us a little bit about Nora?

Jamie Martin

Yeah. So Nora McInerny is an author, speaker, and podcast creator whose work focuses around redefining resilience, what we talked about, and living life after loss. Her podcast is called Terrible, Thanks for Asking, and her books include It’s OK to Laugh, Crying is Cool Too, No Happy Endings, The Hot Young Widows’ Club, and Bad Moms.

And I’ll just add that Nora is an advocate, a creator of communities, virtual and in-person, and just kind of really great at talking about hard things in life, and keeping going in spite of it all.

David Freeman

Alright. I got a little rhyme scheme for everybody. We’re not going to waste any more time. We’re going to jump into this episode and redefine your mind.

[MUSIC]

David Freeman

What’s up, everybody? We have a special guest today, miss Nora McInerny. And I’m super excited to see you. It’s been a while. How have you been?

Nora McInerny

It’s been so long. You popped up on the screen, and I smiled so hard. It’s so good to see your face, you and Jamie. Old friends and old colleagues. This is so exciting.

Jamie Martin

Yes. Back when we all were at Life Time. David and I are still there. But Nora, it’s great to see you. It’s been several years since we worked together and even connected, really. So you’ve since relocated to Arizona over the past year. What else is new with you?

Nora McInerny

I live in Phoenix, Arizona. And this is big, big news for anybody who has ever lived in Minnesota or who was perhaps born and raised around there. People in Minnesota really like to say. OK? They do believe it is a personal offense to leave the state. It’s not, OK? I still very much appreciate Minnesota and all that has to offer.

But what it cannot offer is a million days of sunshine. A million days of sunshine and a blue sky nearly every single day. And I have to say, Phoenix brings that to the table. And it also brings my second favorite thing, which is an intense sauna-like heat constantly.

Some people really just — I love it. I feel like I am possibly a lizard, and this is where I belong. So that’s what’s new with me. We moved here. Otherwise, you guys have held those jobs for quite a long time. I am in my longest-held job, which is not having a job, or having a lot of jobs that I am in charge of.

So I’m still writing. I have a podcast called Terrible, Thanks for Asking, and I do a lot of public speaking about the hard things in life, which is kind of the area where I live and work. It’s not Phoenix, Arizona, it’s hard stuff.

Jamie Martin

Hard stuff, wherever that is in your life, wherever. And actually, that’s actually one of the things, Nora, that you and I connected over early on is the hard stuff. You and I were both going through a pretty challenging time when we connected while working as colleagues at Life Time.

So that’s a whole other story that we can get into another time. But just let’s just say we both experienced some of our most significant losses at that time. That’s when your first husband, Aaron, was sick and my nephew was sick at the time as well.

Nora McInerny

Yes. And they died within 12 hours of each other.

Jamie Martin

Yeah. It was pretty crazy.

It was really — that was a very — that was probably to date the most intense time in my life. I hope you have not had a more intense time since then. But I know that someday we will be there again.

Jamie Martin

Yep. Yep. Like you said, the hard things, they happen over — not over and over again, hopefully. But they will hit each of us at different points in our lives. We just don’t know when that will be. So with that in mind, we’re talking a little bit about resilience today, and talking about — you’ve said in different things that you’re redefining resilience. And just let’s talk a little bit about that and why that is something that you’ve been focused on.

Nora McInerny

I don’t even think I heard the word resilience until somebody used it to describe me. And they used it to describe me as I was sort of in the midst of my husband having stage four cancer, raising the baby that we had together, and trying to have a career, trying to live life as a somewhat normal 30-something-year-old woman.

And when I heard that, oh, you’re so resilient, I immediately thought, you are wrong, you are wrong. You’re wrong. That’s not me at all. And it felt like this standard I couldn’t live up to. And I had no idea why. Nobody ever says really anything of that nature to you when you’re going through something hard, with the intention of upsetting you. You’ve got to believe that in life, that most people are doing their best.

And what they were really saying is, I think you’re doing a good job. I did not feel like I was doing a good job. And to be incredibly pedantic, to be just achingly literal, I did go to Dictionary.com, I looked up the meaning of the word resilient, and it is to return to your original shape with some speed, right?

Your original shape. I don’t think that’s what we mean, right? I don’t think that’s what we mean. But I certainly was never going to go back to my original shape. And I was never going to go back to any sort of sense of OK-ness quickly. Not quickly at all.

And I think when we’ve said the word resilience before, it became sort of a social emotional buzzword, which it is. And that’s OK. I’m not denigrating it at all. That was a word that we used to apply to things like tires or goldfish, things that don’t need a lot of care, right?

They’re resilient. They can withstand a lot of abuse. People say that, oh, children are resilient. And yes. Yes, and. We all still need care. We all are still allowed to be changed by the things that we go through. And so to me, resilience is not about trying to get back to who you were.

There will not be a return to who I was when I was 27 years old, met my husband Aaron in a crowded art gallery, and he said — like in a movie, a crowd parted, and he said, You’re Nora McInerny, my three favorite words. I will never be her again, right?

And that’s OK. That’s OK. I am OK-ish now. I am a happy-ish person now. And my resilience, your resilience, our collective resilience, especially as we sort of are in the midst of still this huge — so many layered experiences that are sweeping the planet, our country, our neighborhoods right now. We’re not resilient because we went back to what we were before, but because we are learning actively how to exist in this new shape, in this new experience, in this new version, whatever it is.

Jamie Martin

And it’s changing.

Nora McInerny

And it’s changing still.

David Freeman

Constantly changing. But one thing within that definition that you actually said, the capacity to recover quickly. And it’s crazy to me in a sense, because it’s the perception of what people are seeing that now think that you’re back to being in this normal state. I’ve got air quotes for those who are listening.

What exactly does that look like? So when you ended up saying, redefining what resilience is and creating your own definition, because it’s different for every individual. How you recover or how you handle a situation can be totally different of how I handle it.

And I know prior to us jumping on, we were talking about it’s new to any and everyone, when you have some type of traumatic event. Nobody preps you for death or getting that news that somebody might have stage four cancer. Or in a recent event with my sister-in-law, having a stroke.

Like hearing that and how you now interpret it and what you do with it. Just because you might see a post on Facebook or Instagram, you’re associating this happy post that, oh, Dave is so resilient. He’s bounced back so quickly. So it’s crazy. In the world that we live in, we associate so much to what we see online.

Nora McInerny

Oh. And what we see online, what we see in person. I went back to work three days after my dad’s funeral. That’s what you do, right? Like, you do it. My dad had died. I thought like, OK, well, like, now what do I do?

I do all those same normal people things, because that is also how we participate in the world around us. The world does not stop because our world stops spinning. So I went to work. I remember sitting at my cubicle, looking at the crusty coffee cup I had left the last time I’d been there, and thinking, when I poured this coffee, my dad was alive. When I touched this pen, my dad was alive.

Like, I was sort of reentering like a stage set, but as a different version of myself. And that would have been not evident to anybody else in that giant office building with hundreds of people. I think maybe five or six people probably knew what had happened or what was going on.

To everybody else, I looked like I was there to work. Because I was, right? I was. And that was true. All of that was true. Like, I still showed up to work. I still did an amazing job. I still put on makeup and outfits and raised my hand in meetings and had ideas.

And it wasn’t the full truth. And we know so little about the full truth of anybody’s experience. And we also know so little about the full truth of ours, because we have historically taken so little time to sit with them. To sit with them. And I count myself in that number.

Do you think I wanted to sit around and think about like, wow, OK, everything in my life is going to be different now, because I’m going to raise this person who was only — I’m doing this. Like, he was not this big at two. He was like that big at two.

I’m going to erase this two-year-old forever without his dad. No. No. And we are learning not just every new experience, but who we are in these experiences. Like, David, I think about you and your wife getting that phone call. And all I see are like two people who are, oh, I don’t know, strong, capable, good looking.

I’m very shallow. Who are now totally out of their depth and doing something for the first time. Like, your wife has never done that. Her mom has never done that. You have never done this. And you are all experiencing this for the first time. And what do we like as people, especially high achieving people? To be good at things. Right? What did you want to do in that moment? You wanted to be the best of them.

Jamie Martin

We want to be the best. And the truth is, in many of those moments, we’re literally in almost a survival mode. Or we just go into like — we get through those initial hard moments, because that’s what you just have to do. And then you realize, that wasn’t my highest functioning self. But I did the basics, and that’s enough. Right?

Nora McInerny

That’s enough. That’s enough. That’s enough. And surviving is enough. And I know it doesn’t feel like that, because we have so many new ways to compare ourselves against other people, but also to compare ourselves to these aspirational versions of who we thought we could be or we should be.

And to me, resilience and moving forward — I do believe we don’t move on from things, that we move forward with them. Moving forward requires us to take the time to acknowledge the reality of where we are.

David Freeman

Yeah. Being OK with not being OK. And it kind of goes to the name of your podcast, Terrible, Thanks for Asking. So can you go a little bit deeper as far as how it’s OK not being OK? And we sometimes put up that front and say, oh, I’m doing fine.

I do it a lot. And like, I had this during the pandemic. It was a moment of me being able to reflect on, I give so much to so many different individuals, but I was lacking what I was doing for myself. And I had that mental breakdown. And everybody, once again, David, you’re good, you’re good. So I want to now go ahead and have that normalizing conversation speaking of how it’s OK not being OK.

Nora McInerny

Yeah. First of all, there is a time and a place for surface-level conversations. And especially when you are a person who is available to thousands of people at a time, like everybody on this call is, right? Not everybody deserves the truth about your emotional landscape.

More importantly, not everybody even in real life is a safe place for it. And I think it’s OK to make that discernment. When we talk about vulnerability or we talk about resilience and we talk about emotional honesty, not everybody deserves the truth. But some people do, and I called the podcast Terrible, Thanks for Asking, because it was aspirational.

Because in that year after Aaron died — and I’m sure I said it to both of you too, by the way, after that year. Both of you. In fact, David, I remember you sent me a text. I was like, pretty good. Like, just laying in bed alone, wondering what it all means. Pretty good. Thanks, bud.

Just, what? I could not get there myself. The first place to be not OK is honestly with yourself and the people who truly care about you. The people who rely on you. They do need to know the truth. They do need to know the truth.

Because every time you lie and you say you’re fine, you make it impossible for them to help. Everybody wants to show up. Everybody wants to show up. And the people who truly can and who you do rely on and you are in a real relationship with, they have to know the truth.

And in order to be safe places for each other, we have to practice this slowly, and we also have to practice it with some discernment. That is OK too. And so within my close relationships, within my friendships, within certain work relationships too, not everybody needs to know all of the details.

And it is OK, if we are in a relationship, for you to say, hey, are you in a space right now, David, for me to tell you something difficult? Are you in the space? Because it’s also OK if you’re not. And if you are, for me to think before I unload on you and say, what do I need from David right now? David’s a good listener. All I need to do is be able to tell him this thing, look into his eyes, and have him do that very reassuring nod. Right?

I just need to be validated by David for a minute. Or Jamie Martin is an incredible problem solver. What I need from her is to take this information I’m giving her, digest it, and give me her recommendations on a path forward.

And if they say no, they are not in the right place or they’re not in the right place to hear this, I am OK not having that need met by these people, and I will go somewhere else. And I will not hold it against them. Because when I am the receiver, when somebody needs to lean on me, I want that same grace, that same ability.

So I don’t advocate for — not everybody has to like — you don’t have to bleed out. You don’t have to bleed out for everybody. Your trauma, your suffering, your struggle is not content. It is not entertainment for other people. It is not something you owe them. But it can and should be an even exchange when you are in a relationship.

Jamie Martin

Absolutely. And what that requires — I mean, what you’re talking about is even you as that individual having an incredible amount of self-awareness and understanding of each relationship and the dynamic within them. And that’s sometimes really hard. It can feel like when you’re in a hard moment, like, I’m just going to spill everything to everybody, because everybody cares that this thing happened.

But not everybody, to your point, is in that place. So being aware enough to notice that is huge. That’s work in and of itself.

Nora McInerny

That’s a lot of work. And guess what, I would say that I have been a notorious just blah, like purger. And it’s so depleting. It’s so depleting. And then when you don’t get your unarticulated need met from a person — when you call a person and you don’t ask, right? You just start you just start going.

And you don’t get the response you wanted, because you weren’t clear about what you needed from them, and then it sets off an entire cycle of resentment too. So you’re lonelier. You’re more bummed out. And you’re further from feeling OK, because your main goal was just to get it out, not to sit with it and try to understand it.

And I also know that when you are in the throes of it, right? Like when things are just like at their worst, you don’t know what you need. And that’s OK to say to people too. And I wish I would have said that. I wish I would have said to people who wanted to help, I don’t know what I need. I don’t know what I need. Could you give me like two options? I can select two options. That’s the only critical thinking I can do right now. But I didn’t. I just couldn’t.

David Freeman

Yeah. One thing, it was something that you said that stood out to me, and it was the trauma piece. And I want to kind of speak to trauma. Because you said usually you’re going to share this with a close inner circle. And just with that experience from trauma and the past experiences that you might have had with individuals, I’m curious, and I want to ask this question.

If I now — let’s say you are one of those people that I want to share this information with. I’ve seen this happen too, that vulnerability that I now share with you, it has now been weaponized against me later. So I don’t know if you’ve experienced that.

But how do you recover from that? Because that’s not necessarily death or some troubling news. It’s something that you now allow somebody in, and now it’s weaponized against you. So how do you now get back to that place to ever want to share again?

Nora McInerny

Ooph. Ooph. Yeah. I mean, you learn. Right? You learn from that. And I have been burned by that. I’ve watched many other people be burned by that. And discernment takes time. Trust takes time. And we are not patient people, right?

And it is also — especially when I think we say like vulnerability, vulnerability, vulnerability. It doesn’t mean you owe everybody everything. It doesn’t. And a terrible thing about being a person in the world is that you will absolutely trust the wrong people.

You will. And people who are tragically imperfect, just infuriatingly wonderful and disappointing in equal measure will let you down. And the most magical thing about being a person is that you keep going, and someone else steps in, fills a void you never thought that they would fill, and they look nothing like you thought they would.

They appear out of nowhere. Or they were there all along, and they re-inflate. They reinvigorate that sense of OK-ness. And yeah, it’s a terrible thing. That’s a terrible thing. And it absolutely happens. You will not having 100% success rate in interpersonal relationships. It’s infuriating.

Jamie Martin

It’s sometimes just surprising who shows up in these unexpected ways or who doesn’t, to your point.

Nora McInerny

Right. Who knew that Jamie Martin and I, who worked in such different parts of the business, that there was almost no reason for us to overlap, would find this out about each other quietly on a phone call, and then build this relationship together, and that you would be a person that I know I could trust with this? And that I was so, so, so, and always will be, so honored that I have goosebumps, to be a person who could be trusted with your experience too.

Jamie Martin

Oh. Sorry. I’m going to probably get a little emotional, because we’re coming up on this hard part here for everybody. And it’s for stuff that you’ve gone through. And it really is, like when people show up out of the blue.

I will tell you, I have such an interesting memory of us when we were sitting at Highland Grill in St. Paul. And we were talking about our stuff. And then you stopped me. We were talking about the hard stuff. And you stopped me and you go, what makeup are you wearing? What is that skincare you’re wearing? I’m like, yes, this is exactly what I need right now.

Nora McInerny

You’re so pretty when you cry. Please tell me your secrets.

Jamie Martin

Oh, goodness. Wow. You know. You’re kind.

Nora McInerny

I get very blotchy. I get very blotchy, David. David’s seen my skin.

Jamie Martin

So I do think what’s interesting is people often think — we’re talking about loss and resilience and all these things. People often put a timeline on these things. You know, or they expect you to like — you’re supposed to grieve for this long. Or if you do something sooner than people expect, then there’s judgment or whatever. I love — like, you have done such a great job of opening people’s eyes, I think, to grief has no timeline.

Nora McInerny

Yeah. We just don’t see it. I truly think that we don’t see it in people. I lost my uncle, my mom’s little brother, in eighth grade. And you know, I never heard her talk about him. I never saw her cry about him. I guarantee you she was sad about her little brother.

And it’s been our very, very American way of dealing with hard things, to do it quickly and to, quote unquote, move on. That has never healed a person. And anybody who has been where you have been is not going to judge how you do it or what it looks like. And when I have judged other people, I can always trace that back to some insecurity, right?

My friend’s husband died before my husband did, and she was going on a date a few months later. And I remember getting off the phone with her and looking at my still-alive husband and saying like, she’s going on a date. And he was like, why are you judging her?

And I was like, well, because I love you so much. And he’s like, her experience — we’re projecting something about our experience onto something else. And what I was trying to communicate is like, oh, but I love you so much. What? I love you so much, I would never go on a date with someone after you die? Are you crazy?

Like, I had not been where she was. And when I was, I could not believe that I reacted that way — that I reacted that way. And it’s such a good exercise to, especially when you’re going through something difficult, keep your eyes on your own paper and to not ask people for input for things that they don’t know anything about. And not to ask people for approval.

And it doesn’t mean that the people around you can’t also be mirrors to tell you, this is what I’m observing in you. And also, they just might not get it. And that’s OK. That’s OK. And as much as possible, if you can, find a community of people who have been through anything close to what you’ve been through, to approximate a new sort of support system within this experience. I so recommend that. I so recommend that.

David Freeman

Experience. You said it a few times. Experience is going to be your best teacher. For you to go through something and go through that experience, now you can speak to it. But now you know how to respond. And you learned from it.

Not saying it’s always going to be the best response. But you learn from it. And that’s a big item that we definitely want to capitalize on. When we think of grief or we think of resilience and all these other fun words we’re throwing out there — we had the pandemic. We’re still kind of in a pandemic, right?

I think it’s more of a mental pandemic that we’re starting to put ourselves in. And we had a lot of social injustice as well over the years. We saw a lot of it last year. But it’s been around forever. I saw something that you did that stood out.

And you provided a platform for Black and Brown women. And I just want to know what sparked that in you. Because I feel like that’s always you. It didn’t take that event to happen. So tell me what your thought process was there to provide that platform.

Nora McInerny

I just don’t think that I’m that special ever. Like, I just don’t. And I think sometimes when you have — if you have a lot of people listening to you in whatever way — this is something that I’m continuing to learn — that doesn’t mean that you are the voice that people need to hear.

And so am I a person who can speak to the experience of being Black or Brown in America? No. Of course not. Of course not. So why don’t you use my Instagram account and talk about whatever you want? And by the way, it doesn’t just have to be your pain. OK?

You can talk about your business. You can talk about mentorship. You can talk about the Olympics. Like, you could talk about whatever it is that you are passionate about. And we get very caught up. We have a very myopic lens, even though social media does connect us to everybody. We are all looking at things through the lens of our own experience. So as much as you can widen that, especially as a person of many privileges, I should.

David Freeman

This was the word yesterday when I was reading with my son. He kept — he was talking about koalas and eucalyptus and what they eat. And then he came across this word, and it was adapting. And he said adapting. He sounded it out.

And over and over, he kept on saying, what does it mean? What does it mean? And we got to the glossary at the end, and it was talking about how to adjust in one’s environment. Something along those lines, right? And he was like, oh, OK.

So when I get upset in class, I need to be able to adapt. And I was like, what? Like, when he put that together, I was like, bingo. It was such a great — I mean, you just say adapt, and it brought me back to that moment.

Nora McInerny

Yes. I love that, David. And truly, the world thanks you for helping to raise a child, a boy, who can understand his feelings and articulate them. It’s like, I don’t need perfect kids. I’ve never met a perfect person, but I find them boring.

You know, I don’t want perfect kids. I don’t even want necessarily like smart kids. I want kids who understand themselves and try to understand other people. Like, I think if you can offer yourself like that kind of empathy that your son offered himself — which is saying like, oh, so when I feel this, I’m not a bad person. Right?

I’m not bad. I need to adapt. Like, I need something. Like a person who can identify their needs. Like, we are all, by the way, needy. And that’s OK. One of the worst things that we say about a person is like, oh, they’re doing this for attention. Oh, they’re needy.

Yeah. Weirdly, we all have needs. Weirdly, we all need attention. A plant needs attention, for the love of god. This dog who is scratching at the door, she needs attention. Like, why wouldn’t we? I love that, David. I love that. What a good little dude.

David Freeman

Yeah. He’s awesome. And we do play therapy with him as well. And the reason why we want to understand how to deal with a lot of these situations that might be going on. And they were talking about this, the cognitive function, as far as what’s still being developed in the prefrontal lobe.

And it was breaking it down. And when we say, why are you crying about that? Like, that’s not something you could cry about. Like, we were that at one point in time. And now, since we have developed it, we just assume you shouldn’t be crying about that. But we don’t know what that felt — well, we do when we were that age.

But now we can’t comprehend it, because it seems so simple. So just giving ourself or giving them grace and given us awareness to like, hey, it is something serious for them, just because it’s not serious to you. Like, it was great awareness.

Nora McInerny

And it’s such good awareness as a parent. Or even if you are not a parent, that you are a grown up, like remembering or trying your best to remember how it felt to be a kid, how people reacted to you. I was always told that you’re overreacting. And so I learned, like, oh, I can’t trust my feelings.

Like, I can’t trust my feelings. They’re too much. They’re too much. So it’s better to like not express them. And feelings that you don’t express, you just depress into yourself. Like, they go somewhere. And yes, we developed our prefrontal cortices. Good for us.

And somewhere inside of us still is a kid who didn’t get to cry because they got the wrong cup. And so we will flip out when we get the wrong drink at Starbucks. Because guess what, we wanted something. And we never learned how to deal with not having a need met.

And yeah, we all deserve to have our feelings validated. Even children, especially children. And if you didn’t get that, having the chance to try to offer yourself that same kind of unconditional love, and say to yourself, like, yeah, that wasn’t what you wanted. Like, that wasn’t what you wanted. I just think that’s so powerful. It’s so powerful.

David Freeman

Nora, I want to ask the question. I know you’re about to jump right in, Jamie. But it made me think, since we were talking about the kids. So you’ve experienced a lot of what you have at adult life, right? So when it comes to your children, and they now experience grief or death, what suggestions or what best practices would you share with us around that?

Nora McInerny

Yeah. So it’s been interesting, because I have had to learn all of this stuff as a parent and somebody’s child, right? Ralph and I lost our dads at the same time, that I was 31 and he was almost two. So very, very different.

And watching the child grow up sort of in grief truly — and there’s an excellent book that both of you have to read called It Didn’t Start With You. It’s so good. And a lot of it is about — David, you will love this, actually. It’s like so resonant.

But a lot of it is about epigenetics, and it’s about inherited trauma. And one of the scenes was like, oh, a woman carrying a baby in a war-torn country, right? She’s filled with cortisol. The baby is filled with cortisol. And all I could think was, oh, that was Ralph.

I conceived when Aaron had stage four brain cancer. He had a recurrence and another brain surgery two weeks before Ralph was born. I was gestating him in all of my stress. Weirdly, would you believe that I a stressed-out child?

I have a highly-anxious, deeply-feeling, stressed-out child. And grief for kids comes out in a lot of different ways, just like grief for adults. We think like adults grieve like in some dignified way, right? Like we cry at the appropriate times.

No. Like, David and Jamie knew me at my most absolutely unhinged. How did I grieve? Shopping. How did I grieve? Anger. Indiscriminate, burning, boiling anger that went everywhere. Everywhere. And kids do that too.

And Ralph is now eight, which means he is more aware than he was two. And he’s starting to realize what he lost. And so he lost his first tooth. And he sobbed. And he sobbed. And said like, oh, my dad can’t see this. Like, I want my dad to see this.

Does he have a dad, my current husband, who’s known him since he was three? Yeah. And he’s still allowed to be sad for what he doesn’t have. We are allowed all of these contradictory feelings. And watching a kid feel something will teach you a lot about your own feelings truly.

And it will also help you like go back and look at your parents differently, look at their parents differently. And all I could think of in my last therapy session was, wow, Ralph, my dad, myself, we all want the same things. We all hurt from the same things. And the only way to go through it is to let somebody go through it.

We came from — David’s a little bit younger than us. But helicopter parenting is basically a reaction to the negligence that many of us experienced in like the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s. Where it’s like, I don’t know about you, but I was riding my bike along an active train track.

Jamie Martin

Everywhere.

Nora McInerny

Picking up stuff and being like, yeah, this is a broken bottle. I think I’ll smash it somewhere. It’s just, did our parents ever know where we were? Like, not really. And so then the reaction to that was like, I’m going to know where my kids are all the time.

But this version of parenting that we are all — that trended also is sort of like — I think I heard it described as a snowplow parent, right? I will remove all these obstacles. I want my kids to have an easy life. I want them to have a good life. I want them to be happy.

And like, we can’t do that. We can’t do that. We have to let our kids struggle. And that doesn’t mean we just stand by like, oh, funny. You’re having a terrible time. No, no. But like, not everything — they also need to know not everything can be fixed, and that’s OK.

I don’t personally — I don’t make my kid do his homework. Like, I’ll suggest you do it. But also, I don’t have to tell your teacher, I didn’t do it. You didn’t do it. You can feel that natural consequence, right?

And hopefully, that also helps him realize cause and effect. Hopefully it also helps him realize some personal responsibility. You asked about grief, I don’t know how we got on this, other than I work alone at home. I’m just so lonely and happy to talk to you two. With all of this, isn’t this all — like, David, you learn so much from watching your kids go through this stuff.

Like, Ralph is emotionally — I was hoping he would be like Aaron. Aaron I don’t think even had a bad day in his life, including being diagnosed with cancer. He was like, well, what are you going to do? Ralph is like me. Like, the day he turned eight, he cried that he didn’t have enough time to be seven.

Like, I get it, dude. I get it. And I remember everything feeling too big all the time. And I just want him to know, like, yes. That is how you are. And a lot of people are. Most people have bigger feelings than they would tell you about. Most people feel overwhelmed at times and don’t know why they’re feeling what they’re feeling. And that’s OK. You’re not an alien.

Jamie Martin

So that actually brings us to community, and something you’ve over the years created in different ways. And some communities have come and some have gone. But you know, you’ve created safe spaces in different ways. How has that work been for you, and how do you take some of that on and how do you let some of it go?

Nora McInerny

Yeah. There is nothing as — the writer Laura McKowen, who you should talk to. She wrote this amazing book called We Are the Luckiest, the Surprising Magic of a Sober Life. And really, every element of that book applies to everything, David. It does. It’s not about drinking.

It’s about life. It’s so good. But Laura McKowen said that one person who understands your experience does for you what all the friends and family in the world who do not know that experience cannot. It is the cool glass of water in hell.

And this is where we talked about unexpected people showing up. When Aaron died, I did not want to — when he was sick, I didn’t join any support groups, right? Because I didn’t want my identity to be cancer. I didn’t want his identity to be cancer.

I did not want any part of it. I wanted our people to be our people. Not all of our people could be our people. Not all of our people could be our people. And when he died, not all of my friends could show up for me in the way that I needed them to, because their experience was just too different.

And some of those friendships ended. Some of them continued in new ways. But I met my friend Mo. Both of our husbands had died. I did not want to be friends with her. I did not want to be friends with her at all. OK? The only thing we had in common was that our husbands had died. And the ladies who were in our coffee shop were like, you have to be friends.

No. No. No, no, no. But I met her for coffee to get them off my back. And it was like going home. It truly was. I have remarried. For better or worse, Mo will be in my home for the rest of my life, no matter what.

It is just — and our husbands died in different ways. They were different people. And that shared experience of that kind of loss — we both had really little boys. It just pulled us together. And I truly think that is what saved me.

And so it doesn’t have to be anything formal. It doesn’t have to be anything big. You do not also have to make anything your identity forever. You know? You get to choose. And by that I mean certain identities, yes.

But also, you get to decide what part of you you lead with. Like, you get that decision. So not always when I introduce people do I say like, hi, I’m Nora, my husband died. Sometimes I do. Sometimes it feels like very, very important to me, even though I am remarried.

You know? And I think having a group of people or a friend — one person who can get what you are going through — it’s just huge. And the one thing I think that the internet has going for it is it makes that easier. It makes that easier.

And I’ve watched people form true friendships, listening to the podcast, in the comments being like, I went through this thing too. Can I message you? Yes, because we all believe, by the way, that — we’re so sure that the thing that happened to us is the thing that sets us apart. It sets us apart from our friends. It sets us apart from our family. It sets us apart from the world.

I promise you that whatever you’ve gone through is what makes you a part of the world. It makes you a part of the world. Jamie and I, we did not go through the same thing. We found each other, and we were like, you are a person who understands that there has been a tear in the universe. Something horrible has happened. Things are different. And yet we are both simultaneously living in these two different worlds. How? How? And also, what makeup are you wearing?

Jamie Martin

Yeah.

David Freeman

Why do you cry so pretty?

Nora McInerny

Yeah. Why do you do that? Yeah. And it’s like, I don’t know. There was something about like — there’s something about David too. Like, where we we’re like, what are you — who are — like, what’s your thing? Right?

But it doesn’t come out right away. Like, I don’t even know if David knew that my husband was sick until after he died. And was like, wait, what happened? And I was literally texting you, don’t worry, dude. I’m good.

Jamie Martin

It’s what you had to do at the time.

Nora McInerny

As such, I was not good. I was not good. Yeah.

Jamie Martin

Right. Oh.

I feel like the light of individuals are drawn to one another. And light attracts light, for sure. And you kind of hit on it as well, as far as never to dim your light to make somebody else feel comfortable. And I have a saying as far as don’t discount yourself to make somebody else feel full price.

So I’m big on that. And I feel like any and everybody usually — sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s bad. I will admit that. But people come into your life for a reason, whether it’s a season or for the rest of your life. It’s for a reason. And you’re supposed to take that experience, learn from it, grow from it, and then give the world back to what — the reciprocity of life. Give the world back what it is that you received. So I’m right there with you on that.

Nora McInerny

Yeah. Yeah.

Jamie Martin

Exactly.

Nora McInerny

I love you guys. You’re so good at this. You’re so good at this. You’re so good at this.

Jamie Martin

You’re so kind. Well, OK. So what’s next for you? What are you working on right now? I know you’re speaking. Anything else exciting going on?

Nora McInerny

I’m working on a book that’s going to come out next July. And I’m making a podcast and pitching some TV shows and just making things. Just making things that are interesting to me and trying to keep my husband a stay at home dad. Because I don’t want to do any laundry. And it’s a specialty.

Jamie Martin

If that’s one thing I could outsource. If we could outsource the laundry, man, that would be great.

Nora McInerny

If you move to Arizona, Matthew will do it. It’s his passion. It is his passion. I spill every meal. And he’s like, I got it. I know. I got that. I got that. He’s like, is it barbecue sauce? I know exactly what to do. He just loves it.

So yeah. And I’m also just trying to enjoy where I am and not be too hyper-focused on the future, which is not my default state. My default state is like, how can I continue to prove that I belong here? And instead, I’m trying to just enjoy the fact that I do belong here, like we all do.

Jamie Martin

And it’s unique to each of us. Go ahead, David.

David Freeman

No, I like that. It comes from Giannas as far as from the Bucks. He actually said it was one of the greatest quotes. And I love it. I absolutely love it. He was talking about how the ego is the past, how the future is your pride, and he said right now, just be present. And that’s humility. And for you to be aware of that is so key.

So a lot of times, we’ll look at all these different things that I’ve done. This is why you should give me this, right? And then I’m focused so much on the next move, I’m not even present in what’s going on around me. So I mean, that’s just dope that you have that awareness. And I hope people listening heard that loud and clear.

Nora McInerny

I’m trying to live in that awareness. It’s hard. I don’t all the time. And yeah, it’s like — and when you look at the stuff behind you on the wall, or like — I mean, I don’t really have anything that — like, look at this weird dinosaur. When you look back, it’s like, did I even enjoy any of it? Did I even appreciate it?

And it’s like, I truly — as much as possible, even if you have to go back to high school, even if you have to go back to like third grade, try to go and feel proud for something you’ve already done before you try to push yourself into something else.

David Freeman

You know what time it is right now, right? Not literally.

Nora McInerny

About 10:59, 11:00. Yeah.

David Freeman

Right. It’s about to be the hot seat questions.

Nora McInerny

Oh god, OK. Alright.

David Freeman

Alright. Coming at you. You ready?

Nora McInerny

OK.

David Freeman

Try to answer in less than 10 seconds. And if it takes longer than 10, I’m here for it. Alright, here we go. What would you do if you won the lottery today?

Nora McInerny

Oh my god, I would put all of the money in the bank, because I’m very afraid of winning the lottery. It’s like my number one fear. Every lottery winner is cursed. And I wouldn’t tell anybody. I wouldn’t tell anybody. I don’t even know if I would tell my husband. I wouldn’t even tell my husband. And then I would quietly send out checks to people, made out to cash. I would just quietly send them checks anonymously. And I would just put it all in the bank, let it grow, and then just start making people’s lives.

David Freeman

Look at you. Look at you. Alright, money in the bank. Alright. If you could have dinner with any person who ever lived, who would it be and why?

Nora McInerny

Oh, god. Honestly, I would probably say — my first instinct, and this I think is a symptom of the pandemic, myself. I want to eat alone. I want to sit at a restaurant next to three first dates and observe them.

David Freeman

People watch.

Nora McInerny

That’s what I want to do. That’s what I want to do. But also, Pema Chodron. Pema Chodron, because she is a Buddhist nun, and she’s also petty. And that’s why I love her, because she acknowledges all the pettiness in our hearts. Yeah.

David Freeman

I love it. Alright, here we go. Favorite song of all time.

Nora McInerny

Oh god. Oh, oh, oh, oh, of all time. Of all time.

Jamie Martin

Hard one.

Nora McInerny

It really is. All of the sudden, I can’t remember any single song. But it would have to be on the George Harrison All Things Must Pass album. Or yesterday, I revisited Boyz II Men, and I realized that two songs — “On Bended Knee” and “Water Runs Dry” are the perfect breakup songs. And they set me up in middle school when these came out, when I had not even kissed a person, I was like, I can’t wait to get my heart broken. Destroy me. I was like, I cannot wait. OK? I cannot wait.

Jamie Martin

You just jumped back to middle school dances right there. I was like, oh, I just was in the gym.

Nora McInerny

Also, they’re musically perfect. They’re musically perfect songs. They really are. They really are. And shockingly playing this for my husband. I was like, how do I still know every run, like every ad lib?

David Freeman

As you should. As you should.

Nora McInerny

As you should. As you should. Yes.

David Freeman

Right there in the desert, the white sand, white clothes, yes I love it. I love it.

Nora McInerny

Yes.

David Freeman

Alright, here we go. We’re going to follow up very quickly right behind. We went from music. Favorite movie of all time. What you got?

Nora McInerny

Oh my goodness. I like dumb movies only. However, every dumb movie that I enjoy is now problematic, which is a problem for many reasons. For many reasons.

David Freeman

You got to let us know.

Nora McInerny

You know, it’s like — but I have to say it’s probably — a movie that I can just watch a million times is probably — oh my god. Oh my god. Really, any Nancy Meyers movie or Nora Ephron movie is pretty perfect.

David Freeman

Uh-huh.

Nora McInerny

But if I can only watch one movie, I think it would be Tommy Boy.

David Freeman

Tommy Boy.

Jamie Martin

You know what?

David Freeman

Fat guy in a little coat.

Nora McInerny

Little coat.

Jamie Martin

My karaoke song is in that movie.

Nora McInerny

Just so good. It’s so good.

David Freeman

Alright, Alright. Most embarrassing moment ever.

Nora McInerny

Oh, there’s just too many. There’s too many. I could replay every dumb thing I’ve ever said to anybody. I catalog it in my brain. But freshman year, braces, bangs. Horrible, just horrible year. Just fell down the stairs in the gym with my backpack unzipped.

It opened. All the stuff rolled everywhere. And the baseball team was practicing. And the baseball team was like, see her? She don’t play for us, and she sucks. In front of everyone. And she sucks. She sucks. I was like, I just felt.

David Freeman

Right. Alright, last one. Here we go. The legacy that Nora wants to leave this world with.

Nora McInerny

Oh, god. To appreciate yourself for who you are. To you appreciate yourself for who you are. For who you are. Yeah.

Jamie Martin

I love it. Alright, Nora.

Nora McInerny

Alright, thank you. You guys are the best. I love you.

Jamie Martin

Thank you so much.

Nora McInerny

You’re so good at this. Alright, bye.

[MUSIC]

David Freeman

Thanks for joining us for this episode. As always, we’d love to hear your thoughts on our conversation today, and how you approach this aspect of healthy living in your own life. What works for you? Where do you run into challenges? Where do you need help?

Jamie Martin

And if you have topics for future episodes, you can share those with us, too. Email us at lttalks@lt.life, or reach out to us on Instagram, @lifetime.life@jamiemartinel, or @freezy30, and use the hashtag #LifeTimeTalks. You can also learn more about the podcast at el.lifetime.life/podcasts.

David Freeman

And if you’re enjoying Life Time Talks, please subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, or wherever you get your podcasts. Feel free to rate and review, and share on your social channels too.

Jamie Martin

Thanks for listening. We’ll talk to you next time on Life Time Talks.

Life Time Talks is a production of Life Time, healthy way of life. It’s produced by Molly Schelper, with audio engineering by Peter Perkins, and video production by Kevin Dixon, Coy Larson, and the team at LT Motion. A big thank you to the team who pulls together each episode, and everyone who provided feedback.

We’d Love to Hear From You

Have thoughts you’d like to share or topic ideas for future episodes? Email us at lttalks@lt.life.

The information in this podcast is intended to provide broad understanding and knowledge of healthcare topics. This information is for educational purposes only and should not be considered complete and should not be used in place of advice from your physician or healthcare provider. We recommend you consult your physician or healthcare professional before beginning or altering your personal exercise, diet or supplementation program.

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