Sometimes the World has Teeth

(By Corey Rotella, CNA Extraordinaire) 

 I’m out of stuff to clean. Dishes done. Bathroom’s done. I even scrubbed the tub. I hate cleaning. There is little scope for imagination in it. Still, in times of great stress, I find the lack of whimsy in cleaning a toilet to be oddly calming.

        Chair a meeting, lunch with friends, paint a picture, volunteer at the behavioral health center, discuss politics in depth and clean. All things I know how to do. All roles with which I am comfortable, despite my afore mentioned dislike towards housework. I need today to be filled with familiar, safe tasks that I feel confident I could accomplish, because today, the world has teeth.

      Everything seems uncertain. My fears come out to dance, twisting and dipping as they whisper and taunt me with all the ways I fall short, all the ways I don’t fit and my broken pieces have sharp edges that cut and poke and nag at my inner wellbeing as I struggle to break free from self-absorbed fear.

      The world has teeth today. My humor is darker than normal and my wit unintentionally cuts another as I grapple with my own insecurities by holding onto my favorite defense mechanism. Great. Now I can add guilt to the mix.

      The world has teeth today.

I’m feeling all the feelings and am not comfortable in my own skin. My life feels unfamiliar and I don’t know where I fit. Doubt is driving the train and I feel open and afraid. I feel vulnerable and lacking and question everything.

       The world has teeth today, but I have learned to handle such moments. I take a deep breath, accept that my feelings aren’t facts. They pass, as do all things. So, I clean and say a little prayer to whoever runs this gig to guide my feet and heal my heart and direct me where to go. Now, I’m not a particularly religious woman but prayer centers my mind and I keep taking the simple actions and in doing so I find peace.

       The world had teeth today, but once again I made it through. And as I lay my head down and review it in my mind, I realize that it was filled with friends and love and productivity. It was my fear and perception that made it into an avalanche of overwhelming emotion. 

     Some days, the world has teeth. Some days, I am my own worst enemy and allow fear to snowball. That’s ok. I’m not a perfect person. As long as I know that those days pass. When I acknowledge my feelings on the tough days, and allow them to teach and guide me rather than rule my behavior and reactions, I grow as a person. I did every task I set out to do, despite my feelings. It is by surviving and learning from the days when the world has teeth that I’ve become who I am and today I don’t flinch from my reflection.

Corey Anne Rotella co-authored the book CNA Edge: Reflections from year one along with Bob Goddard and Hannah Hedges. It’s collection of essays from their blog CNA Edge: A Voice from the trenches of Long Term Care

”Tis the Season!”

(By Corey Rotella, CNA Extraordinaire!)

    So far, this holiday season has brought a whirlwind road trip to see my family over Thanksgiving weekend, an emergency surgery for my Dad, a root canal for my boyfriend, and an announcement from my eighty-nine-year-old Grandma that my Grandfather was a wonderful lover. And it is not even Christmas week yet. 

     I took a road trip to my hometown over Thanksgiving weekend and had the chance to visit with my parents, brother and sister-in-law, aunts and uncles and all their dogs. They met and, much to my relief, adored my boyfriend. We talked politics and stress, and shared funny stories; our conversations intertwining as we tried to cram a year of catching up into a day and a half. 

    The trip was over almost as soon as it began, but I left knowing that I would be back for Christmas with my Grandma. It is a rare treat for me to be so surrounded by my family during the holiday season. 

     This year, my holidays are full of love and chaos and frenzied activity, but I haven’t always been so lucky. Often enough, this was the hardest and loneliest season for me. Years ago, when I was in the grips of my addiction, I was incapable of being present. Even when I was there physically, my shame, self-loathing and copious amounts of cheap vodka kept me from appreciating any part of it. I was in no way truly engaged and felt completely alone in a room filled with people. I have fared much better these years in recovery. My life is every bit as rich with friendship as my pockets are poor with money. That being said, my career is in a field that requires us to work on holidays. People don’t stop needing care just because it is Christmas. I have had my share of years pining for the days when I could wake up knowing that the day would be filled with visiting loved ones instead of punching the clock…but then I would look at those in my care. Many of them had out lived their family. One Christmas, I spent half the shift looking for an invisible dog to calm a ninety-eight-year-old woman living with dementia. Others had been abandoned for all intents and purposes. I cared for one gentleman who spent every afternoon staring out the window wistfully, certain that that was the day his family would finally be picking him up. The holidays were especially difficult for him. Having the opportunity to spend the holidays with them gave me a deeper appreciation and greater insight into what the season truly meant for me. 

     The holiday season has many faces, despite what the made for TV movies would have you believe. Some years, they are joyous. Some years, they can be heart breaking. On my lonelier years, the idea that I was “supposed” to be cheerful made me feel guilty because I couldn’t quite muster it. So, if you’re reading this and having a tough year, that is okay. It is okay to feel sad or lonely or frustrated. There is no “right” way to feel. It will pass and there will be good years ahead. For those of us lucky enough to be around loved ones this year, let’s remember the times we had our own struggles during the holidays, reach out to those who may not be feeling loved and surround them in the spirit that this season is all about. And if, like me, you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed, just think! In less than two months, it will be Groundhog’s day. 

Corey Anne Rotella co-authored the book CNA Edge: Reflections from year one along with Bob Goddard and Hannah Hedges. It’s collection of essays from their blog CNA Edge: A Voice from the trenches of Long Term Care.

A Message

(By Corey Rotella, CNA Extraordinaire)

Everyone has a story. It’s such a truth. I don’t understand how people can be so cruel to someone that they don’t even know. Those were my thoughts as I read the comments with a growing sense of horror and despair on an online news article.

     It wasn’t the subject of the article. Truth be told, I don’t even remember the topic of the piece. It was of little consequence. What WAS concerning was the rhetoric and bullying with which everyday people were unabashedly engaging. The level of rage combined with the freedom of anonymity turned seemingly normal adults into rabid, raving lunatics with no conscience or restraint.

       “You’re going to HELL!”, one poster wrote to another, the words leaping off the page and screaming their fury. Fat bitch. Illiterate redneck. Rot in hell. She had it coming…each comment from both sides of whatever pointless argument in which they were engaged attempting to one up the other. It was awful. I don’t like to be around this sort of bullying. It brings up all sorts of ghosts and tears at old scars and yet I couldn’t look away.

        It surprises me; the level of anger and lengths people are willing to go to express it. These commentators were ripping away the dignity of others without stopping to consider that there is a HUMAN BEING on the other side of that computer screen. They either don’t know or don’t care. That is a problem.  This sort of callous, apathetic acceptance of such behavior is also a problem.

       I got in my head about this. It affected my mood, robbed me of my peace of mind and kicked up my anxiety for a quite a while. After a few days of pondering the potential implications of an apparently global lack of empathy, it hit me; I may be powerless over all those people but I’m not powerless over me! I’m a writer. If I have a message I’d like to get out to people, I should write it. So here it goes:

       To those who feel lonely and lost: Don’t be afraid. I’ve been there and believe me when I say that no matter how it feels right now, you are not alone. There isn’t a person on this earth that isn’t loved by at least one person and this includes you. 

      To those who feel hopeless:

   I know many people, myself included, who despaired of ever getting their feet on the ground and we’ve all beaten the odds. So, will you. Have more faith in yourself? There is either hope for everybody or hope for nobody. The fact that you’re reading this means there must be hope for everybody because if ever there was a hopeless case it was me.

       To those who grieve: I know there is nothing I can say to ease your pain. But I can walk with you from a distance through it. In my experience, time doesn’t heal all wounds. What it does is teach you how to create a new normal and in doing so, you heal and develop an empathy that will enable you to help and connect with others.

      To all the “weirdos”,”outcasts”, “freaks”, “misfits”, “broken” and the gloriously flawed individuals who have the courage to be themselves in a world that attempts to dictate how they should be to be “normal”. To all who struggle with depression or anxiety or addiction or just life: YOU are my people. You have all the gifts and abilities within you to thrive. You will learn more from facing adversity than the average person and your journey will be anything but ordinary if you keep putting one foot in front of the other. You are so much bigger than your challenges. Never give up. An interesting and worthwhile life is so much better than a “normal” one.

      Finally, to those who feel the need to cruelly belittle others who have the audacity to look, think, believe, feel, pray, hold an opposing opinion or express themselves differently than you do:  Just because today’s climate may appear to validate your ugly and judgmental rhetoric does not make it any less ugly. Ganging up anonymously with like-minded people and ripping apart those who are different is not righteous. It’s cowardice. Name calling, bullying and kicking people who are down in the name of God is not a trait in which one should take pride. And I would not be so certain of everything. The very people you are so eager to condemn online are very real in your outside life. We are your sons, daughters, co-workers, and friends. We come in all shapes, sizes, genders and belief systems. We will meet your anger and hatred with compassion and truth. We will not be bullied or shamed into silence. We will remember that everyone has a story…even you.


Corey Anne Rotella co-authored the book CNA Edge: Reflections from year one along with Bob Goddard and Hannah Hedges. It’s collection of essays from their blog CNA Edge: A Voice from the trenches of Long Term Care

To Thine Own Self Be True

(Written by guest blogger Corey Anne Rottella)

“We are who we pretend to be, so we must be careful who we pretend to be”. One of my favorite quotes by my favorite author, Kurt Vonnegut. It is a truth worth bearing in mind. We live in a society that thrives on comparing ourselves to others. We must keep up with the Joneses! We must achieve the “American dream”! Be skinny! Confident! thine-selfHave a career and 2.5 kids! Be…perfect! If you aren’t “successful” according to societal norms, then you must be doing adulthood wrong. Not only does that path lead to madness but it also robs us of all authenticity. There is no truth to it.

        How many masks does one have to wear? Work persona? Church persona? Family persona? A lifetime spent trying to live up to others perceived expectations is no life at all. It’s a self-imposed cage forged from comparing our insides with other people’s outsides. The truth is always deeper than the quick judgements we make based on our daily interactions with others. It’s impossible to know a person’s story based upon Facebook statuses or chit chat around the water cooler.

      Most of us feel an intrinsic need to present our best face to the world; that false self which we hope will meet or exceed other people’s expectations. In and of itself that seems pretty harmless, but is it really? I spent the majority of my life hiding behind a smile and convincing myself that everything is fine. I did it so long and so well that I never dealt with any negative truths going on around me or inside myself. I smiled as my inner and outer world crumbled down, slowly eroding all that I held of value. I smiled as I compared my inner self with all the fabulously “normal” people. I smiled and said I was fine as I was slowly and painfully killing myself…the lies you tell others hurt, but the lies you tell yourself can kill you.

       That was then and this is now. Today, through some effort and support, I am delightfully free. The key to my self-imposed cage was buried deep within me, but it was always there. I have learned to be honest with myself about who I am, how I feel and who I want to be. I no longer have time to worry about other people’s expectations. I am too busy defining my own. I am not skinny or rich. I don’t have a 401K and sometimes I pay my bills late. Sometimes I’m scared. Sometimes I’m angry or lonely or sad. I’m ok with all of that today. Those feelings pass. They don’t own me because I’m honest about them. Mostly, I’m happy and so very grateful to have the ability to be my imperfect, scattered, easily overwhelmed, passionate authentic self every day in every interaction. That is true freedom.

Corey Anne Rotella co-authored the book CNA Edge: Reflections from year one along with Bob Goddard and Hannah Hedges. It’s collection of essays from their blog CNA Edge: A Voice from the trenches of Long Term Care

Decisions, Decisions!

Chicken sandwich or cheeseburger? Chicken is healthier but then it’s been so long since I’ve eaten a burger! A good burger! Then again the chicken is like three dollars less. I mean, it doesn’t come with coleslaw, but I hate coleslaw anyway. It’s not really healthier though. It’s fried. That’s it! I’m going to splurge on the burger!…Wait. Did

What If I Make The Wrong Choice!!!!!!!

she just say fries OR onion rings?! NOOOOOOO!!!!
This is how my mind works. Every decision, big or small, is processed in that same fashion. Is it any wonder that I so often feel overwhelmed? Choices. Sometimes I find them truly intimidating. What if I make a mistake? What if I fall short? What if I let someone down? What if? What if? What if? It’s exhausting and such thinking leads me into a headspace in which I’d rather not linger.
Usually, I am able to catch myself before that self-centered fear grabs hold and carries me to the point of chasing ghosts in my head. Usually, but not always.
Sometimes, the committee in my mind likes to play in those thoughts and dredge up all my old wounds and fears of inadequacy. Not over menu choices, but in matters of the heart or when new opportunities that I wasn’t expecting show up, my first reaction is to balk. My second reaction is to “figure it out.”
Never, not one single time in my life, have I ever successfully “figured it out”. No. What I do is overthink every option, project into the future, decide not to make any decisions at all and bury my head in the sand, like the good little ostrich that I can be sometimes. Trust me when I tell you that it is not an effective course of action.
Learning how to be proactive rather than reactive has been a slow process for me. Some days, I’m much better at it than others. On the good days, I celebrate the fact that I have choices! Good, bad or ugly, they are my own and if I make a mistake, I know that I will learn and grow from it. On the good days, I know that feelings aren’t facts and a life lived in fear of being wrong is no kind of life at all. On the tough days, it’s more of a challenge. That’s ok. I’ve learned how to be open and honestly express my emotions in these regards. I am no longer afraid to seek guidance and have learned that I am responsible for my effort, not the outcomes. Because of this, fear and self-doubt may rent me on occasion, but they no longer OWN me. This enables me to make decisions, regardless of how I may view them in the given moment. On that note, I think I’ll go with the onion rings.

Corey Anne Rotella co-authored the book CNA Edge: Reflections from year one along  with Bob Goddard and Hannah Hedges. It’s  collection of essays from their blog  CNA Edge: a Voice from the trenches of Long Term Care

She also writes commentary about her life experiences on her personal blog Chasing Wonderland


What’s Your Story?

“We are the story we tell about ourselves.” I can’t exactly remember where I heard or read this phrase, but I have been thinking about it quite a bit over the last week.  This one little phrase implies a lot!  To me it connects various ideas about how our thinking and subjective reality are directly impacted by our language. 

Think about it, if “we are the story we tell about ourselves.” Then it seems if we desire to change our reality, then we must first begin by changing the story we tell ourselves about ourselves.

If we tell our story from a negative perspective, e.g. My parents didn’t love me and no one wanted me around as a child and I am unlovable and will always be unlovable, then our reality—emotions, feelings, and moods will reflect that story.  On the other hand, if we tell ourselves a more positive story about how we overcame obstacles, and adapted to change in our lives, and have the courage to continue doing so, then that becomes our story and in turn our new reality.

I think it useful in a conceptual way to re-author our life-story; casting ourselves as capable and solution-focused Lionhearts (in essence brave and courageous individuals), as opposed to problem-focused victims of circumstance who sees ourselves as individuals that have been harmed, injured or broken.  In creating solutions, our imagination plays an important role in how we create a new story for ourselves.  To create a new story for ourselves we must first have the ability to imagine one.  Our wholehearted belief in our ability to adapt and overcome obstacles is central to our success.   More importantly, a story in which we have overcome many obstacles and challenges as well as developed solutions, will be reflected in our day-to-day experience.

When writing a new story for ourselves it must begin with intention—a question involving hope and change: What is my hoped-for outcome:  What do I want out of life and is what I want congruent with what I value most?  This is not an easy question.  It requires us to identify what we value most and to create a mental description or picture of what we want—that takes imagination.  We must imagine living the life that we intend to live; a life we prefer, before we can hope to influence the direction of change.

This mental description or picture serves several very important purposes:  It motivates us to change, it guides the choices we make, and it provides strength and motivation for us when we face difficulties. I know that this seems like a lot of hard work, and it is, but once developed, attending to this description or picture as well the instances in our lives where our imagined life already is occurring, will over time develop a different mood-state and provide continuing motivation for change. 

So ask yourself:  “Am I the Lionheart or Victim of my story?”  If your response is “Victim”, now is as good a time as any to start writing yourself a new story.  My question for you is, what do you want that to look like?

Good Grief!

(Another great guest post by Corey Rotella!)

The Oxford dictionary defines grief as a deep sorrow, especially that which is caused by someone’s death. Taken at face value, that’s an effective enough definition…but does it really encompass how we humans deal with loss? Do we simply feel sorrow and do we really only know loss when it is at the level of death?
Of course not. My years working in long term care have taught me how to accept death as the natural end to life. This is not to say that I don’t feel pain or anger or loss. I just don’t rail against it. Being a woman in recovery has shown me that there are far more difficult and painful situations to fear than death itself.
For me, grief is a nuanced and complex reaction to change of any kind. I came to this realization this year, when I have faced so many dramatic and sudden shifts in my life. Despite most of them being overwhelmingly positive, they all involved a loss of some kind…a loss of an idea, preconceived notion or simply familiarity of routine.
After walking for eight years, I got a car. Fantastic, right? But my mind went into overdrive. Suddenly, I had a world of options that were not previously open to me. What if I chose wrong? What if I became lazy? After nearly a decade on foot, my life was changing in an instant. It meant the loss of what was familiar and that caused me some pain, though I couldn’t pinpoint it at the time. I only knew that I felt vaguely anxious and a little sad. It was only in hindsight that I realized that I was grieving the end of life as I knew it.
That’s the key. Life as we know it ends any time change is introduced. I was offered a better paying job in my field. It was private care and, in theory anyway, involved far less stress and physical strain. WINNING!…except after eight years of experience in the same facility, the amount of heartbreak I felt over leaving my residents and co-workers was far greater than my excitement of a new opportunity. I couldn’t understand my loss of appetite or level of stress over what should have been an exciting new chapter in my life.
Until I recognized that these feelings stemmed from a sense of grief, I was unable to employ the appropriate coping skills that I’ve learned over the years. All these changes were positive, so it made no sense to me that I would be feeling restless, discontent, anxious and sad. It was only through realizing that grief is not always wearing black and weeping at a funeral that I was able to put down the Ben and Jerry’s, accept what I was feeling and take the necessary actions to move forward and grow into my new life.

Corey Anne Rotella co-authored the book CNA Edge: Reflections from year one along with Bob Goddard and Hannah Hedges. It’s a collection of essays from their blog CNA Edge: a Voice from the trenches of Long Term Care

She also writes commentary about her life experiences on her personal blog Chasing Wonderland