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  • Writer's pictureDawn Neufeld

On the Eve of My 42nd Birthday

I'm about to get real. And transparent. Even vulnerable. So here it goes...

My dad died when I was 9. At 43, he had a massive heart attack. He was here one moment... gone the next. Having experienced such a loss at a young age, I've always approached aging as if it's a gift. I'll be 42 tomorrow, just a year younger than my dad was when he died. BOTH of my kids are older than I was when I lost a parent. So no, I'm not sad I'm gaining another year even though my daughter gets a kick out of asking me what life was like in the, "olden days." Every single day I get to experience this extraordinary life is a gift.

I've had so many incredible moments in my life. I've lived the life of a football wife and also got to play one on TV (I promise you "Football Wives" was a thing - it's on iTunes). I've experienced an almost 20-year marriage and the miracle of having two incredibly perfect children. If someone asked me about what my dream job would be, I'd say, "Work on an ensemble morning talk show like "The View." I did that. I graduated law school and took two bar exams, both of which I passed on the first try. I've walked across beauty pageant stages and red carpets. I've traveled to foreign countries. Like I said... this life has been extraordinary and I don't take it for granted.

But it hasn't always been easy or without pain.

When I was on reality television, I experienced hardcore cyberbullying for the time. Someone one said to me on Twitter that my son's autism was my karma for being a bitch. When I hosted my morning talk show "The Broadcast," it became so stressful at times that some days I didn't want to go to work. One day five minutes before we went live on the air, I was in the bathroom wiping away tears after another conflict with a difficult co-host. I wanted to quit. Our show was eventually cancelled a week after my beloved granny died. The following year, two of our pets died within a month of each other. One of cancer, one of old age. And I had gotten sick - really sick. I spent the evening in the ER one evening because I thought I was having a stroke. It ended up being a bad migraine (I was up early the next morning to attend a press junket for a big movie). And my poor body started attacking itself - I've been on a debilitating thyroid rollercoaster for about 4 years now.

Like many marriages, Ryan and I have had our ups and downs. He's had to deal with the transition out of football and the long-term toll the sport he loved so much has taken on him. He's in denial about it at times. So I worry. And Will's autism is just hard. There are so many amazing moments with that kid and things have gotten easier in some ways as he's grown into a teenager. But I worry about his future. It overwhelms me at times.

I've learned over the years that my coping mechanism is get busy. When life gets tough, I sign up for Habitat for Humanity builds. I take 2 or 3 jobs so I can stay busy. I gave up my time to host charity events because I loved being able to use my platform to help others. What I didn't realize at the time was that I was totally ignoring my needs. And I was in trouble.

After the Broadcast ended, I just never got back on my feet. And that was what, like, 3 years ago? And I still haven't figured everything out. I've had two major surgeries in 2 years - a hysterectomy and an appendectomy. I missed my family. I missed my happy, mellow husband (I am sure he has CTE - depression is one of the symptoms). Then there were politics - I'll just leave it at that. I realized that I was feeling a bit down... more than ever before. I've experienced sadness and grief. What I was feeling was different. I decided to just stay in bed. Like, all day. For weeks. I didn't have the energy to face my world and all of its problems. So I just stayed in the bed willing up an ounce of hope but the well was dry.

One day I was coming back from an audition and I was stuck in traffic. The traffic was horrible. At one point I saw a pole on a median and thought that it would be really easy to just end it all. I'll just floor the gas and run into that pole. Almost instantly, my hopelessness became fear and I realized I needed to get some help. Within 24 hours I met with my OBGYN and we talked about depression. I left her office with a prescription for an antidepressant that helped me get joy back into my life. Within a week, I meet with a therapist. She and I now meet on an "as needed" basis when I start feeling about overwhelmed.

Then there was the Goddess Retreat I attended last year that changed my life. The timing was perfect - it was right after my mini-breakdown and knowing I needed to figure out what the fell was going on with me. On the first night we meditated. We went around the room and shared what we were thinking about during the quiet. When it was my turn to share, I told the ladies that I spent the 10 minutes trying not to fart because I had gas and that I wasn't doing a whole lot of meditating. I went to bed thinking the weekend was going to be a dud.

The next morning during meditation something unexplainable came over me. As I listened to the guided meditation I began to cry. I tried to fight the tears but they flowed and wouldn't stop. Something clicked and it was the beginning of my wellness journey.

You see... I changed that weekend. I understand why it was important to meditate or just have a little bit of quiet every day. Intentions, game plans, even life seems to become clear in those moments of quiet. So now I have them as often as I need them.

So it's taken my 42 years to figure some things out, but here's what I know...

Self-care is everything. Meditating, massages, reading, taking solo trips, regular doctors visits, seeing a therapist. There are so many things I can do to make sure I'm taking care of me. I realized that I am an empath... I will take on everyone else's feelings. So I have to make sure my tank is full before I can take care of everyone else.

Depression is a bitch. And it happens to the best of us. It's okay to get help.

Laugh... all the time.

Live in the moment. Right here. Right now. Take in the fresh air. Stop and smell the roses. Notice the beauty in everything. Just breathe. It's so much more productive that living in a world of "what-ifs."

I've finally learned to say, "NO!" I'm still working on this one, but I've found establishing boundaries and learning to say know have drastically changed my life. When making a decision I usually ask, "Will I regret this if I don't do it?" If the answer is no, then it's a hell no.

But an important counterpoint to that is to live with a spirit of "yes" because if we're saying "no" all the time, we're missing out on living a lot of good life. And honestly, "no" makes it easy to self-isolate and get back into my 'stay-in-bed" mode so I have to be careful to find balance.

So forget what people think (you'll always have haters). Trust your intuition like your life depends on it. Take care of you before you take care of everyone else. And when things really get tough, trust God and his plan. This is my happy place with it's joy, and it's hope, and it's happiness. I'm in a really, really good place.

It's not easy to always know the exact moment when your life starts to change. Mine was on a yoga mat during meditation at a Goddess Retreat.

Can't wait to see what the next 42 years will teach me.

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