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metamorphosis

Change flipping sucks.

I recently took the leap towards moving into a place of my own. During college I lived with my parents and then after I graduated I moved in with some family friends here in Naples. The opportunity arose to live with a close friend in an apartment and although I was hesitant given that it meant change, I took her up on the offer.

I remember a lot of my childhood, but I mostly remember the changes. My parents divorce, moves, my parents finding significant others, re-marrying, Cooper’s cancer diagnosis, and all the up’s and down’s that went with that. Every time something in my little world would change I would freeze up internally. I’d stay snug inside my cocoon, avoiding any chance of me becoming a butterfly. I had no desire to change, I just got comfortable as a caterpillar, why would I want to move on from that? For awhile I got away with avoiding the change or pushing the change away from me. But as we got thrown into a cancer diagnosis, change does not wait for you. Within 5 minutes of finding out Cooper had cancer, my mom and him were packing their bags to head to their new home, a hospital. Overnight my home went from a family of 6 to a family of 6 spread out between 3 homes. I didn’t get to accept the change, it was happening regardless.

I know that my experience of watching Cooper having cancer and holding him as he died was my metamorphosis phase, leading me into becoming a butterfly. But I’m pretty convinced we never leave the metamorphosis phase, because shortly after his death I’d crawl back into my cocoon hiding, but growing, from becoming a victim of a mass shooting. Maybe in some parts of our lives we are thriving, flying high and beautiful like the butterfly. Yet in other parts we are still in our cocoon’s not quite ready to reveal what change has does to us yet.

I am currently tucked away in my cocoon. Changing and growing. Some of the change I enjoy, and other parts are difficult. But nevertheless, I persist. Grief has taught me you don’t get to just stop life, it keeps going with or without you. That’s your choice, whether to continue on or not. Cooper taught me to always keep going, no matter what “cancer” your currently battling. He fought till the day he laid his hand in mine, and I’ll fight until the day I grab his hand in Heaven.

Maybe you need to hear how courageous it is to keep going. To get up every day when it’s hard to just be. As someone who’s been in the ring with death and in the ring with depression, I’ll tell you mental health is a harder battle to fight. It’s relentless, it never gives in, it persists even on the good days. So for you to get up, for you to make it through another day with all that is going on in that mind of yours- that is courageous. On the days when you’re still tucked in the cocoon, away from others, waiting to bloom- those are the days you’re the most courageous, those are the days that are preparing you to become a butterfly. So push yourself through the metamorphosis towards the day you’re to fly, because that’s what butterflies were meant to do, fly. And you my dear, that’s what you were meant to do, fly.

The sun will rise again.

Love your Internet bestie,

Kass

Love yourself first

Love yourself first.
Above all, love yourself.
Even through insecurities, love yourself first.

I’ve struggled with acne for as long as I can remember. Besides the painful bumps that erupt on your face, the mental battle that acne brings is agonizing. Acne is a physical condition, but creates an emotional toll beyond words. It questions your worth, your ability to be loved. It makes you wonder why you’re on earth, if only to look so hideous behind something so beautiful.

I’ve grown to accept that some people battle acne, while others battle their weight, and others battle their relationship with food. All of us are fighting our own self worth battles. Just trying to make it to the other side unscathed from our own worst enemy, ourselves.

Learning to love yourself is the only way out of the vicious cycle of self hate. Love drives out hate. You have to learn to fill your mind with love instead of the destructive thoughts that come with insecurities. You have to drown yourself with love to empty out the hate. And believe me, it’s not going to be easy, loving yourself first never is.

When I am really struggling with my acne or mental health, my therapist always tells me to start simple. Don’t go all in to the personal development podcasts, books, videos. Why not just try to drink one glass of water? That is more beneficial to your body that overwhelming yourself with words your brain can’t take in that moment.

So lets love ourselves in the simple ways. Lets do the little things that add up to loving ourselves well.

Lets…
Drink some water.
SLEEP, maybe even take a nap.
Remember to eat throughout the day.
Take a shower, sometimes if you don’t have the energy to wash- just rinse. Just lay under the water and let it fall onto your silky skin.
Brush those teeth. You deserve a clean, beautiful smile.
Write three things your grateful for, no more, no less. Just three.

By loving yourself first you’ll be able to love your people better. Your cup has to be full before you can attempt to fill someone else’s. I’ve learned this the hard way over and over again.

Love yourself first, then love and be loved.

The sun will rise again.

Love your Internet bestie,

Kass

Naples Illustrated Magazine

Gracious & Grateful is honored to have been apart of the September 2020 Issue of Naples Illustrated Magazine. “Meet our 5 under 35 who are making a difference with hard work and Naples love.”

As a Naples local this is a great honor! I am so grateful to have been chosen for this issue of Naples Illustrated. I want nothing more than to be a light for everyone around me. My world has been dark, but there were always people lighting the way for me. People through my brother’s cancer diagnosis and people through the Vegas shooting. I would have never made it this far without my lights, I am grateful for each and every one of you. You are why I am who I am today. Grateful is an understatement.

Gracious & Grateful is meant to be a space of light, that’s why our logo is the sun. When you read the words I write I want you to feel love, hope, and feel inspired to give light throughout your day. To be the sun in a dark world. To remember your light never dims. I am honored God gave me this mission and not a day goes by that I don’t thank him for Gracious & Grateful.

I would like to take a second to recognize the brilliant minds behind the Naples Illustrated September 2020 Issue. Christina Cush, Editor in Chief of Naples Illustrated Magazine. Thank you for believing in my mission and writing the most beautiful, poised article about my life and personal work.
To Michael Caronchi of Caronchi Photography, the photographer behind the September 2020 Issue of Naples Illustrated, thank you for making me feel beautiful while hyping me up behind the camera. Your talent is endless and I hope to work with you again in the future, thank you for your time and energy. A big thank you to all who worked behind the scenes of the 2020 September Issue of Naples Illustrated Magazine, I am eternally grateful for your hard work!

The last thank you goes out to all of you, my Gracious & Grateful readers and subscribers. You have made this blog what it is and for that I am GRATEFUL. You’re support means the world and keeps me going. I will never be able to thank you enough for loving on me and my blog.

Remember, the sun will rise again.

Love your Internet bestie,

Kass

It’s not personal

Do you ever catch yourself reacting to something in a not so lovely way? Specifically something someone has said to you? Suddenly your chest is tight, you feel inferior, and the world is ending. All over something you’re probably taking to personally.

Yep, I went there.
99% of the time we are taking things too personal and in return reacting negatively.

Lately when I start to notice myself reacting negatively to something someone has said to me or texted me, I do my best to stop myself and ask one question. Am I taking this personally? The answer is almost always yes, and from there I evaluate if it is actually personal.
Is what they said really about me? Or am I making it about me?

Humans are selfish beings. We are constantly focused on keeping ourselves alive, and it’s necessary, without putting our oxygen mask on first we would never get the opportunity to save the person next to us. But because we are selfish we tend to forget that not everything is about us. Other people’s intentions are not always to go against us and make us feel bad. Most of the time we are just reading the message wrong, or taking it the way we hear the message– not the way the person meant it to be.

It’s not personal.
Whatever the text said that you are looming over like its the last day on earth- it’s not personal.
Whatever your boss told you that disrupted your day- it’s not personal.
Whatever you thought your best friend meant by saying your butt looked fat in those jeans- eh, that might be personal but bottom line she may be just as insecure about her butt in her own jeans!
It’s not personal.
Stop taking everything so personal.

And while I’m on my soap box- stop assuming everyone is against you!
Friends, don’t you believe in humanity? That maybe a small percentage of people on this earth are actually FOR you and not against you?
From now on, I’m going to assume every single person I interact with is on my side. They like me, they think I am the most awesome person on the planet. And until they tell me otherwise- they love me.

How would it change the current state of our world if we believed other people liked us? How often, especially as women, do we immediately assume someone hates us? Be it a fellow girl or the guy at work we have a crush on but continue to say something like, “He’ll probably never like me.” GIRLFRIEND, what if he already does? You’re not even giving him the benefit of the doubt because you’re so consumed with the fact you think people don’t like you.
Get off your high horse.
People like you but you don’t give them the chance to.

Friends, it’s not personal and not everyone is against you.
Start to ask yourself when you react, am I taking this personally?
If you are taking something personally, take a step back and evaluate why- because that’s on you and not the other person. Take some ownership before starting down a road neither of you wants to head down.
And give people the benefit of the doubt, I know it may seem like the world is against itself right now, but you’d be surprised what people do when you decide to give them a chance.

In the words of the very millennial (but not better than) version of Grease, We’re all in this together (High School Musical).
Remember, tomorrow is just another version of today but brighter.

The sun will rise again.

Love your internet bestie,

Kass

Feel It All

I lay in bed as a wall of sticky notes stares back at me. They read, “I am a runner! I am worthy! I am brave! I create energy! I am smart! I am a trauma thriver! I am beautiful! I am loved!” On the far right corner hangs the prepossessing purple sticky note that reads, “Feel It All.”

Feel It All.

Every emotion, every stab to the heart, every joyous laugh, every smile, every tear.
Feel It All.

I lay in my bed consciously feeling it all, every fervor of emotion that comes to me.
I feel the beauty that is in the sun shining outside.
I feel the pride of the year I’ve spent challenging myself.
I feel the heart break of loss, of both the dead and the living.
I feel the anxiety, of never doing or being enough.
I feel the depression, the deep sadness and NEED to be in bed, in my safe zone.
I feel the grief, of constantly wondering how to go on when Cooper is gone.
I feel the surprise, of life- the good and the bad.
I feel the disgust for the world we live in.
I feel the joy for the world we live in.
I feel trust, in that I know where I need to be- here, right here, in this moment.

Feel It All.

Feel every thing, every moment, every thought, every thing.
Friends, when you choose to feel it all, it doesn’t mean life will be easy- it actually means life will be harder. But you will be stronger for choosing to feel it all. For choosing to stand up to every emotion and say, “Here I am, here you are, together we are one.”

I never understood ‘being in the moment’ until I swam with sharks. You would think I would have learned this lesson from watching my brother die, but I assure you I could not be farther removed during that situation. When Cooper was passing my mind was so distracted about the ‘after’. After we would leave Cooper at the hospital, where would we go? How will our home be different? Does a little bit of me die too? Also, the social worker just handed me a pillow with Cooper’s handprint on it, is that all I’ll ever have left of him? I could barely focus on the moment I had in front of me, one last physical touch of Cooper.

However, swimming with sharks was quite the opposite. I HAD to be focused, completely possessed by that moment. One sudden movement and I would be choking on salt water all the while my body flailing in the water causing the sharks to FREAK OUT. The last thing any of us wanted as we floated atop their home. As I entered the ocean and looked below me, I realized I had just entered someone else’s property- a flood of respect washed over me. Thoughts consumed me as I rested atop the water. But unlike the stressful thoughts that consume me on land, in the water they simply told me to breathe, to stay calm, and to feel. Isn’t that all any of us need to do? To breathe, to stay calm, to feel? At the very basic level of being any sort of living creature that is all we need to do. What if instead of worrying about all of the necessities we deem to be important we just stopped and focused on the bare minimum? To breathe, to stay calm, and to feel.

Before I entered the ocean, a man gave me three simple instructions:
1. Stay Calm
2. Breathe
3. Always look the sharks in the eyes, it builds trust

I chuckled after that last one, really? Look the shark in the eyes? But he was right, it was our only way of communicating, me looking into his shark soul saying, “I am not going to hurt you, I am here to learn from you.”

Huge Thanks to Florida Shark Diving

I learned three important lessons that day in the water:
1. Stay Calm
2. Always breathe
3. Feel your feelings

The first two I learned from the man on the boat, but the sharks only reiterated his words. The third thing I learned was from the sharks and the ocean. ‘Feel your feelings’ the ocean taught me she is a big place full of wondrous things that we do not know about. The sharks taught me they are gentle, peaceful creatures painted only by dark stories. In that moment I needed to feel what was going on around me, I couldn’t make sudden movements, I couldn’t see what was coming behind me, and probably most terrifying, I could only see about 20 feet below me- but I knew there was far more feet beyond than that. My heart, beating into my chest a million miles a minute, skipped as I saw a shark come up from the unknown below me. She was swimming fast, and right towards me. I was nervous. But I remembered my instructions. Breathe. Stay Calm. Look her in the eyes. I did as I was asked and she swam softer, looking for the smell of food near by. I realized I was the last thing on her radar.

Feel It All.
Feeling it all is a lot like that shark swimming straight up from the unknown. At first you are terror-stricken, unable to think consciously about what you should do next. But then, if you listen to your feelings closely you’ll remember you’ve been given the instructions. To breathe, stay calm, and look her in the eyes. To look your feelings in the eyes and welcome her, to say I am ready to accept all of you. I will no longer push you down, push you away, and avoid your presence. I will feel it all.

The sticky notes that line my wall remind me who I am and who I aspire to be. The sticky notes are the instructions, not actions. Choosing to feel my feelings aligns fully with who I want to be. Feeling it all is the action to feeling worthy, to feeling that I am enough, to acknowledging my beauty, my trauma, and my abilities. The action of feeling it all is what turns my wall of affirmations, my instructions, into my reality.

To the sweet friend reading this, choose to not only write your affirmations, but to BE them. To take action and be your affirmations.
Sister, FEEL IT ALL. It is time to acknowledge our hearts, to feel all the beauty, pain, joy, and anguish. To hold our hearts with grace and feel it all.

Feel It All.
Today.
Tomorrow.
Every day.
Feel It All.

#graciousandgrateful