If you are just joining us here on Yankee Doodle Paddy, you are very welcome! And if you are coming back on Day 6 of this third year of the Month of LOVE Guest Bloggers Series, so glad you are on board with our love train! Each and every story on here NEEDS to be told! These stories deserve to be shared and if you let them, they will inspire and transform your heart. Today’s special guest was a Guest Blogger last year as well. But Kim Fleck’s story continues to unfold as one of the most inspirational. So get your Kleenex ready for the gift of LOVE!
Love From the Inside Out
I believe that love from within is the most precious gift we have. Being able to understand who we are and love ourselves unconditionally is vital for our emotional, physical and spiritual well being.Now I am the first to agree that this self love concept is not simple. It may sound simple but it’s not always easy. I have struggled with self love on and off throughout my life and battled with the outside noise from others and the ever present internal critic. I would attempt to give the monkeys in my mind a job and kindly ask my critic to find a different venue to critique for the day. I would then try to shut out the external noise of the world and society’s judgements and go inward. Sitting quietly with my animal companions I would once again remind myself of who I am and what my purpose is and focus on my breath. Sometimes these techniques worked brilliantly and other times it was a showdown between me and my mind. Each time there was always a valuable lesson to be learned. This has become a daily practice. The practice of loving me for who I am and not what I do, or what I look like or what I have.
There was a turning point in my life where I was forced to address this idea of self love head on. Facing severe illness and one’s own mortality has a way of doing that to you. My body was giving out, my mind was frazzled and my spirit was heavy. It was a very dark time for me and honestly I was not sure I was going to make it through to the other side, but I still had a choice. I could choose to focus on self love and positive energy vibes and “spiral up” or I could choose to stay in the darkness and fade away.
I chose to spiral up, but freely admit it’s been a long road to get back to the me I once was. I don’t mean the external appearance of me or even the internal organs of me. I mean reconnecting with the core of me. The spiritual being who is pure love, who is loving, and who is lovable. Back to loving ME.
I believe the importance of self love is something people tend to avoid unless they are lucky enough to be forced to learn its hard lessons. I was lucky, yes believe it or not this crazy wellness adventure that I continue on in this very moment in time is a lucky one. Why you might ask? Allow me to explain.
These pictures are of me before my autoimmune diseases began to fully invade all areas of my life and medical mishaps turned my world upside down. Notice I had hair, eyebrows, eyelashes, lots of energy and a rather large smile on my face as I explored Washington, DC and all the beautiful museums and galleries.
Not long after these pictures were taken is when I would have a major reaction to the infusions I was being given for a possible diagnosis of Ulcerative Colitis / Crohn’s disease. In the end I would endure endless surgeries and procedures, countless medications, loss of all the hair on my entire body from the drug reactions, brain lesions, pic lines, blown out veins, and an ambulance ride from a Connecticut hospital to Mass General in Boson for emergency surgery. I would be fed through an IV bag, pain meds by drips, blood transfusions and palliative care. In total a two month stay in the hospital, followed by months and months of PT and aftercare, along with a permeant ileostomy. Cancer drugs were also given to me even though I didn’t have cancer. To top it off the doctors informed me and my family that I would never grow any hair back on my entire body and that it was best to come to terms with that. I needed to love myself more than ever before because when I looked in the mirror I didn’t even know who the woman was looking back at me. But when I got quiet I could still hear her inside and I believed in her.
This is me with my best friend, who happens to also be my Mom. I had just left the hospital and I was all puffed out from steroids, no hair from the medically induced alopecia universalis, a permeant ileostomy and just a few weeks away from my 40th birthday. Yet notice we are smiling and we are full of love. We were spiraling up even then. I was alive, grateful and loved.
These medical issues had arrived out of the blue. I was 33 years old when I moved to Connecticut from the Boston area. This was me 5 months before moving. I was living my dream of volunteering at Best Friends Animal Society in Kanab, Utah. Little did I know I was in for a whirlwind of hurt emotionally, financially, physically and spiritually in the years to come. I would be brought to my knees as they say in all areas of my life, and finding self love would prove to be the only real way out. Our choices can alter our lives in ways we never expect.
We must learn to love ourselves more and in turn make better choices for ourselves and our own well being. This was a difficult lesson for me to learn. My move to Connecticut was beyond stressful, between relationship issues, a new work environment, animal companions who were sick, financial concerns and more. There was not a lot of self love going on at that time, that’s for certain. The negative elements soon aligned and it became the perfect storm for disease. My body responded in horrible ways attacking itself. That is what autoimmune diseases do, it’s the opposite of self love, it’s self harm. Your immune system mistakenly attacks your body. It took me many years to recognize this and make a change in order to begin to heal.
During this wellness journey many people and animals helped me rediscover my worth and rebuild my soul. Students reminded me what I had always told them, to be themselves and to be proud of who they were. We voted on if I should wear wigs and the answer was no. I had only tried wearing one a few times but after that I never wore one again.
I went as far as letting students tattoo my head as a lesson on difference, that beauty comes from within and that hair did not make me who I was inside. Of course I would also point out to the kids that my co-teacher at the time, Jesse; was a very attractive bald fella and no one took issue with his bald head and that the same respect should be given to women.
I would find laughter even when faced withdark places and joy in things like art, music, henna, mud runs with friends, time with family and moments with my animals. I would believe in myself and love myself from the inside out, one small step at a time.
Yes, this was and still is challenging. Yes, I got down sometimes, and yes I cried a lot in the beginning. It was especially difficult when strangers with good intentions were constantly approaching me and telling me their cancer stories and reassuring me that I would beat it. I didn’t have cancer and explaining this on a daily basis was very difficult. It was hard enough to love the new external me without having to justify and explain it to the world day after day. I felt like an imposter. I struggled with this as I watched my own friends deal with cancer. At the same time that experience taught me many valuable lessons, including just how important self love really is.
Later on I would say goodbye to a 15 year teaching career, reinvent myself and begin a new adventure. My 11 year relationship finally ended and a couple years later my heart would learn to open again. Financial issues loomed on every corner but I stayed in the moment and trusted in me. Hair grew back some and fell out some. I practiced detachment from outcome. Animal companions passed away and close friends did too. I would work through the pain and I would regroup. I would look for things to be grateful for and confirm that I was loved, safe and deserving. I continued to spiral up with the help of my healing team, and with me at the helm. I was in charge of my own journey. I was commander and chief of the Kim Fleck self love, healing train and I was determined to move full speed ahead. Loving myself, staying present and treating myself as a valuable and deserving spiritual being regardless of what I looked like, who I dated, where I lived or what my occupation was, was my main focus. Who I am has never been about any of those things and it was exhilarating to finally remember this. It took time and hard lessons, but it happened.
When you love yourself unconditionally and honor who you are, then the exterior will no longer take center stage. The ego can begin to dissolve and the true loving spirit can shine in the forefront. Love of self comes from deep within it is not an external thing. Society of course will tell you differently. We have all been conditioned from a very young age to believe certain memes and social norms. One of these of course is the idea of how your external self presents. Are you pretty, average, ugly, tall, fat, short, skinny, fair skinned, dark tones, wrong color eyes, hair to short or to long, bald or whatever. On and on it goes until your head is spinning and the internal critic is yelling YOU ARE NOT ENOUGH! How can you love you when the world seems to constantly be saying you’re not worthy of love. These so called norms are deadly. They can be paralyzing to the strongest of souls never mind those already struggling. This lesson of YOU ARE ENOUGH is what I hope you take away from this. YOU ARE LOVED! Love yourself, tell yourself daily you are amazing, beautiful, intelligent, deserving, healthy and forgiving. Give yourself all the respect and love that you give others. People will feel that. People will be drawn to that. Most importantly YOU will feel that.
This is me now, at age 47. I have learned to live a full life with an ileostomy. I have so far managed to grow most of my eyebrows , lashes and some of my hair even with the naysayers of the medical field. My overall wellness adventure continues but in a loving and compassionate direction. I am grateful for all the lessons. I know for certain that my purpose has always remained the same regardless of what occupation I held, location on the planet, who I was in a relationship with or how old I was….my purpose has and will always be to bring good to the world. Self love has become a major part of this journey and I know with or without hair, or organs, or whatever, I will continue to love me and to focus on the now. Loving myself allows me to love others and continue doing what I can to make the world a little brighter for both people and animals. Spiral up my fearLESS, SELF-LOVING friends, you got this.
All my LOVE, Kim & Finnegan too
Kimberly Fleck is the owner of Brand Fearless, a social media business in New Britain, CT., that focuses on social media for social good. Finnegan is her fearLESS rescue dog sidekick. She is originally from Cape Cod, MA. She holds a master’s degree in special education with 15 years teaching experience, a bachelor’s of fine arts in art education, broad-based studies, with minors in history and women studies. She’s a social mediamanager, creative content producer, storyteller, podcaster, educator, iPhone photographer, animal advocate, wellness activist, artist, author, speaker, foodie and political junkie. Follow her on all her social channels at brandfearless.comand on Snapchat at feral20 where she holds a hashtag day #JustB Tuesday each week where people send in snaps of them being well, doing good and fearing a little bit less. At the end of the month she gives away a social good prize to one lucky winner. Yes, this was hard at times.
#BeWell #DoGood #fearLESS
I feel so blessed to call Kim my friend. We met through Snapchat and instantly bonded through a common desire to do our best to make the world a better place! As mutual animal lovers, foodies and soul sister survivors, I was lucky enough to meet Kim (and her fur baby Finnegan) this summer when I was in New York. I could say so much about her but I will leave you with this…Kim is loving, she is kind, she is generous, she is smart, she is funny, she is truthful, she is always doing good and being well. And most of all Kim is fearless!