2012 was a very bad year for Suzanne Falter. The business she’d thrown herself into, working sixty hours a week, had just closed due to burn out. At the same time, she lost her relationship and the home that came with it. Then three months later her 22-year-old daughter Teal suddenly died.
Suzanne took two years off to grieve and recover. And she vowed to become a healthier, more balanced person like her daughter once was. Slowly she rebuilt her life around self-care, using many of the ideas Teal left behind in her journals. Today she is an author and speaker on the topic, with a new book out, Self-Care for Extremely Busy Women. Below is a Q&A with her.
1. Tell us a little about Teal and how she died
Teal was a complete and total free spirit. She was an accomplished blues singer, and joyfully traveled the world playing her guitar and singing on the street. She was the opposite of me … she was compassionate, generous, and completely unambitious. In fact, her dream was to become a healer. Her highest value was always love. Her friends called her ‘Kwan Yin’ after the Goddess of Compassion.
Teal was also an epileptic, and though her condition was well controlled by drugs, her death may have been caused by SUDEP. Sudden Unexpected Death in Epilepsy is a little know, rare event that effects 1 in 1000 epileptics. Since she collapsed alone in a locked bathroom, it will never be known if she suffered a seizure. Her heart was revived after she was found, though she never regained consciousness. We took her off of life support six days later, and donated her organs and tissues.
The winter before her death, Teal told me, “Mom, something really big is going to happen to me in about six months that will put me on my healing path.” And here we are.
2. Describe your life at the time of her death?
I was totally, completely driven to make money. That was my highest priority. And I didn’t mind stepping on some people to get there … so obviously I had a lot to learn from Teal. But at the time, I didn’t pay much attention to her or her ethereal wisdom. She used to say to me, “Mom, just be.” I had absolutely no idea what she was talking about.
3. Explain how you were impacted by your daughter’s death … and what did this have to do with self-care?
I walked into her room in the ICU that first night and awareness hit me hard. I saw that she would die, and that I would carry on her dream of being a healer. But first I was seriously going to have to clean up my act.
The first thing I did was to get support in the form of various groups. This was especially hard for me, because I wasn’t one to admit I needed any help. Slowly, gradually, as I grieved, I began to let go and tell the truth about all the things that didn’t work in my life. And one of my biggest areas of neglect was self-care.
I also read Teal’s journals during this time, which were filled with beautiful phrases she’d heard in her meditations, like this one. “Negative thoughts are your body’s way of telling you that you are neglecting it.” She’d told me about this journal before she died, but at the time I didn’t pay much attention. But I was listening now.
4. What was the biggest self-care lesson you learned at this time?
My biggest lesson was around letting go of perfectionism. I had to really see how I had burned myself out by over-producing all the time. Good enough is just that — good enough. No more than that is actually necessary. Once I really got this, I relaxed immeasurably and life improved.
I also learned pretty early on that I am always a work in progress – so I don’t have to be ‘on’ all the time, nor do I have to constantly achieve. Once I understood this, I immediately had more time for self-care.
Most of all, I discovered I deserve great self-care – just as we all do. For this is what allows you to share yourself fully with the world.
5. You took two years off from work to grieve, learn and regroup … how did you accomplish this?
At the time, I had ample savings for just such an emergency. Then, the Universe intervened as funds were getting low. A relative died and left me a small inheritance. The entire time I kept my expenses extremely low. I lived with a friend for free, in exchange for some cooking and pet care. I dramatically reduced my expenses, and focused my days on self-care. Turns out the very best self-care, like walks in nature, meditation, beautiful sunsets and time spent with loving friends and family, doesn’t cost a thing.
6. How can listeners and readers create more self-care in their own life?
Begin with one simple question: What do I need right now? Sometimes the answer is obvious, but for many of us, we have no idea what we need. We’ve been so busy dealing with everyone else’s needs, we forgot we have any of our own. That’s when journaling on this question can be useful. You can also make it something to think about while you take a walk with yourself. Researchers have found walking in nature to be as restorative as meditation.
7. What is habit stacking?
This is one of my favorite tools for extremely busy women. When you habit stack, you simply choose several self-care practices, turn them into habits and do them one after another at a regular time of day. An example might be in the morning, after you shower, to stretch for ten minutes. Then do some breathing exercises, or journal for five minutes about what’s on your mind. Or both! You’ve just spent 15 to 25 minutes focusing on you … We’ve all got time for that. Even if it means getting up fifteen minutes earlier each day – or doing this at night before bed.
Getting your healthy habits done together makes it happen. And tuning in to body and soul like this helps you return to yourself. That gets the wheels turning on setting better boundaries, so we can get more of our needs met.
8. What do you say to women who insist they are too busy taking care of everyone else?
In a survey I conducted among 200 busy women, this was the number one reason for poor self-care. But here’s the thing. This thought is an illusion, even if it doesn’t seem like it. For there is always someone else who can help when you can’t. If you were to get sick, for instance, who would step in for you?
Often we don’t line up back up reserves of help because we hate to admit someone else can do the job as well as we can. Or we don’t want to set a limit with, say, a needy parent or a child who misses her mom. Our big hearts can get us into trouble, however, when things get so out of balance we neglect ourselves. And in the end that helps no one – least of all, us.
9. How do you spread Teal’s healing work in the world today?
One of the really fun things I do is give speeches about my experience donating Teal’s organs and tissues. Because I get to do this with Debi Wobbe, whose daughter received Teal’s heart and one of her kidneys. Debi tells the most incredible story of how she took care of her daughter from ages 19 to 27. Her daughter had congestive heart failure and almost died three times … but Debi hung in there, refusing to give up. When Teal died, both of their lives were changed right along with mine. The two of us moms tell this story to audiences in health care or transplantation around the country, and a whole lot of healing goes on. This is just the kind of compassionate message that Teal lived every day of her life. I’m so proud to be part of it!
10. How can listeners find you and learn more about how to get on the path to greater self-care?
I wrote my book, Self-Care for Extremely Busy Women, as a way to share this healing process, step by step. Teal’s journal quotes are scattered throughout the book along with worksheets inspired by the questions I’ve asked myself as I journaled. It’s a good way to dig in, I think. I also have a podcast by the same name in which I interview self-care pundits. And I lead a Facebook group that’s really wonderful, called The Self-Care Group for Extremely Busy Women. Anyone can join … just reach out on Facebook. All of this work is just about spreading the love and healing. Because we don’t have to spend the rest of our lives in burn out and overwhelm … no, not all. Self-care really is about following the road back to YOU.
About the Author
After losing her daughter Teal in 2012, Suzanne Falter discovered the healing power of self-care. She now hosts The Self Care Soother Podcast and is the author of The Extremely Busy Woman’s Guide to Self-Care. She speaks nationally on the healing power of crisis, and the importance of self-care.