Find Your Peace and Joy Outside of Circumstance [Podcast] - PCOS Diva
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Find Your Peace and Joy Outside of Circumstance [Podcast]

PCOS Podcast No. 139 Find Peace and Joy outside of circumstance“There’s an opportunity when you’re all out of aces and have no more cards to play. My control behaviors, my perfectionism, my performance, no amount of hard work could change the pain I was feeling.” – Nicole Zasowski

Nicole Zasowski is a marriage and family therapist, and in her new book, Nicole shares her story as she helps find an enduring peace and joy outside of circumstance. Many of us have felt lost after a diagnosis. We’ve struggled with symptoms and suffered difficulties getting pregnant and maybe even had a miscarriage. Listen in (or read the transcript) as we discuss:

  • Keeping perfectionism in check
  • Antidotes to anxiety
  • 3 things to keep in mind to feel secure in an unsafe or stressful situation
  • Seeking the positive

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Mentioned in this podcast:

NicoleZasowski.com

Complete Transcript:

Amy Medling:

I often browse Amazon book categories like fertility and endocrine disorders to see what books I might like to read to stay on top of the latest in PCOS-related topics. There was one book that was rising in the Amazon fertility category ranks that really intrigued me. It wasn’t about PCOS or really even fertility. It was more of a memoir written by Nicole Zasowski. She’s a marriage and family therapist and the book is called From Lost to Found, and the summary really intrigued me. The summary says, “In From Lost to Found, Nicole shares her story as she helps us name what we fear losing most, identify how our reactive behaviors are failing us, discover what joy we can find in letting go and move forward in the freedom God has for us.”

Amy Medling:

I ordered and read her book and then I invited Nicole on the podcast, because I think she has much wisdom to share for us PCOS Divas. Many of us have felt lost after a diagnosis. We’ve suffered difficulties getting pregnant and maybe even had a miscarriage, and we struggle with a chronic health condition like PCOS, and I really found her book to be a bomb. Welcome Nicole to the PCOS Diva Podcast. I’m so glad that you agreed to come on.

Nicole Zasowski:

Oh, thanks so much for having me. It’s an honor to be here.

Amy Medling:

You are a licensed marriage and family therapist. You’re a writer and speaker. You’re based in Connecticut where you live with your husband and two young boys. And as you say in your bio, you are an old soul who wears her heart proudly on her sleeve. I can relate with that.

Nicole Zasowski:

Good.

Amy Medling:

And Nicole loves using her words to help others find an enduring peace and joy outside of circumstance. I would love for you to just start about why you wrote this book.

Nicole Zasowski:

Yeah, so as you mentioned, I’m a therapist, and it was my greatest joy to help others find peace and joy outside of circumstance. What I didn’t realize for many years is that I was personally missing out on that peace and joy, because my hope was very much attached to control the life looking how I expected it to. And I would sort of outwork a situation so I could ensure. That was sort of my way of controlling is “I’ll just work harder than everybody else” to make my life look exactly how I dreamed it would, and relied on perfectionism and performance, winning people over so that I could feel valued and secure.

And it wasn’t until I confronted my own season of intense pain and loss that those things were called out as frauds. They stopped working for me. And I learned very quickly that there’s an opportunity, as painful as it is, there’s an opportunity when you’re all out of aces and have no more cards to play. My control behaviors, my perfectionism, my performance, no amount of hard work could change the pain I was feeling. And so I had to discover a new way, and the book really outlines my journey, combines my personal story with me discovering for myself what I knew to be true as a therapist, so my counseling expertise and also may faith journey in the book.

Amy Medling:

You mentioned perfectionism and that was something that was a real theme throughout the book. And I wrote in my book, Healing PCOS, that I think a lot of women with PCOS who are suffering are perfectionists. And I call myself a recovering perfectionist. I have to really work at it every day to kind of overcome. For me, it can be really destructive, these perfectionist tendencies, that I hold myself to and I even hold my family members to, which isn’t always the best thing. But I think that a lot of women listening could probably relate to that. Maybe you could tell us a little bit more about your journey with perfectionism and what you’ve done to kind of keep that in check a little bit.

Nicole Zasowski:

Yeah. I think for me, perfectionism was a sneaky one and I say that, and maybe this is partly why so many women who suffer from PCOS grapple with this too, is because our culture really celebrates perfectionism in a lot of ways, and it is not wrong to have a standard of excellence in things that you do. That’s a good thing, but I think when those of us who confront things that no matter how hard we work or how perfect we try and make things, we confront circumstances where we can’t make it perfect, I think then our perfectionism really gets highlighted in a different way than maybe just going along living our lives would.

I have come to see that as a gift, as painful as it is, even in this season of launching a book in the midst of this COVID-19 season that we’re going through. When we confront things we cannot change, there’s so much opportunity for growth in us and for change in us. And so I would love to tell you that I’m always really disciplined about keeping it in check. It’s a constant struggle for me, and thankfully I’ve confronted enough seasons where it’s just not going to work, that it’s a reminder, “Okay, yes, there’s a different way.”

And there’s three things that I try to keep in mind to feel secure in an unsafe situation, and I use unsafe as situations where I don’t feel like I have total control. The first is that while I am not in total control, I am empowered to make choices and I do have agency. The second is I am not alone. I have a community that loves me. If you’re a person of faith, that can be very helpful as a reminder that you’re not alone, and also this community that you’ve built. I want to commend you that you’ve created such a wonderful safe space for women all over to connect and know that they’re not alone. And that can be hugely healing when it comes to perfectionism.

And then the third is if we have to go through this, no one would call the situation good, but is there goodness and growth that has sprung from it? And are we willing to see those things? That maybe it’s not the story we would have written for ourselves, but can we have eyes to see the goodness that has emerged in the midst of it? And that one has been particularly powerful for me when I think about perfectionism.

Amy Medling:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). And I just want people to know, we are recording this right in the midst of this, as you mentioned, the COVID-19 crisis. I think this is March 25th, so I’m not quite sure when this podcast will air, but just to sort of frame our conversation for listeners. Something that I would just add to it that was a real lesson for me is to really embrace progress rather than perfection, because I know for me, striving perfection really left me exhausted, frustrated, feeling bad about myself. It was taking a toll on myself and really those around me. It was unsustainable. And now I’m really about creating a lifestyle that is sustainable and that’s going to allow me to really be the best version of myself and that perfectionism was not doing that.

Nicole Zasowski:

Yeah. I love your point about being a work in progress, because that’s what we all are and giving ourselves grace enough to love where I am and grow from there, and you can have room for growth and still be just as valuable where you are now as you will be a year from now when you’ve done all that good growing.

Amy Medling:

I wanted to talk, if you don’t mind, getting more into the pain and loss, and women with PCOS, I think that we often mourn the life that we wish that we had. And I think we tend to look at women who aren’t dealing with PCOS. Often, it seems like they can get pregnant a lot easier, that they don’t really have to watch their diet or lifestyle. We can look at an ice cream sundae and put 10 pounds on just by looking at it where our friends don’t really have that issue. We tend to be more fatigued and maybe moodier, all of these things that it looks like our friends aren’t dealing with.

We’re maybe mourning the life that we had planned for ourselves, kind of like what you were saying in sort of the intro of our discussion. And a lot of women with PCOS, we have the pain of going month to month without a pregnancy. When the period comes, you kind of mourn that life that you thought may have happened or we suffer miscarriages. So a lot of those things you wrote about in your book, and I was hoping you could kind of share a little bit more about your personal story and the silver lining that you found.

Nicole Zasowski:

Yeah. Gosh, even you just saying those experiences, I know that pain and for anyone listening that’s in the midst of that pain, goodness, I just want to honor that because it is real. And I think that’s the first thing I would say to someone who’s in those shoes of getting their period after not wanting it or looking at one lonely pink line on a negative pregnancy test or in the wake of a miscarriage is, I think we’re getting better as a culture at honoring how painful that is. But often those experiences happen in the quiet of our own homes and aren’t necessarily validated like other painful experiences. But goodness, is that is just such a profound experience of loss. Even if it’s a negative pregnancy test, that’s a loss. It’s a loss of expectations. There’s that momentary loss of hope that you had for that month when you have a miscarriage.

I say this a lot. It’s not just the weeks that you knew about that baby, but it’s the story you wrote as soon as you found out you were pregnant for your family with that little one, for that little one’s life. It’s a story you’ve dreamed about that you suddenly have to say goodbye to. I think I say in the book, because we are such visual people and we are dreamers, which is a good thing, but I think I write in the book that suddenly, you’re free to go on that vacation that you didn’t think you’d be able to make because you were supposed to be delivering your baby and you wish you weren’t free to go on that vacation. You took a picture in your mind of what your family would look like as soon as you found out you were pregnant and then you have to say goodbye to that picture and it takes a long time for that to fade. And you’ll always carry that little one in your heart some way, somehow.

My personal experience was that my husband and I got married fairly young and so we started trying to have children about five years into our marriage and I was about 27, and my mom had not had any miscarriages. My husband’s mom had had a couple, but I was very healthy, no indication that anything would be wrong and I got pregnant very quickly the first time. And unfortunately, that pregnancy ended in a miscarriage. Miraculously, I got pregnant quite quickly after that again, and then again that one ended in a miscarriage. And my doctor at that point was like, “I don’t think anything is wrong but why don’t you just go get a fertility scan just to make sure because you’re really young, and two in a row is a little suspect to me.” So sure enough, we discovered a genetic … it’s called a balanced translocation on my husband’s side, which makes it more likely than not that I will miscarry a baby when I get pregnant.

And in the midst of … We have two children now, but have had five miscarriages in the midst of our two boys, two before my first son, and then three in between. And while it’s certainly different than PCOS in a million ways, I can relate to the chronic nature of it. It’s not something I can fix. No amount of hard work, no amount of eating right or being really disciplined in all these areas is going to make it different. And so I really began this journey of how can I find peace and joy and how can I choose hope in the midst of a situation that is not going to change. And I think when you’re a perfectionist or you’re performance-oriented, you often tend to put your peace and joy on the far side of a goal achieved or a dream realized.

Amy Medling:

Exactly.

Nicole Zasowski:

And I really had to begin this journey of, “Okay, if this does not change, how will I have hope and peace and joy right now?” And that’s really the essence of From Lost to Found, my book.

Amy Medling:

It’s interesting because of the time that we’re recording this, with so much uncertainty and fear, it is a choice to find the hope and the joy and the blessing in the moment.

Nicole Zasowski:

Yeah, absolutely. And I will be totally honest. That’s a journey I’m still on. I know with all my heart that there is goodness and blessing to be found even in seasons or stories you would not have written for yourself. I have certainly seen a different kind of marriage emerge. And I can’t say what would’ve happened if we hadn’t gone through this, but I know that the kind of conversations and the intimacy that we have because of some really tough circumstances and some were really difficult conversations over the years, that’s just one example of a blessing I’ve found in the wake of what’s been broken and lost. And that’s not calling the broken and lost things good. I wouldn’t say that our pain is good, but I do know that good can come from it.

Amy Medling:

Well, and that’s kind of how I’ve looked at my PCOS journey. I mean, I never in a million years thought that I would be in this place. I went to school for marketing. I was a stay-at-home mom, but I was going to go back into marketing when the kids got into school. And because of my journey, here I am now helping others, and you’re doing the same thing by writing the book. If it wasn’t for your journey, you probably would have never wrote the book and wouldn’t have been able to provide some solace to other women who are going through the same sort of grieving process.

Nicole Zasowski:

Absolutely. No, I’m grateful for this story in many ways, as painful as it has been because of exactly what you’re saying, of the transformation that’s happening in me and also the way I’m able to … hopefully … my prayer and hope is that I can reach back and help others who might be in a similar position, even if their diagnosis is different or their story is a different version of a story they wouldn’t have written for themselves. But I certainly hope that the book blesses and encourages and I hope that my counseling work is different too, as a result of what I’ve gone through.

Amy Medling:

So, in your book, you talk about how you never thought of hope is a choice. Can you kind of expound on that a little bit for us?

Nicole Zasowski:

Yeah, I guess I always had approached hope as the result of favorable odds, and that’s kind of the way we talk about it. When we turn on the news and we see some good news, we think, “Oh, that’s hopeful,” and then we start to have a little bit more hope. I had approached my own hope like that, that I needed a reason before I was willing because hope is an extremely vulnerable experience and this audience will appreciate that because you know what it’s like to hope every single month and to have those hopes lead you to disappointment. And I guess I got to this place where I was really afraid to hope because it felt like I was just inviting disappointment.

And what I realized is, because I went through this season where I was just like, “I won’t. I’ll keep low expectations and worst case I’ll be right and best case I’ll be pleasantly surprised.” Well, it didn’t really work like that because when you stop hoping you not only protect yourself from disappointment but you protect yourself from the joy too. There’s no filter on that, even if it’s the joy that comes from connecting with your loved ones in the midst of pain. I went through this period where I was just very much trying to perform in my pain and be mature and really it wasn’t mature at all, it was just invulnerable and when you’re invulnerable, you tend to not let people in and connect with you in ways that can be really important and healing.

But I also protected myself from other joy, and so I decided that I needed to choose hope as a part of my own healing growth, and that hope is a good idea, not necessarily because it guarantees a change in our circumstance, but because there’s change in growth in us as a result of the process of hoping it does something inside of us that’s really important.

Amy Medling:

You write in your book, “Yes, your feelings are real. They might even overwhelm you and be difficult to speak into at times. But whether hopelessness becomes our new normal is up to us. We get to choose hope and hope is available to everyone right now.”

Nicole Zasowski:

Yeah.

Amy Medling:

Which I love.

Nicole Zasowski:

Yeah. No. And to me that was very empowering to not have to wait for the perfect circumstances to feel hope, but to say, “No, I can have hope right now regardless of what my future holds.” And it may lead me to different circumstances than I wouldn’t have chosen or planned, but there’s hope there too. And sometimes the greatest joy comes when we are drained of our expectations and are left with empty hands to receive what we actually need and a more beautiful life story than we could’ve ever imagined for ourselves.

Amy Medling:

And I think that sort of brings us to the next theme that I wanted to talk about, which is surrender. And you write that, “Surrender is simply an acknowledgement that we are empowered to do some things, but our lives are ultimately shaped by God’s will, not our own.”

Nicole Zasowski:

Yeah. I think knowing that we do have agency, that we are empowered to make choices, to grow, to be healthy, to connect with other people, we’re empowered over the message we give ourselves. I always say that the voice we hear most often is the voice inside our own heads, so let’s be careful what message we give it. But we are not in total control. And so anxiety and worry tends to come when we start trying to control things that we are not empowered to control, because then our brain thinks that, “Okay, if I just worry about this enough, I can make it different.” And really you’re just making yourself miserable, and I’m pointing nine fingers at myself when I’m saying this. We’re making ourselves miserable and we’re not changing anything with our worry. And so that’s why surrender is so important. What you get there, it can be actually exciting, like, “Wow, let’s see what beauty awaits me that I may not have seen if I was so locked in on what my expectations were.”

Amy Medling:

Oh, I love that, the way of framing that. So women with PCOS, we’re great warriors. I know that 60% of us have some mood-related anxiety, depression. I think a lot of us suffer with anxiety. And I do think surrender is one of the antidotes to anxiety, but could you give us some helpful tips on how to start that process?

Nicole Zasowski:

Yeah. I mean, sometimes, and I do this with myself and with clients, sometimes I think putting pen to paper is really helpful. And so I will draw two circles and I’ll write down all the things that I am empowered to do in the midst of the circumstance that’s hard or not what I would’ve chosen or feels insecure somehow, so all the choices I am empowered to make or all the ways that I do have agency. And then I’ll in the other circle write down all the things I would love to control but cannot.

And just seeing it visually and the practice of actually writing it can be helpful in I am spinning my wheels if I am spending any mental thoughts, emotional energy in this circle that yes, I would love to control but can’t. And so that needs to get surrendered. And whether that happens in some sort of practice in your faith or whether that’s just a mental exercise for you of, “I’m fixing my eyes on what I actually can control, and I’m going to wait with expectation to see what happens in the stuff that I can’t,” because I think surrender is also a gateway to having hope and expectancy about what the future could hold that’s different than I dreamed myself.

Amy Medling:

I’m thinking about this in terms of what we’re going through right now and the things that I can control are, I can make sure that I’m eating and eating really nutrient-rich foods. I’m cooking a lot. I’m spending a lot of time in the kitchen because everybody’s home right now. But I’m finding the joy in that too. There’s something really … and I know you’re a mom of two boys and there’s something really satisfying and joyful knowing that you’re nourishing your family with good food that’s going to help our immune systems.

I’m making sure everybody’s taking their supplements, including me. I’m making sure that I’m getting enough sleep and fresh air and exercise and all of those things that are easily within my control right now, but all of the other stuff, I’m praying a lot. We are as a family praying a lot and that’s kind of the offering that stuff up that we can’t control and releasing that, there’s a real bomb. There’s something very healing about that as well.

Nicole Zasowski:

Yeah. I love prayer because I think it kind of bridges the two. We are empowered to pray. We are empowered to talk to God about the worries that are on our heart. But then it sort of hands him the stuff that we would love to control but can’t. So the act of prayer is what we’re empowered to do. But it’s also a practice of surrender, which is amazing.

Amy Medling:

And I want to add one more thing to that is gratitude. So I was tucking my daughter in last night. We were actually watching the BBC Pride and Prejudice for her first time, which has been kind of fun because we have the time to do that. And I was tucking her in and we’re saying our prayers. She was praying and she said, “God, thank you for this break. I really needed it. I needed to be with my brothers.” She’s got these two big teenage brothers that she doesn’t spend a lot of time with because they’ve got their own lives but they’ve been spending a lot of time with her because we’re all together in the house, and she said, “I really needed to sleep and just relax,” because I think she’s been probably over-scheduled with basketball and all the kids’ activities and everything. So she found the silver lining in all of this and it was a real kind of lesson to me that I need to really look for the blessings in all of this as well.

Nicole Zasowski:

Yeah. What a beautiful prayer from a young one, an example to follow.

Amy Medling:

Yeah, so I think looking for the blessings-

Nicole Zasowski:

Absolutely.

Amy Medling:

… even if things seem really bleak and painful, there’s always something to be grateful for.

Nicole Zasowski:

Yeah. I think a question I often, or a prompt I often give myself is, “Okay, what is good right now?” And your daughter named a bunch of really great ones in the midst of this COVID-19 crisis that we’re in as we’re recording this, but what is good right now? What’s this fruit that came from a situation that I wouldn’t have necessarily written? But I’m getting to spend more time with my family. We’re slowing down. We have time to do different kinds of things than we typically would. There are so many. And gratitude is absolutely linked to hope in many, many ways. I think recognizing the ways in which, again, if you’re a person of faith, recognizing the ways in which God has been faithful in the past gives us a lot of courage for the future.

Amy Medling:

I think that’s a great a point to finish our podcast on, Nicole.

Nicole Zasowski:

Awesome.

Amy Medling:

I want to really encourage PCOS Divas to pick up a copy of your book, From Lost to Found: Giving Up What You Think You Want for What Will Set You Free. I love that tagline, by Nicole … I’m going to just spell your last name for listeners, Z-A-S-O-W-S-K-I. And I’ll have a link to Nicole’s book on Amazon on my podcast notes page. You can always find the transcript and podcast notes at PCOSDiva.com. And if you live in Connecticut, Nicole is taking clients in her marriage and family therapy practice. Maybe you could tell us where we could find out more information on that.

Nicole Zasowski:

Sure. My website is just NicoleZasowski.com. Again, Z-A-S-O-W-S-K-I. And you can certainly contact me there. That is primarily my book website, but you can absolutely contact me through there.

Amy Medling:

And I also think that the nice thing about your book too, there includes a lot of questions if you wanted to use this book for a book club. If you’re in touch with other women with PCOS or through fertility groups, think about reading this book in a book club.

Nicole Zasowski:

Yes, it’s very much designed to be read in community. There’s some discussion questions at the end of each of the four parts. Some groups are splitting it up to make it an eight week study and doing one part every two weeks. And then subgroups, it’s a really easy four week study too if you’re just looking for something simple and good to discuss. So definitely written with groups in mind.

Amy Medling:

Well, I’m so glad I stumbled upon your book.

Nicole Zasowski:

Oh, me too.

Amy Medling:

So, thanks so much for your time, Nicole, and thank you everyone for listening. I look forward to being with you again very soon. Bye-bye.

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