The Setback That Allowed Me to Truly Put My Well-Being First

After suffering a sudden stroke, I learned the importance of taking a step back, and reacting mindfully to life's challenges.

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Photo by Liam Alexander
Photo by Liam Alexander

I often ask myself, how does one thrive in the face of life’s setbacks which seem to come time and time again. I have had a great deal of success in my life: I’m a supermodel, an author, a speaker, a stroke thriver and spokesperson for the American Stroke Association, as well as an actress & award nominated producer, yet when I look over my life up ’til now, I can clearly see that I’ve experienced more setbacks than my conscious mind cares to remember. The key to my success is I have never let them define me, and I’ve learned a lot of lessons and developed tools for dealing with setbacks.

One such example is when I suffered a stroke from a freak accident in a dance class a few years ago. I hurt the occipital lobe region of my brain, causing an ischemic stroke. I clearly remember recuperating in the hospital – very much in shock from what had happened to me. Although I dodged a bullet, I still have a sizable blind spot to the left side of my visual field, I was going to be OK.

The flood of tears that came from the subsequent-yet-contradictory fear that this realization induced, was all consuming.  

Once my emotions subsided and I was able to breathe again, I turned to the many tools I had developed over the years when dealing with prior setbacks in my life.  My much needed fortitude, willpower and inner strength popped up to the surface and I knew the way forward was to keep walking.

Life Lesson # 1: Taking action in the direction of your highest good will lead to wellness.

  • A health crisis like that of a stroke deals a serious blow to one’s self-worth and self-esteem, I had to fight to regain my confidence which aids the healing process. Taking an action immediately diminishes one’s sense of helplessness.  I never felt like a victim and often refer to myself as a stroke thriver instead of survivor, a much more empowering phrase.

I come from an eclectic background.  I was born and raised in New York City, a child of divorced parents who are both highly emotional, overbearing people. Throughout my formative years they proclaimed time and again that success in the arts was the only ensurer of happiness; which they repeatedly bemoaned had eluded them. What is a sensitive, artistically inclined child to do but to think that now she must take up the mantle and get that success! I too had performing-arts talents and aspirations but my tween into teen scoliosis, and limbs which weren’t built for ballet, set me back from my dancing dreams which crushed my young soul. I had to find a way to cope. This is where I first learned to take action as an access to healing. One finds another way when one springs into action instead of wallowing in self defeat.

Life Lesson # 2: Practice the will to good in order to get yourself in the frame of mind and emotions that help bring about wanted change and achieve desired results.

  • I had the ability to hear my intuition, to know the way through any difficult situation was to find and accept the absolute truth of the circumstances and to pull-up to memory past successes, accomplishments, kind words that one receives from supportive associates, friends, teachers, family.

A massive modeling career swept me up into the sky shortly after Balanchine’s School of American Ballet dismissed me.

It’s important to point out that I could never have set foot on a modeling set, never mind held my own with the modeling scout who excitedly discovered me at age 13, nor navigate the wilderness of the sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll world I was thrust into as an international supermodel, if I hadn’t had that clear contact with my inner coping mechanisms that provided me with the resilience that I needed to keep on swimming.

Over the years I developed all sorts of inner life coping mechanisms that I pulled from many sources starting with an upbringing rooted in my mother’s spirituality.  Deep dives into Jungian psychoanalysis via acting workshops, the grace of the twelve step program Al-Anon, Kundalini yoga, and Transcendental Meditation all contributed to my inner life. I had to cultivate my well being in order to thrive, knowing full well that the outcome of my life would be up to me. Since life is up to me, how do I create it? Well here’s what I do:

Step 1: Focus on your desired goals not the how’s.

  • I focus on my desired general goals and I stay out of the how’s, i.e. “I want happiness, love and prosperity” and then do not micromanage the how’s such as “My happiness can only come from winning the Nobel Prize; I either marry Joseph or I die; My wealth has to come from being a hedge fund manager or nothing at all” NO! Do not attach to the how’s.

Step 2: Be committed, but don’t be attached.

  • I then get into the details of bringing about those general goals (but not attached to them having to look an exact way, i.e. make a list of who I need to call if I want to get my film into Sundance) aided by positive affirmations, mantras, screams from ecstatic feelings & thoughts and jumps of joy.

Step 3: Take the Action!

  • Then I make sure to take regular action towards achieving them. i.e. submit my film to film festivals – making a film is one thing but taking the action to send it out into the world is equally important

An example: Think of how Muhammad Ali would say, “I am the greatest!” He believed it and by taking action toward his goal of becoming the greatest boxer i.e by sharpening his boxing skills, staying out of the how’s, focusing on the details with excitement and positive expectancy, he achieved.

To feel one is worthy of what one is naturally drawn to requires going within, quieting down the chatter, trusting that your moral compass is strong, accepting that the only way forward is by rejecting the fear and by accepting the love –– the good, the truth, the honesty, the courage, the humanity, the wisdom. Being human is messy. Once one accepts that many aspects of life are tragic, then your life has the opportunity to be beautiful.

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