Tracey West is founder of International Downshifting Week and author of The Book of Rubbish Ideas and the Diary of Divorce: for Women and Men. She chatted with Life Is Short Magazine about how to found a week, getting published, getting through divorce and lots more.
Tracey started her writing career as a columnist writing about downshifting and living an environmentally friendly lifestyle. “I started Downshifting Week, as I wanted to simplify the process of simplifying your life. To take the rose-coloured spectacles off what the media were portraying it as. I wanted to take the freaky out of eco.’”
From this, The Book of Rubbish Ideas came about and became a sell-out success.
However, life has thrown Tracey a few lemons including a painful divorce. But instead of letting bitterness seep in, Tracey has used humour and writing to make lemonade from her life lemons (so to speak!).
“Writing was my predominate coping mechanism. It was wonderful. My fingers would just itch to get a big long story out of my head. When it was done I could go asleep; it was great and it turned into a book and I realised if it’s helping me it will help someone else.”
“Writing can lift you out of the darkness. Buy yourself a notebook and keep it for the purpose of spilling out the rubbish from your head. That way you can close the book and stick it out of sight, but you know it’s there when you need it. It’s a very powerful and useful thing to do.”
Diary of Divorce: for Women and Men is a practical therapy journal that helps you through the difficult times while offering practical support. There are practical pages where you fill out the details of your solicitor, counsellor, doctor for easy reference, then there are memory pages where you recall the good times and the bad and then there are the humorous pages such as ‘Draw your ex naked and then add spots and boils to all the places you would like them to erupt!’
“I wish that the book that I’ve written was available during my divorce. The author is the person who buys it. It’s your private journal, your private thoughts,” explains Tracey.
“A divorce is only ever two people wide; it’s that unity coming to an end. Your story is private and individual to you; it’s private, it’s your story. This book is about you coming out of the darkness and finding humour as well.”
“We can go through our lives as either a survivor or as a victim. We all struggle with stuff and you have to reach out to other sources and get yourself back on track and then find the chink of light in it and use it to help other people. It is about spinning your perception of whatever has happened to you on its head and saying, ‘You know what, I’m not going to let it beat me’.”
During her interview (Click to listen now) Tracey gives lots of solid advice to self-help book authors:
“There are millions of books on Amazon. Ultimately, it is down to you the author to make a noise about it otherwise it will just join the queue of millions of other books, so you do have to put yourself out there. It’s not impossible; you need to work out your unique points of your work and then you need to bang a drum about it, create a website, put some stuff out there and let people know about it.”
It was when she awoke from her 20th colon rectal surgery, and following the reversal of her four-year colostomy bag, which all resulted from a massive infection caused by a botched-up biopsy 10 years previous, that Yulady Saluti, a 32-year-old yoga instructor and mother of six, was told she had Stage II breast cancer.
She had thought the 20th attempt to fix the problem was going to be the last surgery; she had kept her spirits high with plans for the future.
Even though she had had major surgeries in the last few years in an area of the body that most people would be embarrassed to discuss, Yulady managed to excel in her new-found passion: yoga. So much so that she appeared in yoga DVDs with Tara Stiles and Deepak Chopra and on TV with Sadie Nardini, and she was teaching in four different yoga studios.
But now life was throwing her another clanger.
“My husband was standing next to me, waiting for me to regain consciousness again, just as he had been doing since the first surgery I had exactly two weeks after our wedding. I blinked up at him and said, “Hey, babe. How did it go?” He looked back at me. “You have breast cancer, honey.”
Yulady had Stage II breast cancer at the age of 32. Not only was it ruining her future plans but she also had six children waiting at home for their mama.
“I had been depressed before. It’s very easy to play the ‘Why me?’ card – I did not want to go back there. Rectum, colon, colostomy are taboo subjects and definitely not something you want to be talking about in your 20s. It was keeping my illness to myself that caused the depression.
“So I dealt with this a whole other way than my last illness. I googled double mastectomy and you wouldn’t see the women’s faces. I said I want to show the world what a woman looks like with a double mastectomy. I still felt beautiful. My husband thought I was still beautiful. He has helped me a lot through it. I gave myself one ‘Why me?’ day and then I picked myself up and got on with it.
Yulady began blogging and creating YouTube videos about her journey through treatment and recovery.
“It was important for me to show the woman behind the treatment …”
It’s now exactly one year on since her diagnosis and Yulady is cancer free.
Through the highs and lows of the year, Yulady’s frank blogs and bare-chested (and sometimes bareheaded!) empowering photos have helped remove the veil of mystery surrounding the issue of breast cancer treatment, which so many women face every day. It also shows a woman following her passion no matter what life throws at her.
“In my very first yoga class, I felt the happiness and the peace I’d been searching for. And I still feel this way. Practising yoga, I lose track of time. My mind stops thinking about the future or the past. I feel whole. I am able to just breathe and be aware of the breath, to be present and only present. I let go of everything else. Yoga is my happy place, which (I think) makes me my happy place. Because of yoga, I can find the bright side of a crappy situation.
“For me, yoga was the light in my darkness.”
Now, every day on Instagram and Facebook, Yulady posts photos of herself in the most amazing extreme yoga poses and she posts regular tutorial videos on YouTube encouraging others to take their yoga passion to the max.
Cancer is not mentioned much anymore because it is no longer an issue; it’s now more about one powerfully inspiring woman following her one powerfully inspiring passion.
I want to introduce you to a person I met in New York at a course recently: her name is Josephine Bila and she brought me nightclubbing and to dinner after the course and showed me the best of the city that never sleeps. She is one of these people that you meet and you say ‘what a positive person, full of energy and full of life’. We were having lunch a few days later and she threw a clanger at me, something that I didn’t know. We were doing a business course and I was asking her about her business, now she works for a TV company full-time, but she’s also an emotional coach for people with chronic illness. I’ll let her tell you about herself and her business.
Josephine, when you were born you were a beautiful healthy baby girl but something happened so, could you just tell us a little bit about the background?
So, I was born the first child in my family and I guess after a few months I started looking jaundiced and tired, so they brought me to see the doctor and the doctor did a bunch of tests and they discovered that I actually was born with a genetic illness called Thalassemia.
That’s a long name!
I know, it’s a really long one which means that you know it’s rare and no one has it and no one knows about it. So, what this means is my bone marrow cannot produce red blood cells that function, so I need transfusions every few weeks to survive so I’ve been getting transfused since I was a little baby and probably will for the rest of my life.
How often do you have to get them?
When I was a kid it was every week. Then I got older and I guess I could sustain the blood so it changed to every three weeks and now it’s like every two to three weeks.
Okay, so you rely on people donating blood just to survive?
It’s something that I never thought of – I am very embarrassed to say that I’ve actually never donated blood but I’m going to now.
The next time I see the (blood donation) van I’ll be in it. We hear about blood donations if there is a major tragedy or national emergency, when everybody goes to queue up to give blood because people need it, but we don’t actually think about kids (like you needed it since you were three) needing it to survive and people like you with chronic illnesses who need donations.
Also cancer patients. Most cancer patients who need chemotherapy, also need it. I always sit with cancer patients when receiving blood. So many people need blood transfusions.
So, it’s not just for accidents and emergencies. It’s a part of life and survival for some people.
Something like this illness which people didn’t understand and a lot of teachers were unkind to me – like very, very cruel, actually – separating me from kids, not understanding and talking about it. I really didn’t talk about it at all with my friends and my parents just wanted to separate hospital life from real life. And so we didn’t talk about it at home so, I thought that since I got so much negativity from teachers, that I wanted to work in a school when I got older and tell kids who were just like me that they can achieve whatever they want in life as long as they try a little bit.
So, I got my Degree in Social Work and while I was getting the degree I worked in an elementary school counselling children and the stories that they shared with me were so tragic that I couldn’t separate my own story from their stories, so I’d go home and cry every single day and that made me decide that I couldn’t work in that type of industry so I asked myself what is the complete opposite? And that is entertainment. I bought a book and I taught myself HTML which is a web coding language and I got a job working in web design right out of college.
Okay, so you went with something completely different, but then because you’re going to the hospital quite regularly you were having some bad experiences and actually that probably dragged you back into what your calling is, as such, so that’s what you’re doing now.
I listened to what the other patients were saying – that the hospital was giving them care, informing them about taking vitamins, get transfused two times a week instead of three, etc. They said that no one was helping them with their emotional problems; they had all kinds of anxiety and stress and fear about just life in general and no one was really answering the call to that, so, I thought since I had all this training and I’ve experience of illness, and have taught myself so much – like how to get through all the adversity – then maybe I could start a blog and help people.
Okay, so you started a blog to actually help people with the emotional side of things. When did you start that?
I don’t know if you know Kris Carr, she is a cancer survivor? She has a website that has a massive following and I wrote a blog for her and after I wrote that blog I decided I should start my own website. So kind of in conjunction with launching my post with her, I posted my own site and people have been taking notice and now so many people have written to me from all over the world. I Skype with people in so many parts of the country and I’m coaching them and giving them advice on how to talk to doctors or other various things and it has been really amazing.
With some models of psychotherapy, you keep talking about the past, the past, the past, and you are never really in the present moment and what’s happening with your emotions right now. So I coach people who are experiencing a lot of worries and anxieties around having an illness. The transformations that I have seen are amazing, so it’s kind of cool. This is the most fulfilling thing that I’ve ever done.
So, it’s emotional coaching – it’s more focusing on the positive?
Well, I don’t want to say ‘positive’ … it is positive, but it’s more of trying to understand your thoughts while you’re caught up in the cycle of negative thoughts and understanding how to basically control your mind more.
Right, so it is more about not allowing the illness to be your life but rather just be a part of your life?
You’re now writing a book, is that right?
I wrote a book and I’m meeting an agent at the end of the month. We’ll see what he says!
You are going to Dubai, to speak at an event as well, aren’t you?
Yes, I spoke nationally and now I’m going to Abu Dhabi actually to speak.
Cool, are you speaking to doctors or is it patients that you’re talking to?
They’re from all over the world – patients, doctors, family members, scientists, pharmaceutical reps … everybody!
So this has all come out of you taking action about and listening to what people need and using your experience to write a blog about it and this has all developed from that. That’s amazing!
So, obviously, having a chronic illness, there’s not very many positives about it, but what I find amazing about your blog is I read it and I’m lucky that I don’t have a chronic illness and I’m healthy as far as I know, but I get so much out of your blog because one of the things that you were saying is how you appreciate life more, so could you just tell us a bit about the positives that you have found out from your negative situation?
Well, I find that people get caught up in really trivial things, I do too sometimes – when it comes to relationships they can be difficult – but going outside and knowing that I’m completely free and I’m not trapped in a hospital, because I have been like that. That feeling of just being able to do what I want when I want: I recognise that every single day and you know not being attached to an IV or any kind of machine, I feel so incredibly blessed and it’s just that I think I’ve seen so many things like really horrible, tragic things, that most people never ever see in their lives, so it’s made me kind of slow down and step back and understand why it’s important to not obsess over very trivial things. To appreciate the little things in life.
I’d like to thank Josephine very much and we’re going to have her back on the show when her book comes out.