I would say that the idea of hope is an interesting one. Hope implies that we will find relief sometime in the future. During this COVID-19 Pandemic, that feels incredibly true. Many of us are counting the days when our lives can return to “normal”.
The key for me, however, is to know that no future moment is what is going to bring us hope. It is our VISION of a brighter future and our unending faith that is the key to relief during these uncertain times.
As a part of my series about the things we can do to remain hopeful and support each other during anxious times, I had the pleasure of interviewing Author, Certified Yoga Teacher, Reiki Master, Spiritual Teacher and Social Activist Deborah Hallal Bradt, R.Y.T.
Deborah Hallal Bradt has been fascinated by mind/body health and our connection to the Divine since she was a very young girl. Growing up in Central Florida, Deborah often found herself on the beach, reciting poetry to the stars and feeling a deep and profound connection to God and humanity. She has made it her mission to inspire resiliency and hope to those who feel there is none including those touched by mental illness and chronic pain. Her first book, “Lay Me Down Among the Words”, is a collection of poetry and essays designed to spark the inner teacher within her readers and show them that it is possible to overcome any obstacle by simply believing they can and taking one step at a time to make it so.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?
Absolutely. For many years I have been exploring mind body medicine because of my own struggles with chronic pain and depression. It is clear that emotional health and physical health are deeply intertwined and I proved that theory by my own health journey….you could call it “the dark night of the soul”. After my son was born in 2007, I experienced a severe episode of what the doctors were calling “Postpartum Depression”. At this point, I have come to understand it to be something quite different. It is called “Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD”.
Although having a child was a dream come true, the surgery itself triggered a trauma response in my body and it made it very difficult to recover and enjoy being a new mother at that time. I am deeply indebted to a wonderful healer named “Dr. Peter Levine” whose protocol for healing trauma called “Somatic Experiencing” helped to transform a life of struggle to a life of resiliency and joy. His area of special interest is trauma, including veterans and those with chronic illness and his methods for healing the body and brain are something I can only call “extraordinary”.
In addition to my struggles with PTSD, I have also been close to suicide a few times in my life, including several episodes of anorexia. Because of my unwavering faith and the dedication of my doctors, family and support people, I am in a much better place today. I have found, through my own issues with self-esteem and self-love, that it is critical to be our own best friend, no matter what is happening in the outer world. Even when I couldn’t find love for myself, I could find a sense of self-compassion and this is something I want to teach to as many people as possible. We all do our best and all of us deserve to be loved for who we are and live the life of our dreams.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
When I was in college, I experienced my first bout of anorexia. I am not sure how it happened but I came across a book called “The Return to Love” by Marianne Williamson. It is based on a book called “A Course in Miracles” and was profoundly inspiring and life-changing. In it, Marianne reminds us again and again that the home we have been yearning for can only be found deep within ourselves. I realized that all my searching outside of myself for approval and love was an empty void that would never be filled and that the only way I was going to survive and, eventually, thrive, was to develop a deep connection to my own heart and to the unseen- to put my faith in God. Through that book, I realized that every time I was shaming myself, I was shaming God as well and this was not a way and that is not what I was put on this earth to do.
I love to teach just like my late father, David Hallal. The only way to teach others about deep love of self and humanity is to develop it within myself first. When my father passed away, he was only in his fifties. He was so young and had so much life left in him. I am determined to carry on his legacy or, as my wonderful therapist says, I am here to “carry the torch” for him and for my late stepfather, Martine Gaydan, as well.
I am here to teach as many people as possible, especially our youth, that the greatest healer we have is the one within and Marianne’s book was the first one to truly show me the way back into my own heart.
Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. From your perspective can you help our readers to see the “Light at the End of the Tunnel”? Can you share your “5 Reasons To Be Hopeful During this Corona Crisis”? If you can, please share a story or example for each.
Thank you for such an excellent and profound question. I will do my best to answer this for you and your readers and I believe every life matters. If even one thing I say can be of help to someone during this time of crises in our world that would be enough.
First of all, I would say that the idea of hope is an interesting one. Hope implies that we will find relief sometime in the future. During this COVID-19 Pandemic, that feels incredibly true. Many of us are counting the days when our lives can return to “normal”.
The key for me, however, is to know that no future moment is what is going to bring us hope. It is our VISION of a brighter future and our unending faith that is the key to relief during these uncertain times.
This crisis has been a catalyst to show the resilience of strength of our humanity like nothing has before. I feel that the idea of hope needs to shift to one of conviction. We must trust that things are going to unfold in a perfect manner for the greater good of all. This is my first reason for us to remain hopeful.
If you look back in history, there are many moments of uncertainty and doubt of the future. Take the tragedy of 9/11 as a prime example. When those buildings caught fire and so many lives were lost, the world stopped in its tracks. It seemed there would be no possible way to rebound from such a horrific event.
While it is true that there was much bloodshed, tragic deaths and devastation that occurred, there was also such a profound bonding of humanity at the deepest level our generation had ever seen before. Millions of people, adults and children alike, banded together to help heal one another and pick up the pieces of all that was torn apart.
This reminds me, in a way, of our current health crises. As difficult as it seems and as awful as it is that so many lives have been lost and so many are currently ill, I have never before seen a more compassionate world.
All over Cleveland, where I live, there are signs such as “We Support Police” and “God Bless Our Healthcare Workers” etc. All are abiding by the state laws and keeping distance and wearing masks along with following many other precautions.
Retail stores are opening early to accommodate the elderly. School systems are banding together to keep school going somehow for our children. Churches are live streaming services and more and more people are creating prayer circles and spiritual groups via zoom to help keep hope alive. In my opinion, when there is a situation like this that affects so many lives, we really have only 2 choices we can make: we can shrink or we can shine. I, for one, am incredibly grateful so many people around the world are choosing to shine. What frightens us can actually unite us if we let it. This is my first reason to remain hopeful in the midst of this pandemic.
Another reason to stay hopeful and remain strong is our children and adolescent populations need us to continue to believe in the best possible resolution. We must stay the course for them. If we give up and lose faith, what will happen to our kids and their kids?
I have noticed with my own son that, even though he does not enjoy online learning as much as in person schooling, he is finding a way to adapt and get the most out of every day. In fact, due to the online class format, he has learned to explore himself in ways he never could have before. He has adjusted his study habits and found a study buddy. They help each other every chance they can and their friendship has deepened as a result.
The school systems here have been amazing in the way they respond to every situation that comes up with ease and grace. My son, Henry’s, elementary school had a slogan that said it best several ago. It said, “Just do it. Stick to it”. If we have that kind of attitude, nothing can stop us from feeling some semblance of hope. It is as simple as that.
The third reason to keep believing is that this pandemic has caused us all to focus more, slow down, stay home and get reconnected to ourselves. For me, this is actually the key to both mental and physical health. Our constant hustling and bustling can only exhaust and deplete our bodies and minds. Because of the crises, we have learned to focus on what’s most important.
My late father, David W. Hallal, told me something I will never forget and it couldn’t be more prevalent than right now. He said, “If we don’t have our health, we don’t have anything.” This also includes our mental health. You are right in saying that there are many more people in our world today struggling with anxiety and loneliness than ever before. Honestly, I am one of them. And, yet, the uncertainty we are all facing these days can be an excellent opportunity for inner growth and self-reflection.
In a recent session with my therapist, I was having a hard time and she told me something I will never forget. She said, “Deb, this is the perfect time to cultivate a deep relationship with yourself and learn to be your own best friend.” I will never forget that advice and think that reason for hope in these trying times. Having more time alone and at home allows us more time to introspect, slow down and find a space within to rest.
We must learn to love ourselves unconditionally and, being faced with times like this with so much uncertainty and chaos, it is an ideal time to do just that. No matter what kind of day I have or how many mistakes I feel I have made that day, I take a minute every evening before bed to smile at myself in the mirror. It may sound a bit strange but it brings me a small sense of comfort to know that no matter what happens, I can still find a way to see the good in my own reflection. This is actually the only way I can truly express kindness and love to others is to feel it authentically first within myself. When we have nowhere to go, we can always go within.
Another reason to shift our perspective is to look at how much resiliency skills we are all building. Many of us have had to adapt to working from home. Some have lost jobs. Many children are doing on-line schooling. Much of our shopping is being done online, including grocery shopping. There are constant scary headlines in the paper every week with more and more confusion on when this all will finally come to an end.
The key for me is that everyone I know, including my teenage son, has found new ways to cope and adapt to the “new normal”. We are all learning how to be the calm center of the storm. Yes, obstacles will arise. That is part of life, especially these days. It is how we respond to them that is the key. Learning to bounce back in the most adverse of situations makes us stronger than ever before. This is another gift from our current health crises and a reason for us all to remember giving up is not an option.
My final reason is quite simple and powerful at the same time. Because of the volatility in our world, it is more and critical to cherish each and every moment of every day. It has brought me a newfound sense of gratitude that I never would have had before simply to be alive.
In early November, my son was diagnosed with COVID-19. It was an incredibly frightening time. He ended up needing to go to the ER as his breathing was very labored. They did an excellent job with him and he got over the virus fairly quickly, however, now every day I have with him feels like the greatest gift I have ever received.
Before the pandemic, it was very easy to take things for granted. Especially things like our health and our families. Because of this pandemic, and a whole new way of operating in the world, it has made us all realize the preciousness of life. When COVID hit Cleveland earlier this year, my family and I made a list of reasons we are grateful for the pandemic. One of the top reasons was that we are so grateful we have each other. Another, that my son created, was “We are so glad we have God.”
There are more efforts and advances in healthcare being made now than ever before. More and more people, including strangers, are coming together to unite for the greater good. For me, all of this is some kind of blessing in disguise. I do not understand it fully but I know I am blessed to be able to support those moving through it.
One thing to remember is that even something as simple as a smile to a stranger in the grocery store can make someone’s day and perhaps save a life. So why not be as positive as possible and put all your faith in the Divine. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain by trusting the process and allowing things to take their natural course. I am confident that every human being on this earth has learned something powerful from living through this crisis.
From your experience or research what are five steps that each of us can take to effectively offer support to those around us who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?
Absolutely. Great question. Thank you.
In the midst of anxiety moments, the first step I would recommend would simply be to PAUSE. To stop what you are doing and become an observer of the situation, almost like you are watching a movie. You can imagine that you are hitting the pause button on a cd player, only it’s your own life. By doing this, we can slow down the nervous system and the fight or flight response in the brain can lessen. We can ask ourselves questions like “Where am I now?”. And just notice what happens next.
The second step is to CONNECT to what you are feeling. They key with anxiety or any overwhelming emotion is not to fight it but to welcome it. Imagine you are wrapping your arms around the emotion and cradling it. Imagine it is cradling you right back. Emotions are nothing to be afraid of and, the more we connect to them, the more we disempower their effects over our daily lives.
Next it is time to LISTEN and ask ourselves, “What is scaring me? What do I need right now?” Usually, the answer will come right away. Maybe you need some fresh air or a cool glass of water or to hug a loved one. Whatever it is, simply allow it and you will know what to do. Open your heart to the fear and the fear can then become your greatest teacher.
The fourth step is to RELEASE. All of us hold on to stress in different ways. It can manifest itself physically or with bombarding negative thoughts or a combination of them both. Whatever it is that is happening in the moment, there is always something that we can let go of. Sometimes I like to open and close my hands several times and wiggle my toes. Even doing a bit of funky dance moves can work. Whatever it takes to let the burden and anxiety go. Even if it dissipates by only 10%, that is still a victory. We can also imagine giving the situation to the Divine, and, by doing this, we lift some of that burden off of our shoulders. Letting go is actually the most empowering skill we can learn. It gets easier and easier with practice.
The final step is to FLY FREE. Actually, the name of my business and website is called “Fly Free Healing”. The idea of flying free is to realize that all of the tough circumstances we face on a daily basis are actually our greatest platform for self-discovery and growth. I use the image of a purple butterfly to represent Flying Free. Butterflies are a metaphor of transformation. As humans, we morph every day in one way or another. At times, we may feel in that chrysalis stage and at other times we may feel our wings are spreading and we are flying through the air.
Flying free is not about being happy or blissful. It is about being content with whatever arises. Within us, we all have something called our Buddha Nature that can never be created or destroyed by anything in the material world. By seeing ourselves in this way, we can fly free above our problems. We can own our power and transform our fear into faith.
Then, life becomes an amazing journey and dance instead of a struggle. If you watch a butterfly come out of the cocoon, it doesn’t struggle. It simply ALLOWS the process of rebirth to unfold. This is the best way to handle anxiety and upset. To remember we are much greater than anything on this earthly plane. All we have to do is believe it so and it will be.
What are the best resources you would suggest to a person who is feeling anxious?
There are many great resources for those struggling with anxiety, trauma and depression. Actually, experiencing this COVID crises every day is a form of trauma so it is very important to take extra good care of ourselves. There is a website entitled “www.somaticexperiencing.com” I would highly recommend. The practitioners of this healing modality for stress and trauma are highly trained by the creator of Somatic Experiencing, Dr. Peter Levine. One of my favorite books by him, especially for those of us with chronic pain, is called “Freedom from Pain”. It is superb. Along with his first book, “Waking the Tiger”. Dr. Levine also has books written to help parents with their children who have been touched by trauma. I had the privilege to study with Dr. Levine and I feel he is a pioneer of our time in the field of health.
Another excellent resource is the “Depression Bipolar Support Alliance” or DBSA. Their website is called “www.dbsa.org”. They offer online support groups and excellent materials for those touched by depression and anxiety all over the country and have helped me through many tough times.
I would also recommend Silent Unity. Their website is www.silentunity.org. I call them often to put in prayer requests and find their resources incredibly uplifting and soothing at the same time and am incredibly grateful for their wonderful organization.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?
Actually, my favorite quote sits on the wall right above my desk and I see it every day when I come to my office. It reads, “Life isn’t about waiting for the storms to pass, it’s about learning to dance in the rain.” I honestly do not remember who came up with this quote but I heard it first during my early years of studying with Dr. Peter Levine.
I have struggled with pain for over thirteen years. Pretty much every day, I wake up with some kind of physical pain. For a while, I thought there was no way I could enjoy my life until the pain subsided. What I realized, however, was that living that way is not truly living. Why wait until tomorrow to live life to the fullest? If I am not up to moving as much one day, I can cuddle on the couch with my son and just chill more, for example. Or maybe make some cookies. Or something that doesn’t require a lot of heavy lifting.
My other option is to crawl through my life and wait for the pain to be over until I decide to be happy. This quote for me really says it all. Life isn’t about feeling perfect and having everything go our way on a daily basis. It is about celebrating the now, no matter what the now entails. In fact, one day not too long ago, I was actually in quite a bit of pain. I was in my bedroom and very tempted to crawl into bed when I caught a glimpse of the soundtrack from “The Greatest Showman” on my nightstand.
I decided to put it in and scroll up to my favorite song, “This is Me”.
Once I started to hear the pulsing beat, I immediately felt a rush of heat go through my cells and muscles. I started instinctively tapping my feet to the rhythm. Usually, when I am in pain, I am afraid to move but the music seemed to give me confidence that day.
I started to move very slowly, allowing my arms and hips to sway a bit. It was scary at first. But I ventured on.
Before I knew it, I was dancing. I mean really dancing! I had forgotten about the pain and allowed the music to take me to unexpected places. I even started to feel a bit of joy. It was unbelievable.
As the song came to an end, I realized I was living my favorite quote. I didn’t let the pain stop me. I decided to dance. In essence, I chose LIFE. I chose to embrace the now. That was one of the most amazing moments of my life and it would never have happened if I curled up in bed and succumbed to the pain. So, remember, whenever you feel like you have nothing left, it is the perfect time to “dance in the rain”.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
My ultimate goal is to help prevent the spread of suicide and I would like to target youth and adolescents as my main focus as they are our future, although every life matters. The saying I came up with several months ago that I would love to see on every bumper sticker in America is, “…. Because you matter and you are enough. Spread your wings and fly free….” I would call it the “You Matter” movement because I sincerely believe that. No matter who you are, your social, financial or health status…your ethnicity…you age etc., you matter. Your life matters. Your voice matters. I would be honored to be a voice for those who feel they have no voice.
The late Dr. Wayne Dyer once said, “Don’t die before you die.” Those words can never be more true than they are today. Cherish every moment and remember that the greatest gift you can give yourself is unconditional love.
What is the best way for our readers to follow you online? I am working on my website which is “www.flyfreehealing.com”. It should be up by the end of this year. I also have a Facebook page and have published my first book available now at all major bookstores entitled “Lay Me Down Among the Words: A Collection of Poetry by a Trauma Survivor Whose Inner Voice Saved Her Life”.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!