Heather’s SHINE Story: The power of paying attention

These days, the simple things are what matter most to Heather Ansell. The truly simple things—colors, shapes, textures. The way dewdrops gather at the edge of a leaf, that flower petal that’s not-quite-pink and not-quite-purple, a feather resting on the ground.

Heather has not always been so attuned to the natural world. Just a few years ago, she was focused on meeting the demands of a full-time career job that left little time or energy for self-care. “I was making a lot of money,” says Heather, “and at that time it was more important to me than my own health.” Despite professional success, Heather faced significant personal challenges. She was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and spent three years trying to find answers to the chronic pain that was affecting her daily life. Her mental health was suffering, too. She had panic attacks, didn’t go out with friends, and would wait in the car while her husband went into the grocery store to shop by himself.

Heather knew that something needed to change. In addition to tests and treatments for her physical condition, Heather began to see a trauma therapist who helped her realize how she was “stuck” in patterns of victimization that stemmed from the sexual abuse she experienced as a child. Once Heather identified how those patterns were present in her adult relationships—including at her workplace—she made the decision to quit her job. “It took me three years to realize I needed to literally walk away from my job,” says Heather.

I have an appreciation now for the smallest, weirdest things.

Just six months later, Heather is doing so much better. “My mental health is no longer in a constant state of fight-or-flight mode,” she says. Heather found a new job and now works from home as a marketing specialist for a local tree company. Learning about trees has helped Heather pay more attention to herself: “they have circulatory systems, just like we do!” she laughs. Understanding how she’s connected to everything around her—just like a tree—Heather has become interested in the world that often goes unnoticed. “I have this appreciation now for the smallest, weirdest things,” she explains. “Like a mushroom. I look at a mushroom and it amazes me—do people have any idea what that mushroom had to go through to get here right now?

Heather’s healing journey looks a lot like that mushroom coming up from below ground. “It’s like I’ve found life from my death,” she suggests. “For a long time I felt worthless because that’s how people treated my body and my mind. But now I do things for myself. I have goals. I actually want to go out and be with friends.”

At the end of the day you have to know you’re worth fighting for.

There are still bad days, but Heather is kinder to herself now. Physically, she is learning to live with fibromyalgia and accept when she feels low-energy; she no longer pushes herself to the breaking point. She’s doing better mentally and emotionally, as well. “A lot of it is coming to self-acceptance,” says Heather. “I can’t express enough how important it is that you love yourself more than anyone else—and I don’t mean that in a narcissistic way. At the end of the day you have to know you’re worth fighting for.”

Another way that Heather pays more attention to herself—learning and reflecting—is by writing poetry. It’s no surprise that nature themes surface throughout Heather’s poems, and provide a way for Heather to process her feelings and reactions to trauma as part of the healing journey. Read a recent poem titled “Sparrows” on Heather’s blog, which features writings on mental health, trauma, and healing.

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