Zibby Owens: I interviewed Suzanne Falter today. I just have to say this is the second try because the first time Suzanne and I did our interview, we had a technical malfunction. The whole thing did not get recorded, which was really upsetting, especially because Suzanne lost her daughter at age twenty-two and it was a very emotional interview. I re-interviewed her. That’s what you’ll hear now, but in case I sounded in any way flippant about anything she told me, we had gone through a both-crying situation the last time. Obviously, I do care. I hope I sounded that way, but just wanted to preface it with that background.

Anyway, here’s her bio. Suzanne Falter is an author, speaker, novelist, and host of the “Self-Care for Extremely Busy Women Podcast.” Her nonfiction books include The Extremely Busy Woman’s Guide to Self-Care, The Joy of Letting Go, How Much Joy Can You Stand?, and Surrendering to Joy. After losing her twenty-two-year-old daughter Teal in 2012, Suzanne’s work shifted to help her find the way back to joy, peace, and balance. She has written LGBT fiction including the series Transformed and Oaktown Girls. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Self, Fitness, and other publications. She currently lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her wife.

Welcome, Suzanne. Thanks for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books.”

Suzanne Falter: Hello, Zibby. Thank you for having me very, very much.

Zibby: Thank you because you had me on your podcast first, which I greatly enjoyed over last summer. Thank you for kicking us off on the right foot.

Suzanne: It was great. It was really a great show.

Zibby: I feel very happy that I can return this little podcast relationship we have and delve right into your story and your amazing book called The Extremely Busy Woman’s Guide to Self-Care. You’ve also written How Much Joy Can You Stand?, Living Your Joy, Surrendering to Joy. You have a podcast. You’re all over the place.

Suzanne: The Joy of Letting Go, even.

Zibby: The Joy of Letting Go, amazing. What made you start writing? Tell me your story. I know you have a very inspirational, sad, happy, everything story. Tell me all about it and how you got started.

Suzanne: You’re talking about this book, this particular book, The Extremely Busy Woman’s Guide?

Zibby: Yes.

Suzanne: In 2012, I was a very driven, very cranked-up, highly ambitious workaholic trying to make the super-big bucks. I had lost my soul, basically, in a nutshell. I was so driven that I had allowed myself to stop really connecting and caring about people. I was working all the time. I really thought that everything was going great. Then it all fell apart. In a very short order, the relationship I was in ended. The house I was living in went with the other person. I moved out. I was kind of adrift. The business I’d created was floundering because I was burned out because I was working too hard. All of it just disappeared. Then in that same three-month period, my twenty-two-year-old daughter who was living in San Francisco where I was living suddenly dropped dead from a medically unexplainable cardiac arrest. That just stopped everything. I was thinking, okay, I’ll regroup and retrench. Then when Teal died, I just stopped. I didn’t know what to do. I literally didn’t work for two years. During that time, I started to slow down. For the first time in decades, I began to listen to myself. I began to tune into my needs. I began getting a lot of help with different issues I had, many of which focused on the importance of self-care.

At the same time, Teal, my daughter who was the opposite of me and was really a present, funny, completely unambitious, very compassionate, loving person, left behind a journal filled with little quotes that were all about being a better person. Her collapse was such that her heart was restarted. She was in a coma for a week, from which she never awoke. She’d been in a locked bathroom for twenty minutes. Then EMTs revived her heart. Technically, she was still alive, but she was pretty gone. When I saw her in the hospital that first few minutes, I knew she would die. I knew I would be changed forever. I knew that this healing work — she kept saying to me, “I want to be a healer. This is my next thing. I’m going to be a healer, Mom.” That was going to be my job. First, I had to heal myself. I focused on self-care. That was a very big job because I was so resistant. I didn’t know how to listen to myself. I didn’t know how to slow down. I didn’t know how to stop being so hard on myself. My inner conversation was terrible. I had no compassion for myself, none.

When I talked to really busy women, women with small kids who were also working full time or sometimes even super busy retirees, remarkably, they all kind of had the same issue. We have this inner dialogue about how we have to push and strive and achieve and do more and more. Teal was all about undoing and being very present. One of the things she wrote on many pages in this journal was “Be, and you know” or “Just be.” She used to say that to me. She’d be like, “Mom, just be.” Needless to say, I had no idea what she was talking about it. It was very funny, that whole “Just be” thing. Now what I really know is that I am here to do this healing work because I’ve gotten so much out of it. My life is dramatically different. I’m in a great marriage now and living a blissful life. I can only put it that way. There’s balance. I had to learn how to slow down and tune in and listen to myself and be able to answer the question, what do you need right now? a remarkably difficult question for some of us to answer.

Zibby: Is that the secret to tapping into self-care? By the way, I know we’ve talked about the loss of your daughter several times, but I just have to say how sorry I am one more time. Each time I hear your story, it still just stops me in my tracks. Your experience, that fact that you’ve taken it and now are helping other people is just so amazing. I’m filled with gratitude for you and how you’ve managed to pull yourself out of this and come out at the other side blissful, which is really incredible. But is that the secret to self-care, just saying, what do I need now? Then what about all the other things you have to do? Right now, I might want to go lay on my couch, but that’s just not going to happen.

Suzanne: I would say you may be able to get two minutes to lay on your couch. You may be able to set a boundary. It may be that you have kids, so do an awful lot of people listening to this — although, I suspect there are a few who sneak in — are mothers of children and super busy.

Zibby: No sneakers. This is not just for moms. Anybody can listen, anybody who loves books and wants to learn or wants to improve themselves or doesn’t have as much time as they want to read, so just PSA on that. Okay, go on.

Suzanne: Second of all, the key is to understand that you can make time for it. It may not be exactly this minute, but that gets a postmark. The postmark gets acted on. What we do is go, you know, I could really use a nap. I’ll get to that. Then we let everything else intrude. This begins the very uncomfortable process of actually putting yourself first. This is the most difficult thing for women. I have a little Facebook group. All these women who are these extremely busy women, they come in and I ask them, what’s your biggest self-care challenge? Nine times out for ten they say, “Putting myself first.” It is how we’re wired. We’re wired to believe that the world will crumble if we don’t step up and save the day. Does it mean that the kids may not have the crust cut off of their sandwiches? What I’m trying to say is if we don’t stop and take a little time for ourselves, fewer of the details may get handled, and that’s okay because overproduction is the issue. We think we’ve got to be everything for everyone. We think we couldn’t possibly take a nap. It would all go to hell. Okay, if you’re alone in the house with a two-year-old, yeah, probably a nap may not be the perfect thing.

Zibby: Unless they’re napping. Then I think it’s okay.

Suzanne: Unless they’re napping, in which case they will wake you up when they’re . But if there’s an eight-year-old and they are demanding things from you that you don’t want to do or don’t have time for, you can say no. Sometimes it’s the large eight-year-old who is our spouse. Sometimes our partners show up like eight-year-olds. They demand things from us where we need to say, “Not right now. I can’t do that.” Shockingly, I’m going to close my door and have five to ten to twenty minutes alone. I might meditate. I might do a little yoga nidra, which is this wonderful practice of lying on the floor and being guided through audios with your whole-body relaxing. You wake up from that, you’re ready for another twelve hours of hardcore Mommy time. Bring it on. This is the oxygen mask, ladies. That’s what this is. This is about giving yourself permission to look at your own needs. Some of us haven’t looked at those needs in so long. That closet is dark. You know what I’m saying?

Zibby: How do you get people to open up that closet, so to speak?

Suzanne: This is how I do it, or people read the book. The book has a lot of questionnaires and little journal prompts and things you can pick up and do in an odd five minutes. Maybe you’re waiting for kids in line with all the other cars at school or whatever. You just chip away at it here and there. You start to get clarity on the places in your life you haven’t thought about much. The whole back half of the book, I talk about the things we need in our lives. We need exercise. We need sleep. We need environments that are soothing. We need friends. We need to have fun. Maybe we haven’t had fun in forever. As you read about these things — of course, I’m throwing in ideas and so forth and studies and evidence why this might be important or that. As you read them, my hope is people will be inspired to really look around and go, boy, you know, I haven’t painted this bedroom in ten years and it really looks bad. You wouldn’t notice unless somebody brought it up.

Really Zibby, there are some basics to self-care. The first one is understanding your needs. The first one is answering that question. What do I need right now? Sometimes we get a blank, but you’ve got to stick with it. The next would be setting boundaries. This is what I’ve been talking about. Who can we say no to? Could we stop being the volunteer mom who does everything and make space for some other mother to show up? It’s important to be able to know what your boundaries are and honor them. When something pushes you and it feels wrong, that’s a boundary. That’s a red flag. That’s a place where you are being pushed. If you just roll right over it and ignore it, you’re missing an opportunity to collect and conserve your personal power. You’re missing an opportunity to get back into this beautiful alignment we were born with where our heart and our soul and our head and our mind and our actions throughout the day are all one. That’s when we can be great partners and mothers and employees and leaders and people. We can be freakin’ happy. That’s the point. The third basic is to ask for help when you need it. It’s so hard for us to ask for help. Again, it’s that mistaken belief that we must carry the world on our shoulders, but we don’t have to. We just have to be willing to look around and let somebody support us, as vulnerable and as weak as that may feel.

Number four is to take action. I know there are head-nodders out there. There are people saying, “Oh yeah, maybe this will get me to exercise. I should really do that.” The key is just to start. You can start like this. I’ve forgotten the author’s name. You might know it. The creator of the mini-habit developed his own exercise self-care routine when he allowed himself to do one push-up, just one. Then he realized, wow, you do one, you just want to do more. He started developing this idea of mini-habits. You could spend one minute on exercise. You could jump around for two minutes with the stereo on, three-minute funk party break. Then you might go, hey, that actually felt pretty good. Maybe I’d even go for a walk for twenty minutes. This is the idea, is to break it down into small, actionable steps, and then start to build them into your life as habits. Is it possible to get up ten minutes early and do some Pilates or crunches or whatever delights you before your children wake up? Shockeroo, I know, sounds harsh pre-coffee, but if you really want to do it, that’s one way to fit it in. If you believe that you can’t take that ten minutes for yourself any other time of the day — PS, between you and me, I think you probably could.

Zibby: Are you talking to me now, or this is everybody?

Suzanne: Outed. Busted.

Zibby: Okay, I’ll go do a push-up. I promise. Oh, my gosh.

Suzanne: Bottom line is you want to build this stuff into your life as habits. Otherwise if we think about it, we’re like, yeah, I’m going to go have fun with my friends. No, let’s have a fun night. Let’s a have fun afternoon once a week. It’s the only way I get myself to yoga because I’m an older person. I get in yoga and everybody’s younger and more stretchy and stuff like that. I’m like hell. I’ve got to go to yoga on Wednesdays. Wednesday is yoga day.

Zibby: You also are a huge advocate for organ donation, go out and talk about that a bunch. Tell me a little more about that.

Suzanne: The circumstances around Teal’s death, that her heart stopped but was restarted and she was in coma for six days before they could really take a look at her brain and understand how much damage had happened, was such that she was a perfect candidate for organ donation. There are very, very few perfect candidates for organ donation which is why at any given time, I think there’s something like ten or twelve thousand organ donations made every year. There are something like 185,000 people on the list. The odds are staggering. That is something that’s shifting as the transplantation industry, if you can call it an industry, the transplantation world evolves to become better and more organized and more databases. There are more people donating. Aside from that, my work is to talk about my experience as a donor mom. When you donate organs of a loved one, particularly a child, you’re really not in your right mind. You’re just kind of going, okay, fine. You’re still in shock. I was in shock. Unless perhaps you might have anticipated this death, but then maybe the person involved wouldn’t be a good donor. Usually, it’s a sudden death.

Teal’s heart, kidney — both kidneys, her heart, and her pancreas were all donated to other people. Her pancreas went to a woman who had kids who was a middle-aged woman, all here in California. One of her kidneys went to woman in her fifties in the Bay Area. Her heart and her other kidney went to a young woman just a little older than Teal. This is significant because I have contacted her. I have a relationship with her now. More particularly, I have an amazing relationship with her mother. I have been a speaker for many years in my previous work as a self-help author, etc. When I was going through this period of grief, I was closely in touch with the organ procurement agency who arranged the transplantation. Part of their job is to reach out to the donor families. For a whole year, they call you up periodically to make sure you’re getting what you need, you’ve got grief support if you need it, etc. At the end of that year, she had connected us with Amera, who was the young woman who got Teal’s heart and kidney. She and I were just chatting. She said kind of out of the blue, “Hey, are you a speaker?” I was like, “Well, yes. I’m a speaker. How did you know I was a speaker?” At that point, I wasn’t working and didn’t work for two years. She said, “I don’t know why I asked you, but would you like to speak about your experience?” Pretty soon, I was doing keynotes at big conferences for people who were in this world of transplantation.

Five years after Teal’s death, I met Amera and her mother on the beach where we scattered Teal’s ashes. It was such an incredible meeting. I was with my wife. We saw them at a distance. They were very small. I just knew them out of all the people there. I was like, that’s them. We came together. We had this very tearful, loving moment of connection between strangers. It was just incredible. It was really incredible, at which point I promptly put my sandals down, wandered off, and we had to spend the next twenty minutes looking for my shoes, which was a bonding experience actually. That night, we had dinner together. We showed Amera a video of Teal singing. Teal was in fact a very accomplished blues singer. She said, “I know her. I feel like I know her.” It was just this cool, cool moment. Anyway, Amera’s mom Debbie and I really sparked a connection that night. The next day, we were texting each other. She said, “I would really like to do these talks with you.” I had woken up thinking, god, it would be so great if I could get Debbie to do these talks with me. Amera’s quite an introverted sort of person. She’s not particularly interested in getting up on stage. She would do it, but she clearly — it’s not her favorite thing. Debbie however, she’s just one of those people who’s natural. I could really see it that night at dinner. I woke up with that thought. Then she texted me.

Now we give these talks together. We go to different places around the country and speak about our shared experience with organ donation and what we’ve learned. This is so interesting because the way this talk has evolved is to become about how crisis wipes the slate clean and allow you to begin again. You can get in touch with your true values. It’s the catalyst for true values. After Debbie went through an eight-year experience with her daughter with congestive heart failure which she got from a virus — she had congestive heart failure, almost died three times. Debbie’s a single mom working her tail off and taking care of a potentially dying child who’s four hours away in the nearest major city hospital, which was San Francisco. She was up in the mountains. After that experience, we went through this whole thing, she had another child have a near-death experience in a car accident. He recovered fully, with five of his friends. They walked away. They didn’t walk away, they had to go to the hospital for a while, but they all recovered. Then last year, her home burned to the ground in Paradise, California, in the worst wildfire in California history.

This is a person who really has been through something. I want to tell you, this brings tears to my eyes, she’s the most resilient person I’ve ever met. She is the most resilient person I’ve ever met. We just get together and cry all the time because we’re so grateful for our lives. We’re so grateful to have the ability to communicate this message to people. This is kind of the part two of this, what I like of as the Teal legacy. The first part is about helping women reconnect to who they are and become far more willing to be compassionate and honor themselves. It’s like the loving version of Me Too. We’re going to turn that fierce protection to ourselves in a way that would say, what can I do for myself today? Then to be able to have this opportunity to talk about restarting life, that’s amazing. So thank you for asking.

Zibby: Oh, my gosh. It’s so powerful. It’s amazing. These examples of women like you and Debbie and the courage and resilience for both of you and the good that you do for other people, it’s really, really amazing, and all the women you seek to help with your self-care guides and all the other personal — it’s really so giving and generous of you. It’s amazing, so thank you.

Suzanne: I hardly feel like I’m doing anything other than the work I’ve been given to do. It’s a straightforward thing.

Zibby: Suzanne, thank you. Thanks for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” and for sharing your story and for trying to get all the rest of us to take better care of ourselves. I will hear your voice in my head as I proceed about my day.

Suzanne: For moms who don’t have time to read, if they want to listen, I’ve actually narrated the audiobook of this book, which is kind of shocking. I’d never done that before.

Zibby: That’s fun.

Suzanne: It was fun. It’s part of the whole-body work, I guess.

Zibby: Excellent.

Suzanne: Thank you.

Zibby: Thanks, Suzanne. I’ll probably Skype you soon. I feel like now we’re little Skype buddies. Send me a wave whenever.

Suzanne: I will. Thank you, Zibby.

Zibby: Take care. Buh-bye.

Suzanne: Bye.