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Conversations with the Inspiring Elizabeth Greene

Today we’d like to introduce you to Elizabeth Greene.

Elizabeth, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
I moved to California a little over six years ago. I grew up in Oklahoma but had been living in Kansas for a year and a half. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was escaping–I was leaving a life based on control and repression, a life that left me lifeless, dead to the insides of myself. I believe something in my soul of souls knew I’d lost myself, and it gave my subconscious mind enough of an idea of this so it could save me.

So here I was. I had sold the majority of my possessions, packed up what could fit in my 1999 Nissan Maxima, and drove out without a job or permanent place to live. I arrived with high hopes of finding peace in a religious group I knew of here, hopes of feeling accepted, wanted, whole. I dreamed of repair and heart-healing and I thought this was where I’d find it. Oh, how small our minds can be when they’ve only been ever told one story.

What happened next couldn’t have been any further from what I expected. A course of events of happenstance and new personal relationships helped me to see what I actually needed was something completely different than what I’d thought. I didn’t know what that was, but I knew it was time to branch out and find it. So there I was. Twenty-five. In a new city. Pretty much alone. Not a whole lot of money in my bank account. Breathing. But barely understanding what it was to really live.

Slowly, I began to build a life. I found a job at a nonprofit and moved into my own place. But things were still missing. I remember looking at myself in the bathroom mirror of my tiny Banker’s Hill studio and saying out loud, “if you don’t make friends, you will die”. Dramatic? I actually don’t think so; my heart knew I needed connection. I started trying things out, going to different activities, and eventually, I found people and places that felt like home. And that is where the real journey began.

I eventually left my full-time job to pursue a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy. I was sure this was it for me; I felt like therapy was my calling. The scientific psychological knowledge and the relational intuition just clicked for me. It was like my brain was reading its native language for the first time.

In November 2016, tragedy changed these plans. I experienced a freak accident that claimed a man’s life while walking into work at my student job. The experience was extremely traumatizing and shook me to my core. It changed my entire outlook on the world. Before this happened, I’d already been having serious doubts about things that were being taught in the program I was enrolled in and it was getting harder and harder to just grin and bear it. I was sick of hiding, pretending to believe things I just didn’t believe, pretending to be someone I just wasn’t. It was the final straw. I put my degree on hold and left after Fall 2017.

And there I was. I had only a rough plan of what I was going to do. I found a full-time job through a staffing agency and slowly life began to settle. I had planned to transfer to complete my degree, but as time went by, door after door just… closed. I decided it was time for a regroup and made the decision to extend my break until I felt more confident about what to do next.

A wrench in the plan came again; however, last August when I lost my full-time job. The experience was jarring. I was enjoying having a boring, steady job where I could pay my bills and just breathe for a bit before my next move–that wasn’t in the books. The psychological effects of unemployment are very real. It hit me hard and it took some time for me to start picking myself up off the floor.

Slowly, I began to come back to life. I dove more deeply into political activism, rekindled creative hobbies, and began yoga teacher training. Most importantly, I started writing. I’ve always felt I had an important voice, and I believe now is my time to use it. I’ve been working on launching my blog and a few other creative projects, including a podcast and two social experiments, ‘Elizabeth vs. The Woo’ & ‘My Joe Rogan Experience’ where I’ll attempt to live life as Joe Rogan for a month (or maybe a just week–yikes!) to try to understand why so many men love this guy.

But nowhere, we all are. COVID-19, the invisible enemy with no rhyme, reason, or purpose. Something none of us expected, something for which I’m not sure anyone of us was prepared. It seems like all else fades away in comparison to the gravity of the matter. Regardless of the progression of the pandemic, we are facing a new world. There is so much so many are thinking about and feeling and processing during this time. We are experiencing a collective trauma. We’re all walking together into the unknown.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
Ha! Yeah, right. Everything in my life has changed since I moved to San Diego. I often tell people had they met me when I first moved here they wouldn’t recognize me. I’m a whole new person! Ultimately, all of these changes have helped me come home to who I really am, the woman who was hidden underneath rules, religion, repression, and restriction. But wow oh wow, has it ever been hard.

Besides what I spoke about previously, I’ve lost multiple jobs unexpectedly, worked for toxic employers, faced down my childhood trauma, experienced and then faced down brand new adulthood trauma, battled autoimmune disease and salivary gland tumors, changed careers multiple times–I could go on!

Getting through it took tenacity and commitment–there were many times I wanted to give up. At one point, I started having crippling anxiety. It was like I would have one long panic attack all day long. It was god-awful; I couldn’t function. Later, I would face the reoccurrence of long-dormant PTSD, which attacks like an undefeatable beast, and an unexpected (and frankly unwelcome!) bout of major depressive disorder which knocked me off my feet out of nowhere.

My body physically couldn’t handle the psychosomatic effects of all this, and it started to shut down on me. I would have periods of time where I would get incredibly sick–fatigue, no appetite, my digestive system would shut down, my body would ache, the world would get fuzzy, and I’d have to sleep for hours and hours on end just to hope to start to feel better. Doctors had no answers, but I knew I was watching myself develop autoimmune disease in real-time. Through all this though–and this is the key–I fought for myself. I fought for myself so hard. I was committed to the work. I wanted to be mentally healthy and have healthy, fulfilling relationships so badly. I knew I’d do whatever it took.

I went to therapy for 3.5 years which truly changed my life–it was the catalyst to and bedrock of all other healing. I began meditating, which taught me to slow down my thoughts and observe the mind. I’ve developed bodily awareness and nervous system regulation through yoga and breathing intentionally. I study and learn and am always seeking to improve. I am firmly committed to my own personal growth. I’ve learned over time who I am and what I need to care for myself. It’s always a work in progress, but today I rarely experience anxiety, my autoimmune issues have disappeared, and my PTSD and depression are very well managed. I live most days completely symptom-free and I am incredibly grateful.

We’d love to hear more about your work.
Right now, what I’m focused on is writing and telling stories with my authentic and genuine voice. I publish a blog on elizabeth-greene.com, where I write about life, current events, relationships, social and political issues, and mental health. I talk about these issues interweaving my own personal narrative; I’m not afraid of being vulnerable (ok, well, maybe I’m a little afraid).

Something that sets me apart is my authenticity. I’m not interested in ease and comfort. I’m interested in reality. I don’t sugarcoat; I tell the truth. I believe there is power in speaking truth loudly. That does not mean you are always positive or that you always only say nice things. (The ‘positives vibes only’ crowd can go ahead and exit here.) I don’t believe in painting daisies over something and calling it a flower. I’m aware that is uncomfortable for some people, but I’m not necessarily for everybody. As a wise former supervisor of mine once said: “I don’t need everybody to like me”. The ones who are ready and who can relate will come. I truly believe this.

I know I’ve probably painted a picture of myself as someone who is pretty serious, but I actually love making people laugh! Humor is core to who I am and there’s a touch of that in everything I do. I think that’s probably most evident in my podcast, “But What Do I Know?” (coming soon to an iTunes, SoundCloud, Spotify, what-have-you near you!). It was born out of me going on long rants to friends about politics or relationship issues or mental health, or racial and socioeconomic equality–you know, just light topics lololololol.

I’m currently expanding my writing to work with local businesses to create copy and digital marketing that is meaningful and effective. I love working with small business owners who are passionate about the same things I am: improving their communities, helping people become mentally healthy, fighting for progressive issues, and bringing joy into the world. I have a particular knack for writing for mental health professionals and those in the wellness world. What I’m there to do is to get to know you and help the real you come through in your writing. It’s not about giving you my voice. It’s about helping you sound more like you!

If you haven’t guessed by now, my political viewpoints are staunchly progressive, and I dabble in political activism. My guideline here is ‘seek to learn first and always’–as a cisgender, white woman who grew up in and now has a number of other privileges, this is the rule! I speak up and do work here as much as I can, and I want to keep exploring how this may speak into my future.

So what’s the long term plan for me? Hmm, I don’t know! Will I be a therapist? Maybe. I suppose we shall see. If I’ve learned anything, it’s that there is so much beyond our control and it’s best to ride the waves and see where you land.

Do you have a lesson or advice you’d like to share with young women just starting out?
The most important advice I would give to young women is to develop a deep internal sense of self. This is what will save you. I think a lot of people think of this as “self-love”, but that phrase is inadequate and overused. Loving yourself, really, is about staying with yourself all the time, no matter what. Loving yourself means learning to see yourself in all your nasty, ugly ways, in your lowest, most unhealthy moments and to still say “I am here. I will always love you.”

Love is a commitment, and it is not for the faint of heart. But believe me when I tell you, it is worth it, it is worth it, it is worth it. You are the person you will always be with, no matter what, for the rest of your life. Learning to have your own back is huge. HUGE! Do whatever it takes. Do it at all costs.

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Image Credit:
Javier Luna, Andrew Laskey, Elizabeth Greene, Luisa Caceres

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