Grieving Voices

Lisa Sugarman | Shielded From the Truth

May 14, 2024 Victoria V | Lisa Sugarman Season 4 Episode 194
Lisa Sugarman | Shielded From the Truth
Grieving Voices
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Grieving Voices
Lisa Sugarman | Shielded From the Truth
May 14, 2024 Season 4 Episode 194
Victoria V | Lisa Sugarman

Send Victoria a text message!

This week on Grieving Voices is a mental health discussion with Lisa Sugarman – a multifaceted advocate who has overcome personal tragedies to make an impact. As a suicide loss survivor and crisis counselor, her insights are invaluable during Mental Health Awareness Month.

Lisa's journey is one marked by unexpected turns. From being a content creator in the parenting space to confronting the harsh realities of mental illness following revelations about her father's death, she exemplifies resilience and strength. Her story highlights how secrets can shape our lives and the importance of community support in healing from grief.

Key Takeaways:

  • The power of listening over advising when it comes to parenting teens.
  • Balancing work-life as an entrepreneur involves recognizing limits and practicing self-care.
  • The transformative experience gained through crisis counseling at The Trevor Project.
  • The connection between unresolved pain and suicide.
  • Community is a crucial element for those dealing with mental health issues or contemplating suicide.

Lisa reminds us that connection is vital and perhaps lifesaving for those struggling silently. This episode encourages open conversations around mental health while providing solace and understanding for those touched by suicide loss.

As a proud member of the LGBTQ+ community and as a crisis counselor with The Trevor Project, Lisa passionately advocates for providing hope to young people facing crises.

Through sharing her own experiences with vulnerability and resilience, she reminds us all that transparency can aid in coping with grief. Self-care strategies are vital for navigating these tough times effectively.





  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
  • Crisis Text Line provides free, 24/7 support via text message. Text HOME to 741741 to connect with a trained Crisis Co

Support the Show.

This episode is sponsored by Do Grief Differently™️, my twelve-week, one-on-one, in-person/online program for grievers who have suffered any type of loss to feel better. Click here to learn new tools, grief education, and the only evidence-based method for moving beyond the pain of grief.

Would you like to join the mission of Grieving Voices in normalizing grief and supporting hurting hearts everywhere? Become a supporter of the show HERE.

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Show Notes Transcript

Send Victoria a text message!

This week on Grieving Voices is a mental health discussion with Lisa Sugarman – a multifaceted advocate who has overcome personal tragedies to make an impact. As a suicide loss survivor and crisis counselor, her insights are invaluable during Mental Health Awareness Month.

Lisa's journey is one marked by unexpected turns. From being a content creator in the parenting space to confronting the harsh realities of mental illness following revelations about her father's death, she exemplifies resilience and strength. Her story highlights how secrets can shape our lives and the importance of community support in healing from grief.

Key Takeaways:

  • The power of listening over advising when it comes to parenting teens.
  • Balancing work-life as an entrepreneur involves recognizing limits and practicing self-care.
  • The transformative experience gained through crisis counseling at The Trevor Project.
  • The connection between unresolved pain and suicide.
  • Community is a crucial element for those dealing with mental health issues or contemplating suicide.

Lisa reminds us that connection is vital and perhaps lifesaving for those struggling silently. This episode encourages open conversations around mental health while providing solace and understanding for those touched by suicide loss.

As a proud member of the LGBTQ+ community and as a crisis counselor with The Trevor Project, Lisa passionately advocates for providing hope to young people facing crises.

Through sharing her own experiences with vulnerability and resilience, she reminds us all that transparency can aid in coping with grief. Self-care strategies are vital for navigating these tough times effectively.





  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
  • Crisis Text Line provides free, 24/7 support via text message. Text HOME to 741741 to connect with a trained Crisis Co

Support the Show.

This episode is sponsored by Do Grief Differently™️, my twelve-week, one-on-one, in-person/online program for grievers who have suffered any type of loss to feel better. Click here to learn new tools, grief education, and the only evidence-based method for moving beyond the pain of grief.

Would you like to join the mission of Grieving Voices in normalizing grief and supporting hurting hearts everywhere? Become a supporter of the show HERE.

Victoria: Thank you for tuning in to this week's episode of grieving voices. Today, I am happy to address a very important topic for mental health awareness month. I have Lisa Sugarman with me. She is an author, a nationally syndicated columnist, a three-time survivor of suicide loss, a mental health advocate, and a crisis counselor with the Trevor Project. She's also a storyteller with the national alliance of mental illness and the host of the suicide survivor series on YouTube. Lisa writes an opinion column. We are who we are and is the author of "How to Raise Perfectly Imperfect Kids and Be Okay With It," "Untied: Parent Anxiety." And "Life, It Is What It Is." All all of their available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and everywhere books are sold. Her work has appeared on health line, parenthood, grown, and flown. Today parents Thrive Global, The Washington Post, little things, and more content now. Lives and writes just north of Boston, and you can visit her online at lisa sugar mint dot com, which I will put a link to the show notes to your website and your books and all of your things. Just poking around on your website, you do have a very extensive mental health resource hub. Mine is quite modest compared to yours, and it is. It really is. I mean, if you have a few moments to check it out, I highly recommend you you do so, and you also have a lot of just quick, like, kind of cheat sheets, if you will Mhmm. On there as well. And is this the work that you always thought you'd be doing?

Lisa: One thousand percent, no. Nope. I never imagined myself doing this kind of work in this space as an advocate, as a counselor. I mean, everything that I'm doing right now has has come as much of a surprise to me. As I think it has to everybody who is close to me kind of, you know, in my immediate world, but it was just the most natural transition for me.
To fall into this space in light of just my story that I know you and I'll talk quite a bit about. But my story and some some pretty powerful revelations in my life that have come out in the last decade. And just, I guess, my need to do something to make an impact in the mental health space.

Victoria: Ten years before, you found yourself in this space. What were you doing?

Lisa: So I've always been a writer. That that hasn't changed. I've always created content and I've been many different types of writers. I've been a newspaper journalist. I've written for magazines. I've written for publishing companies, done lots of marketing and PR, and and that sort of thing. I've been a columnist for many years. I've written books. And so I I did all of that in the parenting space predominantly. It's just the place I found myself in.
You know, I I my husband and I have to they're now grown daughters almost twenty four and almost twenty seven. So we've kind of cycled through that whole parenting stage of life with little kids and college kids. And that's what I was writing about. I mean, that was the space I was in. It was what I was doing day to day. I was writing about the work life balance, and I was a working mom, and my husband traveled a ton, and and it was really just about that family dynamic, and that's where everything's centered. And it was really I think it was really almost kind of an overnight gift about ten years ago that kind of brought me into the space. But I'm in that.

Victoria: We'll put a pin in that piece

Lisa: if it's a pin.

Victoria: I we will. I wanna rewind just for a moment because Mhmm. I just wanna touch on what you were sharing about, writing about parenthood and that was the space you were in and you wrote books about that, you know, how to raise perfectly and perfect kids and be okay with it. Can you share a little bit just because and you mentioned balance. So I just for mental health awareness month, Can you share a little bit about mental health raising teens?
Number one. And today, particularly as in hindsight with what you know now. And then also, there's a two part question. For entrepreneurs listening, who have kids who are doing all the things. What has balance been for you?
Is there such a thing?

Lisa: Too per question. I guess there's balance, but there's like a precarious balance as far as I'm concerned. So the first the first question. I think that the best advice I could give or the best comment that I could make about being a parent of a team or, you know, a young adult child is keep your mouth shut. Keep your mouth shut in large part, not always.
At the right times if you can, and take a step back and do at least as much listening to your kids as you're doing talking to your kids. When I kind of arrived in that place of understanding that they had as much to share with me as I had to share with them. It was kind of a game changer for me, if that makes sense. Like, I you'd as parents were just kind of hardwired to wanna talk to them and teach them and guide them and advise them and do all the things and and at the end of the day, that is what we're supposed to be doing. But we're also supposed to be allowing them to kind of do the same thing.
Like, we're figuring out how to be parents when our kids are figuring out how to be humans. So there's a whole bunch of figuring of things out that we all have to be, I think, a little gracious to each other when we're in that position. So that's what I would say, you know, to to a parent of a child in in that space and time is just spend as much time as you can listening to your kids than creating space for them to have those conversations because they have an awful lot to say. We just don't think they do. The second part of your question is a little more complicated for the balancing part.
So, look, it's like trial by fire, you know. I think that when you keep your own self care as kind of an anchor in your life, recognizing that you're absolutely useless to yourself, your family, your extended your immediate failure extended family, your friends, your job, your useless, if you're not okay inside. If your mental health and your physical health aren't good, there is no balance. There's no such thing as balance. I don't think or I haven't found.
And it's only when the there's harmony with those things and you give yourself again giving yourself grace. To do what you need to do. Take the time you need to take, you know, focus on what you need as a human being. And then obviously, of course, what your kids need, what your partner needs, what your family needs. I think the rest, I think the balance part comes a lot easier when you do that or when I've done that for sure.

Victoria: And I think for myself personally, it's like recognizing my limits Mhmm. What are what are my limits? And then where can I fill that gap? And where can I ask for help and support?

Lisa: Mhmm. Yeah. That's big.

Victoria: Also found too, like, with because I'm I'm in the trenches of college and teen pre college years. And Well, what a what a tramp.

Lisa: Yeah. That's an understatement.

Victoria: But I think one thing that I have found personally you know, we we have two ears and one mouth for a reason. Right? Like, to touch on what he shared, but I have phoned because I can go into teacher preacher mode. You know, I've been there. I've done that.
No. We always wanna share Yeah. So which way to them? Just Listen to me, you know, just I I wanna spare you. But I also recognize that the hard lessons are where growth is.
And so Mhmm. What I found personally that's helped for me is when I feel like I I want to give advice or I want to, yeah, give advice. That may be unsolicited. Rather, I propose it as a question, get very inquisitive and curious. And so I pose it as a question.
Like, well, what do you think about this? For example, just for example, let's say they're, you know, dating relationships. Right? If they're dating somebody, you know, are you talking at her or are you talking with her when I'm recognizing something that I'm hearing or seeing. Right?
And so it's not telling him what to do, not telling my son what to do or how to communicate with his girlfriend, but being inquisitive about how he's going about that.

Lisa: Mhmm. You

Victoria: know, and he's his response. Fair, fair point. Like, yeah. Like, he got it. I didn't have to lecture him for an hour about how to communicate with someone.
You know? So I think it's just posing things as a as a curious question.

Lisa: Yeah. I, you know, I love that you do that because it allows your son or our kids to kind of retain agency over themselves and where the conversation's going. And what advice they're getting and and not getting and how they're getting it. I'll tell you something interesting, and I I know we'll probably chat about it later, but it that just made me think of how much my capacity for holding space has changed our capacity, but I guess my skill set with holding space has changed since I became a crisis counselor with the Trevor project. Because the way that we are taught to hold space as crisis counselors involves basically completely removing ourselves from the conversation.
We're part of the conversation but nothing is ever about me. Nothing I we don't disclose our real name where we are in the world. Whether we're gay, straight, or otherwise, whether we have families, what our opinions are, like absolutely nothing, no anecdotal, hey, that happened to me and I understand or I can relate or nothing. And that was a really, really big mind shift for me, but it was all focused on once I got it, and I understood that it was all about helping the person on the phone maintain that agency over the conversation and over themselves, it it completely, I guess, revolutionized the way that I have a conversation with someone and hold space and and the same applies. It's very similar in nature, I think, to what you're saying, about how you're engaging with your kids because it's a game changer too.

Victoria: I just connected the dot for myself. So thank you for sharing that. In that because people would ask me all the time. That's one of the big questions I get because I I work with Grievers. Right?
I I hear and I talk with Grievers all the time on my podcast and, like,

Lisa: how can

Victoria: you listen to all that sadness and heavy stuff all the time? How can you work with brivers and deal with all that. And I always thought the answer was, oh, all this energy work that I've done personally on myself, but to be it just hit me. It's like, I've done a lot of work on myself Yeah. To be able to hold space for other people.
Including my kids

Lisa: Mhmm. To remove

Victoria: my just exactly what you said. So I really I think it's giving credit to I think the deep work that you've done for yourself to be able to be there for other people and also for myself. And I've, you know, and I've said it to other people, like, you can only sit with others in their pain to the capacity that you've worked through your own. You know, to the depth that you've worked through your own.

Lisa: Mhmm.

Victoria: But I never got it until you just shared that.

Lisa: So Well, it's all perspective. Right? It's that's that's what we're here to do. We're here to, you know, to make each other a little wiser.

Victoria: And I'll let that be kind of this motivation for people, especially parents, to take the time to work on themselves because you do become a much better parent than your that your child needs you to be than what you think they need. You know,

Lisa: it's true. It's very true. And it's necessary. And it's part of that whole learning curve, that whole process. That's, you know, where we're supposed to get a little snappier every day, a little bit stronger every day.
Our skill set is supposed to deepen a little bit more as we as we go on.

Victoria: So what shifted ten years ago? I know it. I know it shifted.

Lisa: You know it shifted. Yeah. It

Victoria: What a way to change the topic.

Lisa: Yeah. Right. Right. So ten years ago, I learned Well, I'll back up. Before I give the, I guess, what would be a pretty big reveal?
I'll back up and say that I lost my father when I was ten years old. So I'm fifty five years old now. I lost my father forty five years ago. I'm an only child. My dad was everything in the world to me.
And he passed away very, very suddenly of what I was told was a massive heart attack. My dad was a really he was very active, very physically fit but he was also a very big smoker. And so that was not a hard that was not a hard narrative to digest because it was awful. And it was life changing, but it made sense. Like, he had a Mastercard attack.
He was a smoker. I connected those dots and there was no question. Fast forward thirty five years until I was forty five, which was ironically the same age that my father wasn't passed away. I discovered very much by accident that my dad had taken his own life. And that was just that was a that was a time.
Yep. That was a time. For me that everything just imploded because it was nothing I ever suspected. It was nothing I ever even remotely considered. And I just, like, bumped into family member I hadn't seen in years and we were talking.
And my husband and I was I was having lunch somewhere at an outdoor cafe. She sat down and we were catching up and she asked me about my kids and my girls were teens at the time. And she asked me if I got out of the blue picked for it, like, out of the blue asked me if my kids had any of the same depression and mental illness that my father had. And I did not know what in the hell she was talking about. And it but but that being said, I as puzzled as I was by the conversation.
I I didn't ask her anything about it. I think I was too stunned in that moment. I didn't know where it was coming from. I kind of let the conversation come and go and she left and I turned to my husband as what in the hell was that? I have no idea what that was.
My mom and I are extremely, extremely close. We talk multiple times a day he's my best friend in the world. I didn't run to her after that thinking, mom, what am I missing? Like, well, I didn't do that. Surprisingly.
Kind of the next time she and I were together, which wasn't too long after that, we were sitting or having lunch, and we were just doing like a normal reminiscing that we would always do. Nothing out of the ordinary. And very much in a in a spontaneous moment, I I asked her, my father had been depressed. And she said, yes. And before I knew it, was coming out of my mouth.
I had never thought about it. I had never asked myself the question. Certainly was not prepared to ask my mother the question. Never crossed my conscious mind. All of a sudden, I don't know where I blurt it out.
Did dad take his life? And she said, yes. And she explained to me that he had taken his life and that in that moment when she was, you know, considering everything that was happening Now going forward, me and I was ten at the time and had no siblings and it was just the two of us, what would she do? How would I react? What would that do to me?
Losing him, what would that do to me? But then finding out it was a suicide, what would that do to me? And so she she made that decision in that moment to shield me from that truth and to tell me that he had died of a heart attack and never spoke about it with anyone anyone ever. Until he and I talked about it forty well, I was forty five. So that's what that was that was the that's my why for doing what I'm doing.
And it it unfortunately was not just my father dying by suicide. A cousin of mine took his life a year before my father. And that I didn't know was a suicide at the time. That was my first experience kind of understanding even just in general terms what suicide was. And then three years ago, my husband and I had a very, very close childhood friend.
He took his life very unexpectedly. So we've kind of had that trifecta of suicide in our life. And I just I needed to do something with it. I needed I needed to kind of change it up and and take whatever I went through or whatever I learned from it. That lived experience and just pay it forward.
So here I am.

Victoria: Did it change your relationship with your mother?

Lisa: It made it even not that I ever thought that this was possible, it made it stronger. My mother is a force of nature. My mother is one of the most remarkable humans that I've ever known. She is incredibly resilient and so kind and generous and supportive in every way. And I knew instantly I mean, I was a mom.
I had already been a mom of teenage kids by the time I found out about dad. So I in that moment knew immediately didn't need an explanation. I understood exactly why she kept it from me. And and to hear it from her, she would say, you know, then you were going off to, like, middle school and high school. And I didn't wanna lay that on you.
And then you were going up to college and then you were getting married. So it was like there was all there were always these these, like, mile markers that these big you know, kind of inflection points in my life, and she didn't wanna hit me with it when I was already dealing with, you know, a big transition in life. And so then she just kind of resigned. She never just say anything. Like, why did I need to know?

Victoria: Did she ever share with you what keeping that secret had done to her or what it was doing to her or how it affected her or impacted her?

Lisa: My mom, as I said, is one of the most resilient humans that you've ever met. She's that this this amazing capacity. She's just the most content person. And I think my my mom she says this all the time. She said this my entire life.
Is one of the most social and loving and outgoing people you've you've met. She's also she also considers herself her own best friend. So she I I remember she would always say to me, you know, I'd be in the car and I'd be talking to myself than having a conversation and kind of working through things and, you know, or if I was off at school, she would do things like that. You know, she he just she never harbored any ill will toward my father at all. She said, I never since the day I learned that it was a suicide, which was, you know, the day he died, there was a note was found, so it was it was pretty clear.
He said I never have had a single moment of any dealings of anger. Or dad. I I've always understood. Okay. She knew the kind of pressure he was under.
It was really my father's family. We don't know what was going on under the surface. We know that my dad started seeing a psychiatrist maybe a month before he died. Because there was so much stress on his side of the family. My parents came from two very very different families.
My mom's family is pure love, pure love and joy and kindness and support, and my dad's family was I mean, I you know, I don't I don't even wanna say what my father's family was was like, it was not an awful lot of love to be found. My dad's side of the family. And that was it was obvious. I was a little kid, and I knew it. And it weighed on him.
He did everything he possibly could. To help his family. Nothing was ever enough and there was a lot of stress. And I don't know what kind of mental illness he had, like, layered on top of that. But without knowing the actual why, which we don't know.
I mean, the note that he left was more of just an apology. I just can't I can't go on anymore, and I love you both. And I'm sorry. But we have our suspicions about, you know, kind of what the family dynamic did to his mental health. So, yeah, my my mom, it only made me love and appreciate her that much more because I'm incredibly great sold to her.
I don't know what I would have done at that point in time without the kind of resources that they have in place today for young kids who are are trying to navigate this kind of grief and loss because it's it's just a shit show when you're trying to navigate a suicide law. Like any losses such a devastating thing to navigate. But when you compound that by a suicide, like, that's a whole different animal. And for a little kid, to have been doing that in the 70s when nobody was talking about suicide. No one was talking about mental health.
No one was being open about going to therapy. Resources didn't exist. I don't know I don't know if I'd still be here, to be honest with you. So

Victoria: You know, there's two kinds of secrets. Right? The secrets to protect and the secrets that do harm and I wonder what do you feel about people who who chose that route, who chose that route, but I think do I mean, do you feel like there's a connection between secrets and people who choose? Choose that? Or is it Is it purely mental illness?

Lisa: Meaning suicide, people use suicide? I mean, it's no situational. I mean, I think it's it's so nuanced from person to person for sure. But there are obviously all these similarities attached to suicide that, you know, that kind of connects you know, connect suicides in general. I think that

Victoria: Maybe the better maybe the better question is, how much of it do you think is unresolved grief?

Lisa: Taking your life, I don't know if I don't know if it's unresolved grief as much as unresolved pain. Not that there is too much of a distinction between the two, like grief is pain, but I think that when I talk about suicide in this context. I always say the same thing. The people who have taken their lives are not taking their lives to get away from you or to get away from me or to get away from their family or their community or their friends or their life. They're taking their own life because they cannot emotionally go on anymore.
They they there is no way that they can exist and be joyful or exist and be productive. Like, they're in pain. And it took me a really long time to arrive at that understanding. And once I did, it was like it was like ninety day instantaneous that the kind of mind shift that happened for me personally because I when my cousin passed away in nineteen seventy seven, and that was my as I said, it was my first experience with suicide. Not because anyone implanted this belief system in my head, but because I cultivated it all by myself, I just kind of silently quietly believed going forward in my life that suicide was a very selfish act, which is a very, very common response to suicide.
You're like, well, why couldn't they just speak up? Or Why couldn't it work through it or why couldn't they get help? Not that simple, but it wasn't until I learned about my own father's suicide. And really started studying mental illness and the impact of mental illness and depression and the fact that it's just it's an illness. It's an illness that needs to be treated the way you would treat heart disease or cancer or, you know, the way that you would try to heal after an accident.
It's no different. And it's beyond your control, and that's what people don't understand. It's so abstract. Like mental illness seems so abstract, but it's an illness at the end of the day. And so it took me a long time to to recognize that it was really an issue of someone being so desperate to just stop hurting.
That's why they take their life. It's not selfish. It's the only it's the only choice they feel they've got, which is just unfortunate.

Victoria: I had a guest early on when my when I first started my podcast. In fact, it's a two parter because we had quite an extensive conversation, but he was on the bridge, I believe, in San Francisco, and he was going to jump and take his own life. And

Lisa: Mhmm.

Victoria: You know, he had a brief second, but this thought that came over him and and stopped himself. And I and maybe there, perhaps, someone came on the bridge. That that might have been too. I mean, that's been quite a while since I've recorded with him. But it's one of my earlier episodes.
David is his first name. But he had shared with me and this is what I remember him sharing is that you know, the connection is the anecdote to having those suicidal thoughts. Like, connection is not the cure, but it is the the bridge to healing when you're having those kinds of thoughts. What do you say to that?

Lisa: Oh, I absolutely agree with that. I think connection and community I'm I'm reading a book right now. By Francis Well, or I don't know if you ever read it. It's called the Wild Edge of sorrow. And He's just just an absolutely brilliant man and he's doing these, you know, grief and healing practices for years.
And he talked about that very specifically that he talked about the fact that at the end of the day, It's community that helps us heal, it's community that helps us grieve, it's community that helps us navigate loss or tragedy or you know, some kind of misfortune. It's by staying together as a unit and leaning on one another. Like, we're not we're not supposed to be here alone for a reason. We're not We're not all here by ourselves. We're here to create these relationships.
And I think that community is is that linchpin that, you know, that can keep us rounded and, you know, and keep us kind of reinforced if that makes sense.

Victoria: What would you say to people who are listening and from your own personal experience Mhmm. Where they may feel guilt because their love their connection to the person just wasn't enough.

Lisa: Mhmm. That's a tough I mean, I've been I've been there. I've been in that position. I mean, granted I give myself a lot of leeway where that's concerned because I was ten years old. So how can a ten year old really understand what a grown up is going through, especially like in the case of my father, he he didn't he didn't display like he was someone who was mentally ill, like he was hurting like nothing.
We knew absolutely nothing. But, I mean, as I've gotten older, you know, it's impossible to avoid having those feelings of guilt. Like, if if I had asked him more questions or if I had stayed closer to him, it's inevitable and it's human nature. You know, we we blame ourselves because we just we feel so helpless and we feel like you know, what could we have said, what could we have done? I mean, I know all of us in our friend group who lost our friend a few years ago, kicked ourselves for a very long time.
What did we miss? What did we not see? How could we possibly not known this was so imminent. And you gotta release yourself from that. You really have to release yourself from that, especially when you're in a situation where you would absolutely know what idea that the person is struggling.
Like that, you don't you you can't help but you don't know, which is why it's so incredibly important for the person who is hurting to reach out, reach out to a friend or a family member, a place where you feel safe or call a lifeline, or if you're, you know, if you're already connected with a therapist, like be, open, be honest because that's the only way that people can ever help is when they know.

Victoria: People might be asking themselves then listening. Is the responsibility on the person struggling?

Lisa: I think two that's a hard one. Two point maybe to a point in terms of vulnerability, sure. I think in as much as they have the capacity to reach out and just say, if it's only a matter of saying, hey, I'm not okay. I need help. I mean, I think it's it's like anything.
It's a shared responsibility. Like, when you're talking about, you know, when you're talking about community a minute ago, I think it's everybody's responsibility to be looking out for everybody and to care for each other and to check-in on each other. So I I think it's all a shared responsibility to a point. I mean, I think that when a person is struggling and at that, like, on the brink and that close to making that kind of decision, thinking about suicide, it becomes challenging because I don't, you know, you don't know how much they have the capacity to reach out or to articulate. It can be really parallelizing that kind of depression that's always attached to that level of pain that can really mess your head up.
It can really contaminate your thinking and and your, you know, it it can create a lot of irrational thought processes and I think, you know, it's as much of their responsibility to try and articulate just that they're not okay, and then it's our response validate and meet them the other half of the way and say, what can I do? How can I help?

Victoria: In my training that I have received, but mental health and grief and all of that. One of the things that I think is a misconception for a lot of people is that if they come right out and ask, Do you have thoughts or have you had thoughts of harming yourself? You're not gonna send that person down that spiral. Right? They've already had those thoughts if the answer is yes.

Lisa: But I

Victoria: think sometimes they're just people who are struggling are just waiting for someone to ask. Yeah. It's like the elephant in the room, you know.

Lisa: Yeah. Yeah. What that does? I'm glad you brought that up because it's such an important piece of of this whole equation. It is a very big misconception that by suggesting that someone, you know, is that low that you're gonna cause them to harm themselves.
The truth of it is, there have been so many studies that have supported that it's actually the opposite. When you address that elephant in the room right away with that line very specific language to, like, are you thinking of killing yourself? I know it's so off putting and jarring. Even GCU and I just talking about asking that question is like people get a visceral reaction to it because it's so intense. But what it's actually proven is that it validates the person's feelings.
It gives them that that that doorway to help that, you know, that opening to say, I'm actually not, okay. And, you know, people I think a lot of people hesitate to ask the question because they're really they're scared to death about what the answer be in, like, how the hell do I handle it? If somebody says, well, yeah. Actually, I'm not okay. What what the hell do I do for now?
But it's not your responsibility. And I'm saying, when I say it's not your responsibility, I'm speaking now to whoever you are, who knows someone who is struggling. It's not your responsibility to fix the problem. So take that out of the equation because that is not the responsibility that falls on you. What you can do is empower that person who's struggling with someone who can help.
Empower them with if it's nothing more, then, hey, I know you're I know you're struggling. I can hear it. Can you call nine eight eight? Call the lifeline? Or in my case, because I I work with the Trevor project, call the Trevor project hotline.
Or reach out to your therapist. And it's about getting that person connected with the people who can help. That's all that someone kind of needs to have in their back pocket. It's just that the knowledge of those lifeline numbers or even that they exist and just and just make that suggestion.

Victoria: Can you share a little bit more about the Trevor project and how you're halfway into this?

Lisa: Yeah. That was that it's kind of an interesting little journey for me. So the Trevor Project for for people who are listening who don't know is the country's largest LGBTQ centric support lifeline, excuse me, more or LGBTQ youth ages thirteen to twenty four who are crisis. So we are nationwide. We also have an office in Mexico.
And we take calls twenty four hours a day, seven days a week from youth and crisis in the LGBTQ community who are struggling with everything that you could possibly imagine someone would call it like flying with, whether it be stressed about coming out or suicidal ideation or homicidal ideation or abuse or homelessness. Any reason why anyone would call a life flight. But in a way that I got on involved with it is that it's a for me, it felt like the natural intersection of everything that's really just important to me, my my top priorities in the world. Obviously, I lost my father and a friend and a cousin suicide. And crisis lifeline is one of their, you know, their biggest pillars.
And the other is, you know, the LGBTQ community and my oldest daughter who is going to be twenty seven came out when she was in college. And I came out as pansexual. I guess it'll be three years ago this summer, this pride next month. And for me, it was a no brainer to be aligned with an organization that was, you know, both supporting the LGBTQ community and supporting people who are in crisis and who are struggling. So I they came on my radar probably when my daughter came out is when I became more aware of them.
And stayed on my radar for the longest time. And then about three years ago, I thought, you know, when I started getting very public about you know, the way my work was shifting and started telling my story more openly, I thought, you know what, this now is the time. So I got involved and I trained with them to be a crisis counselor on their, like, we have a text line and a traditional phone lifeline. So I'm one of the phone lifeline counselors. And I'm on the left line as often as I can be taking calls from people who are in crisis.

Victoria: When did it originate?

Lisa: Trevor celebrated, so we're in our twenty sixth year. Wow. Yep. Yep. It's has a really neat little origin story.
So twenty six years ago, there the three founding members were there was a film about a little boy named a high school boy named Trevor, and he was he was struggling with his sexuality. And the movie, the little short video, was up for an academy. And they played the video during the Academy Awards because I think it was like a twelve or fifteen minute video stage. I played the whole thing and they played in excerpts. But the producers of this video and and creators of this video said, you know what?
We're playing this thing. We really have to have a kind of a work system. We're playing it to encourage people to reach out when they need help. We really should have something in place for people who are watching this video now to reach out. So they started a lifeline.
And along with the video being played during the academies, they had they flashed its number up on the screen, and I think they got something like fifteen hundred calls that night, and the lifeline has been in place ever since.

Victoria: Wow.

Lisa: Yeah. Yeah. Twenty six years later.

Victoria: Like, what's your latest book that you've written since you've made this transition in your work and your writing and all of that. I'm like, what the latest book? How is how is your writing shifted?

Lisa: It's shifted dramatically. I mean, my voice and tone has always been the same no matter what I'm whether I'm writing about parenting or whether I'm writing about mental health and wellness. It's it's very conversational. I write like I talk. And I actually just signed a a book contract for my next book with my longtime publisher, Familias Publishing, to write a book about my my father's story that because I've I've lost them twice in my life.
Mhmm. And I'm I'm really gonna be doing a lot of incorporating of a lot of the resources and the toolkits that you mentioned earlier that are on my website. I want there to be a huge resource section. For people to access who are struggling either with with suicide, with mental health in general, with grief and loss, And I have I've developed and curated an awful lot of tools. You've mentioned those as well.
People can download them, share them, access them. I wanna incorporate that into the book. So my story about my father will really kind of be the vehicle for having the the bigger more important conversations about surviving a suicide loss and and navigating that. So that's what I'm working on now. And I believe the tentative publication date is twenty twenty five.
Twenty twenty five or twenty twenty six, but we're we're just in the beginning stages.

Victoria: What did your life look like after you found out how he died.

Lisa: If you were looking at me, if you were a friend of mine, like even a close friend. Most likely, you would not have known that there was anything going on under the surface. I I blew up I completely blew up inside. And for the better part of the first, I would say, three years, I would premise to sleep at night. My kids didn't even know what was going on for the first three years because it was such a shock to me.
I I felt like I was dealing with my my own brand new grief. Like, I was starting day one all all over again and day one, minute one of losing my father all over again, but now under completely different circumstances. And I was trying to navigate that the best I could, which wasn't very good. And I was trying to navigate helping my mom because remember for for thirty five years, my mother didn't talk about this to a single bowl, and I wanted to be there for her. I wanted her to be able to somehow process things in a different way.
And so we were just very insular about it. It was just my husband Dave knew my mom and I knew. And I was very much one person to the outside world and very much a different person. Like, when the when the bedroom door closed at night, I was in pieces. And it wasn't until I started I I started You never come to terms with anything like this fully.
You just learn how to deal with it and process it and live with it in different ways, in better ways, I suppose. Once I got to that point where I felt like I could start talking about it, I told the girls, and my husband and I said, we need to talk to them because they need to know what their DNA looks like now versus what it looked like before, because now they've got, you know, they've got some degree of mental illness in their DNA. That's my father had some mental illness. It was a lot that came out that existed on my father's side. And we all inherit that.
There's, you know, that that generational trauma and that cocktail that's you know, manifest in different ways and different people. And I felt that it was really important for them to understand kind of, you know, what was in my background and their background and and it's ever at any point in their lives, they started having issues or struggling, which, you know, that they were of that age where that's typically the time period where mental illness or challenges will start to emerge. And sure enough, my my oldest had a a lot of issues with anxiety and depression and ultimately went into therapy and found just incredible success in in going into therapy and going on medication changed her life. Absolutely changed her life and for the better. And once I told the girls that was it, I just immediately started sharing this the truth and never look back in sharing ever since.

Victoria: Was that the most healing that you found was in sharing?

Lisa: Yeah. I think initially that was incredibly cathartic for me just to know that I was I was embracing the truth. I was acknowledging the truth. I I was not I never felt really like it was a stigma. To me, I never felt like it.
I think I feel I feel like by the time I learned about my father, the world was already shifting in terms of the stigma around suicide. I think we went through a big awakening culturally where we're talking about mental illness so much more and wellness and suicide and IDiation and self harm. And all of these things are so much more mainstream now than they ever were before. So I feel like that that was very helpful to me. In that way.
But writing about it has been, you know, and talking about it like this has been equally as cathartic for me. And I think one of the biggest things, every single time I go on shift, on a lifeline shift with Trevor Project, I think about my father. Every single time I pick up the phone and answer a call from someone who's struggling every time I deescalate someone who may be higher imminent risk of suicide I feel an incredible sense of gratitude to be able to be in that position, to do that, and to be that person that can hold space for that moment in time for that person who's struggling. So all those things combined have been healing for me.

Victoria: Thank you for that work that you are doing. By the way, welcome. You're welcome. What has your grief taught you?

Lisa: That's a big question. I don't think anyone's ever asked me. In all the conversations that I've had, I don't think anyone's ever asked me that. I think it's taught me that I'm a lot more resilient than I ever believed myself to be. And then at the same exact time, I'm a lot more vulnerable.
And affected by it than I ever believed I could be. For me, I think I've learned that openness and transparency and sharing my story is It's such a valuable tool. It's taught me that I can be of service to other people, my lived experience while it may be very nuanced. Everybody's is very nuanced. You don't usually need people who have lost the same person twice in their life and grieve twice, so I have a little bit of a unique story in that way.
But I've had a lot of experience with grief and loss and I've learned that the more I talk about it, the more I heal, and the more it seems that other people benefit from it. So It's taught me that putting it out there is one of the greatest gifts you can give to yourself.

Victoria: And maybe to someone you don't even know.

Lisa: Yeah. Absolutely. Yeah. I mean that. I mean that as well, for sure.

Victoria: What is one thing that you would share with people who are listening, who are struggling.

Lisa: Mhmm.

Victoria: And then also, what is one thing that you would share with people? Who are in support of or want to support someone, that may be something you haven't shared already. Maybe that helped you or that in your training and things that you've learned along the way?

Lisa: So in terms of, you know, what I would share. If someone's struggling, I would say just give yourself some grace. The way that you feel right now in this moment, this this heaviness, this this place of despair or hopelessness is not the way you will always feel. There is there is a change that happens. There is another side to these these feelings and this kind of desperation.
So I would say be patient with yourself. And gift yourself a little bit of time to be, you know, to to to allow yourself to be where you are at this moment. I I say it this way often meet yourself exactly where you are right now. Don't try and get ahead because you've got to be where you are right now. You've got to sit in the feelings.
Even if they're shitting feelings to sit in, even if they're so painful and so difficult, it's so important to allow those to penetrate because when we compartmentalize them and pursue them away, we try and negate them or avoid them, they're gonna come back hard, and they're gonna take you down when you don't see it coming. So you know, it may not sound like great advice, but when you meet yourself where you are right now, it can be one of the greatest gifts you give yourself because you get to dictate the pace. You get to decide when you move forward and how you move forward. So that's what I would say to that. And in terms of, I guess, coping strategies or things that that I would tell people to do, like, self care, self care, like, whatever that looks like to you, whether it's giving yourself permission to say no, I don't feel like socializing tonight.
Or I I think I need to spend time getting these feelings that I have in my head and my heart out. If you wanna talk to someone who is a safe person or maybe you wanna put them down in a journal or maybe you need to go in nature and go for hike or walk or maybe you need to go for a run or maybe you practice yoga and that is a place where you can kind of detach I would say, let yourself focus on on doing those kinds of things to kind of recharge, to help yourself you know, what do they say about a a radiator? You've got to bleed the radiator, so it doesn't blow up. And we've got to do that with our emotions. So I would say whatever your thing is, that and everybody knows what their thing is so well.
Whatever your thing is, let yourself do that thing as a way of helping yourself to heal. That's what I would say.

Victoria: I like the metaphor of using or analogy of using luggage. And so ever since we were children, we've been packing her luggage. Something happens. Like, I lost my dad. He would when I was eight, he was forty four years old, packed that suitcase.
My grandmother died a year before him. I packed that suitcase. Molested, packed a suitcase. You know, like, in by the time I was in my early twenties, like, I had a lot of luggage. I was dragging with me from the past.

Lisa: Yeah.

Victoria: And I think all of that luggage can just get so overwhelming to lug around. You don't get to where you are. In your suffering and in your pain overnight. Yeah. Can't expect that you're going to get healed overnight.
So it's just looking at that one suitcase. I'm gonna look at this one suitcase. What is what do I need to take from this suitcase. What can I remove one garment at a time? And that's really I think I just started chipping away.
You know, because I felt I started with the postpartum. There were so many struggles that I had. I thought I was doomed for suffering and I just want to share with people. Just start with one suitcase. Yeah.
One thing. And a

Lisa: beautiful image. Yeah.

Victoria: Yeah. Bring some support in in doing that. Mhmm. Find the thing that you resonate with. Find the person that is safe for you.
Mhmm. Just baby steps. You don't have you know, how do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. Right.

Lisa: That's right. Well, that's right. That's that's why I say just you get to set the pace. Mhmm.

Victoria: You

Lisa: know, and it's it's very much a marathon. It's not a sprint. So in in that context, you get to decide how you cover that ground. But every step that you take, it doesn't matter what the pace is. Every step you take is forward motion.
That's, you know, progress. If you wanna look at it that way. And while in the case of grief and loss, we never stop grieving for our people. Like, you know that? I know that most people who are listening to this know that.
You don't stop. What we're all doing here, what you and I are doing by having this conversation is giving people you know, the tools to learn how to navigate the trip a little easier. Maybe be a little lighter, maybe, you know, find hope a little sooner. That's that's the point because at the end of the day, for me, one of the things and this goes back to what you asked, what do I learn about grief? I've learned not to fear it.
I've learned not to try and push it away because to me, And I've I've lost, you know, we're talking about the three people who I've lost, you know, father, cousin, and a friend, but I've that's just a suicide. I've lost grandparents, aunts, uncles. I mean, I've lost friends. I I've been accompanied my grief my entire life. I don't wanna stop grieving for those people because I love those people and those people are a part of the fabric of my life.
They're part of that whole catastrophe of my life. So I wanna wrap myself in that quilt of them all the time. All of these people that I've lost So my grief while at the same time that it's sad is also the thing that keeps me tethered to those people. So I think that was that was pretty transformative for me too when I finally kind of arrived in that place of understanding that. That it wasn't something to push away.
It wasn't something to barrier to fear. It was something to in a strange way in this Francis Sweller that I mentioned earlier, the author of the wild edge of sorrow writes that, you know, that's how we keep our people alive. You know? And I think we all need to stay attached in whatever way is most meaningful to us.

Victoria: And we wouldn't be who we are without those people in our lives.

Lisa: One hundred percent. Yep.

Victoria: Just like you listening the people in your life wouldn't be who they are without you.

Lisa: Mhmm.

Victoria: Is there anything else that you would like to share that you feel like you didn't get to. I mean, I think I could we could talk for hours. We could talk for hours.

Lisa: I mean, you're all day. I love this is the kind of conversation that I feel so empowered to have. Like, I'm so grateful to be able to reach new people and, you know, in new communities. So I'm grateful to you from this opportunity. I mean, I think I would suggest to people that you take a minute and look around you at the people in your life.
There'll be two cohorts of people. There'll be the people who appear okay and grounded and settled and driven and joyful on the outside. And then you'll be you can look at them and you can say, okay, I know that person is struggling. It's because maybe they're more vocal with it, maybe it's their affect, maybe in a lot of different signs of signals. I would say, treat each one of those groups the same.
I would make it a point to check-in on your people. Make it a point whether it's the people who seem great or if it's the people who you know aren't, back in with them. Ask them how they really are. Ask them if they're okay. Ask them what they need.
Ask them how you can help because sometimes And this this applies especially to the people who don't make their struggles very visible. When you open a door for someone, sometimes that's all they're looking for. That's all they need. They just need to know it's a safe ways to share what's really going on. You know, people people like my father get very skilled at hiding what's going on just under the surface.
And yeah, I know. I mean, it's so common. I feel like way more people are fighting the truth of what's going on than aren't. And I think that we just need to be a little bit more sensitive of each other and make each other more of a responsibility. That's how we get back to that, that have a whole sense of community, you know, back in the day when you know, my parents were young.
They lived with their grandparents and their extended families. And I my husband and I actually both grew up the same way, living with grandparents. But most of our friends did not. And, you know, nowadays these generations, you know, you you get married, you go off, you're separated from your extended family. And people are living in these isolated little pockets.
And people aren't there to check-in on each other and interact with each other and support each other in the ways that maybe people are used to a little bit more often. So when you get back to that, which circles right back to the beginning of our conversation about the importance of community and the importance of having support systems. So that's what I think I would say to people. It's just kind of be watching, be vigilant, and take your own pulse every once in a while too because you can't help anybody, you can't pour from an empty cup.

Victoria: Right? They bring up a good point, so you had talked about three years. You struggled, not necessarily in silence because your husband and your mother knew, so you had their support. But I'm curious if you're daughters were, like, shocked. Once you've I mean, two counts.
I mean, eventually, once he said, oh, the past three years have been a living hell internally, and the people that knew you were like, whoa. Really? Like, I had no idea. And so how did you reconcile that? You know, knowing that the work you do now, you're struggling in silence, would you have done things differently?

Lisa: Also good. You're asking me all these really good questions that no one ever asked me before. I probably would have allowed myself to be more vulnerable earlier on. One thing that I would have done probably much sooner, much, much sooner, was start seeing a therapist again. So when I was when I was young, my first experience seeing a therapist, I was college age, and I had taken a gap year before gap years were even a thing.
And I wasn't really sure what I wanted to do with my life, and my friends were already kind of established in schools and in programs and majors, and I just felt like I didn't know what I wanted to do. And I struggled with that. And so I started seeing a therapist to kind of navigate that, work through that, we only really very briefly at times touched on my father in terms of big life events that kind of shaped who I was. I didn't know he was you know, he had taken his life, so I that was not a part of our conversation. And I was in therapy like that for a number of years, and then I kind of found my way and and got on my path and and didn't see another therapist for three decades, three and a half decades.
And I finally got to the point about two years ago when I said, you know what, I need something for me. I mean, My husband's amazing. He has held more space for me than anyone has probably ever held for anyone. And my mother the same, but it's different when you have that impartial person who doesn't know your history, who doesn't know that the social dynamics and the damiliar hierarchy and those dynamics, and that's something I would have done right from the jump, I think. If I could have gone back and done it again.
Maybe not done anything differently in terms of telling my children, I didn't want to tell them prematurely. I wanted to make sure that they had kind of the capacity to deal with that. Like they were teenagers, and it was heavy. And what I was talking about was something incredibly intense that I wanted to make sure they could deal with. So I don't I I don't regret waiting for that.
But, yeah, I probably would have, you know, been a little bit more open about it. But to the rest of the family, and I I probably would have done therapy sooner.

Victoria: That's a good answer. And the reason why I asked too is because you know, we can have these regrets. Right? And that's grief. And you had spoken and touched on, like, at the point you didn't know what to do with your life.
You weren't sure and you were struggling, and that's kind of what caused you to seek help and support. But how much of it do you think? Like, it's just in hindsight now. It's like, of course, your the loss of your father and your cousin had greatly impacted you, but I just see so many kids like today. Like, there's divorce and there's just the heaviness of the world and social media and kids are just mean.
Right? Kids are just mean. Yeah. It's like Yeah. It's it's so can you just speak briefly to maybe the and I don't know that a lot of young, young people are listening to this, but surely their parents or caregivers are can you speak to supporting someone who was like you?
Who didn't know, like, who felt like a fish out of water, right, floundering and

Lisa: You know, I I really think in the same way that I was suggesting that people meet themselves where they are. I think that's the advice that I would also give someone trying to help a friend is meet them, meet that friend exactly where they are, hold the space, in the way that the friend who's struggling needs you to hold it. You know? I mean, like I said before in the context of being a crisis counselor, like, you're not there to solve the problem. Especially if someone who's grieving a loss, any kind of a loss, whether it's the loss of a a human being who's passed away or the loss of a a job or the loss of a relationship or, like, there's so many.
Like you said, there's so many different sets of losses in the world. I would say, be there to support them in whatever way they need to be supported, but don't go into it at thinking you've got to fix it and solve it because in most cases it's unsolvable. You know, in the case of someone losing someone and and someone who's grieving, there is no turning back, back clock. You know, it's more about just moving forward trying to maybe encourage that person to figure out what they need. That's a big one because oftentimes when someone's grieving, they don't know what the hell they need.
They don't know where to go, where to turn, who to who to ask for help, you know, ask someone to go for a walk, ask someone to go to a movie, ask someone if they need help finding a therapist, if they don't have one, cook a meal, one of the things I learned is not to ask open ended questions. Like, what can I do to help you? You know, I'm I'm there. Just just whatever and I get caught on doing this all the time. We all we all did this kind of thing all the time.
Be deliberate. Be intentional. Can I cook you dinner? Can I take you to dinner? Can I do some errands for you?
Can I pick up your dry cleaning? Can I pick up your kids at school? Like, what whatever the case is? I think those are the ways that I know that when I've been grieving, when I've been in that situation that needed help, those were the things that were the most helpful to me.

Victoria: Is there anything else that you would like to share?

Lisa: You know, I would just say, even if you're someone who is private and a lot of people are, I am very much very much so. I am private in spite of the fact that everything I do is so public. I write about everything I write about is, you know, out there for the world to see. A lot of people are not comfortable sharing what's going on the inside. I would say give people around you the benefit of the doubt.
Give the people in your life, the benefit of the doubt that that they can help you. That they can somehow offer support, trust. You know who you can trust. We all know who we can trust the most.lean into that.lean into the people who are there who want to support you. In the ways that you need them because at the end of the day, we're not meant to go through any of the stuff alone.

Victoria: And to piggyback that, I just had a thought. Your children are not your therapist.

Lisa: No. No. So if you are a parent

Victoria: who is struggling, your children are not your therapist,

Lisa: agreed.

Victoria: Yeah. Yeah. Played that role for a very long time.

Lisa: Yeah. That's right. But it's just made me who I

Victoria: am, I guess. Yeah. You know?

Lisa: That's right. That's right. And and that's the thing. You know, I mean, you know, we all we all have things we wish we could, you know, we could redo. But at the end of the day, we're all we're where we are because of those things.
So do we really wanna change those things or do we wanna just, you know, use them as teachable moments and and you know, be better going forward.

Victoria: I love that. Yeah. Just give a hug. Yeah. You have your parent and you need a hug.
You know, your kid probably needs the hug too. Mhmm. My daughter gives the best hugs to seventeen and yeah. She just and she won't let go. Like, she is like, she will not let you go.

Lisa: Oh, I love that. I love that. I probably bug both of my daughters about hugs a little too much. My so my oldest lives in Japan. So I have to ration.
Like, I have to I I can't go in too hot when I get off the plane. I all I wanna do is hold her for, like, three days, and she's like, look. I will give you all the hugs that you want. You gotta you gotta pace yourself a little bit, or we'll never get out of the airport. So Yeah.
But my kids are good ones too.

Victoria: My daughter knows psychologically a minute. Needs to be at least a minute.

Lisa: Mhmm. Yeah. I like that. That's that's like that's an, like, a that's an adequate amount of time to really, like, embrace the hug.

Victoria: Gotta let those good feelings that those good feeling adorphins come up and she knows that. So

Lisa: Yeah. Yeah. That's that's that's good insights. It's it's a it's a child who comes from a good place.

Victoria: Yeah. Our kids teach us too. Share her. Forget that. Well, thank you so much for being a part of my podcast and the mission of my podcast, which is to make it less taboo to talk about grief, to talk about mental health and suicide and all the ways that we grieve and the experiences that shape us.
So thank you so much for sharing your story. For the work that you do. And I will put all the links to the show notes, but please share again where people can find you and connect with you.

Lisa: Sure. The best place I mean, I'm on all the socials. Lisa underscore Sugarman on Instagram. The Lisa Sugarman on Facebook, but the best place to to catch everything that I do is lisa sugarman dot com. And I know at the beginning of the show, you mentioned the resource of the mental health resources hub that I have on my website and the toolkit hub that I have.
And and that's like a to me, that's probably the crown jewel of the website for me. I've spent an awful lot of time and effort pulling together all these resources, betting all these resources, and they're there for anyone who is struggling or if you know someone who's struggling, please go on my website I've got about sixteen different categories. It's a very inclusive website. Doesn't matter who you are, what your background is. I hopefully have help that's right for you, so take a peek.

Victoria: Thank you again. And remember, When you unleash your heart, you unleash your life. Much love.