This week’s guest is Serena Sterling.
When someone feels as though they are being silenced, this can have tremendous physical, and psychological consequences for that person as they feel ignored or not heard. This week’s guest is Serena Sterling, who is a certified Life Coach and author of the book ‘Pain: A Love Story’. In this episode, Serena shares her story regarding the chronic physical and emotional pain which she endured as a result of feeling ignored at various times in her life. Serena tells us that in her childhood, she began to complain about “imaginary” pain to gain attention from her family, and after months of pretence, this eventually manifested into Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis, a condition she still has today. While working as an international journalist, Serena was based in New York’ financial district during the September 11 attacks. As a result of the trauma she experienced during those attacks, she was later diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and was told by her doctor that there was no cure. Serena’s life began to spiral as she started snorting cocaine in her kitchen to help her cope and hold down her job. Not wanting to accept this as a lifetime fate, she discovered mind-body healing techniques that transformed her mental, emotional, and physical health. Witnessing what seemed like a miraculous transformation, Serena decided she needed to share this with the world. She later received a master’s and a doctorate in clinical psychology in order to bridge the gap between science and emotional health. Serena is committed to helping others with physical and emotional pain feel better fast with various modalities that have been proven to cure chronic pain. This is a candid interview with Serena as she not only shares some of the darkest moments in her life, but she also offers advice to those who feel as though they are being silenced as well as how we can all listen better.
In this episode
05:08 – Donna’s Childhood
07:56 – Seeking Attention from Parents
09:09 – Psychosomatic Disorder
10:03 – Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis
15:20 – Coping with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
17:16 – Depression + PTSD
19:10 – Cocaine helping her Chronic Fatigue
23:20 – Victim Mentality
26:29 – Body Mind Healing Techniques
28:25 – Communicating with the body
32:40 – Diagnosing patients through Kinesiology
40:19 – Message behind the book “Pain, A Love Story”
46:18 – Advice to someone experiencing pain
50:37 – Best way to help someone in pain
NEW CCM BOOK
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith is excited to announce the release of her new book “Singing Contemporary Commercial Music Styles: A Pedagogical Framework” published by Compton Publications UK. Marisa offers this book as a starting point and as CCM markets continue to evolve, she encourages that we, as a voice community, continue to evolve, debate and communally add to this framework.
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 00:00
Hi it’s Marisa Lee here, and I’m so excited to be sharing today’s interview round episode with you. In these episodes, our brilliant lineup of guests will include health care practitioners, voice educators, and other professionals who will share their stories, knowledge and experiences within their specialized fields to empower you to live your best life. Whether you’re a member of the voice, community, or beyond your voice is your unique gift. It’s time now to share your gift with others develop a positive mindset and become the best and most authentic version of yourself to create greater impact. Ultimately, you can take charge, it’s time for you to live your best life. It’s time now for A Voice and Beyond. So without further ado, let’s go to today’s episode.
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 01:15
When someone feels as though they’re being silenced, this can have tremendous physical and psychological consequences for that person feeling ignored or not heard. This week’s guest is Serena Sterling, who is a certified life coach and author of the book pain, a love story. In this episode, Serena shares her story regarding the chronic physical and emotional pain which she endured as a result of feeling ignored at various times in her life. Serena tells us that in her childhood, she began to complain about imaginary pain to gain attention from her family and after months of pretense this eventually manifested into juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, a condition she still suffers from today. While working as an international journalist Serena was based in New York’s financial district during the September 11 attacks. As a result of the trauma she experienced during those attacks. She was later diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome and was told by her doctor that there was no cure serinus life began to spiral as she started snorting cocaine in her kitchen to help her cope and hold down her job. Not wanting to accept this as a lifetime fate she discovered mind body healing techniques that transformed her mental, emotional and physical health. Witnessing what seemed like a miraculous transformation, Serena decided she needed to share this with the world. She later received a masters and a doctorate in clinical psychology in order to bridge the gap between science and emotional health. This is an extremely candid interview with Serena Sterling, as she not only shares some of the darkest moments in her life, but she also offers advice to those who feel as though they are being silenced as well as how we can all listen better. So without further ado, let’s go to today’s episode
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 04:00
Welcome to the show Serena Sterling. How are you?
Serena Sterling 04:04
I’m fantastic. Thanks so much for having me.
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 04:07
Oh, it’s a total pleasure. Thank you for taking the time to be here. And you’re currently living in Utah. Have you always lived there?
Serena Sterling 04:17
No, not at all. This is my first time ever living off the coast. I’ve never lived in the middle more of the US. I’ve lived in New York City, Philadelphia, Paris, London, Sydney, Australia, Seattle, Portland, to small towns.
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 04:33
That is a lot of moving. We might have to talk about that a little bit later and find out. But you hold a Master’s in International Journalism. You have a Doctorate in Clinical Psychology. You are a certified life coach and the author of the book ‘Pain, a love story’. Now these are a number of different fields that you’ve ventured in too, and tell us about the journey that led you to transitioning jobs and your roles and your career path. But let’s start going back and doing a background search about your childhood. And maybe some of the things that happened to you, as a child have kind of led you to where you’re at now?
Serena Sterling 05:22
Well, I would say that I was always interested, I was more of a an observer. In childhood, I think I, I watched what other people were doing a lot. And I was a really good athlete, like star athlete of my class. And I don’t know that I really had strong direction growing up, but my grandmother always told me, she got to be a veterinarian because they loved animals so much. But then I just I really liked psychology and English classes in high school. And then when I got to university, I studied English literature. And I still didn’t really have a focus. But then I decided that I loved magazines. And maybe one day I would create a magazine, kind of like for people overcoming adversity, physical, mental, emotional. And so then I ended up in Journalism School in London because of that insatiable thirst to live in other places.
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 06:19
Yes. And what inspired you? Was there something that happened to you as a child that created that fascination for learning more about that spirituality or that psychology?
Serena Sterling 06:32
Yes. And that’s a lot of what I talk about in my book is that I developed and I was diagnosed with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis at the age of nine, but from what my memory serves me and my, my personal experience is that I pretended to have pain that never existed, because I felt like, the only way to get attention from my parents was if I was sick, and I wanted something to be visible. So they would have to pay attention to me. And so I basically, my birthday is in January. And so in the beginning of the school year, in September, in the US, it’s like I was eight years old. And so I was like, This is what I’m going to do, I’m going to complain about pain, and they’re going to have to pay me attention, and then I’ll get the attention, and then I’ll be great. So I got into this, this place of just, I would pretend like I had a limp, walking down walking away from the school bus, I would really don’t pay my teachers after school sports like gymnastics, or like, I can’t do a handstand, my hands hurt, or in ballet, like, oh, this hurts. And then after about two and a half months of going to doctors and them all telling my mom like, she’s fine. She’s in great health. And I was like, No, that’s currently something wrong with me. And then I actually by like, November, my feet, and my joints did start to hurt. And I was admitted to Children’s Hospital, and then I got the diagnosis.
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 07:56
So why did you feel the need to attract attention? Did you feel that you weren’t getting any attention from your parents? Or was it all in your mind?
Serena Sterling 08:07
No, I really do think that because I had a friend of my parents who I met when I was I mean, I I’ve known her since I was really young. But I saw her again when I was studying journalism in London. And I remember her telling me to come visit. And she would always say like, how’s your relationship with your brother? Now, you know, he was so mean to you, he would order you around, he had a broken leg. And you mean to when your parents never seem to back you up? And so I don’t think it was my imagination. I really do think that I felt like he was favored. And no matter no matter how much I did, I mean, he was two and a half years older. So of course, he’s going to be stronger and faster and a better athlete and better at school and all those things. But I just felt like I was so overlooked, that instead of telling my parents like, Hey, pay attention to me, they would have been like a fully paid attention, you know, wouldn’t have matters so I concocted this grand idea to because I felt like it didn’t matter that I was the star athlete, it did nothing mattered. I just wanted as much attention as my brothers seem to get.
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 09:09
So you felt like you weren’t being heard, and your way of having attention because you didn’t have a voice. So you had to find another way to draw attention to yourself and it was through these. So would you call it like hypochondria that actually ended up leading to some real ailment, or you were just simply making it up? Like did you feel that you had hypochondria as such?
Serena Sterling 09:39
No. If anything, maybe it was like a somatic form disorder or psychosomatic or but it’s kind of like it’s I think it’s the no SIBO effect. I think that the placebo effect is a lot more common where you know, you’re told like this pill is going to help you with this. So you turn on your ability to heal. Yes, I turned on this ability way to cause pain in my body.
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 10:03
And when we were talking yesterday, you still have the rheumatoid arthritis, you showed me your hands. And I thought, well, after all these years, it’s still a real thing. And from that point of time as a child, and then you went into your teenage years, you were sharing with me that you found yourself in another situation where you didn’t feel as though you were being heard or you couldn’t use your voice. And that was through some surgery that you had?
Serena Sterling 10:36
Right. So as a lot of children who develop arthritis, they end up having chores that receipt in words, they don’t, the jaw stops growing. And so I tried a few years of braces to help with a bite, my teeth didn’t come down together, but then the braces would come off and the bite so anyway, the I had to get a five hour reconstructive job or a shove my left knee swollen to my face for eight or nine months when I was 17 years old. And and then and I was telling you about going to speech therapy, because I’m so fascinated by what you do. And I just felt like it was just so humiliating, to stand to sit and like look in front of a mirror and make these CH and sh sounds because I still had a list. And my mom said it was unacceptable. Like what are colleges gonna think. And I just felt I was still somewhat invisible. Like she wasn’t really seen how emotionally difficult that experience was going through the jaw operation and having my whole face change. And now here I am sitting in from this mirror trying to make my appearance look good when I still didn’t feel like I was being seen or heard.
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 11:45
Wow, and how was the rheumatoid arthritis during that point of time? did? Was it feeling worse? Or was it just stabilized?
Serena Sterling 11:55
I think that it was stabilized. I think that I had gone into remission by age 14. I tried a lot of different medications, none of which worked very well. And I think at one point, I just got exasperated, and I decided to go into more alternative healing. I mean, it doesn’t seem alternative any more to me to go see a chiropractor. But I’ve gotten more help from that than from medication.
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 12:17
Yes. And do you feel that those experiences that you went through as a child that they had a greater impact on you as you went into adulthood?
Serena Sterling 12:29
Absolutely. Because in some of the work, I do some of these mind body stress reduction techniques, I can still trace whatever might be triggering me in the present back to the past of healing from that operation or feeling like my parents didn’t see me and having to concoct this story and things like that. And so, I mean, people, I imagine my clients as well just get very tired of hearing about proverbial onion, the all the layers of well, yes, another layer in this layer has no core obviously. Yeah, but but we’re all you know, a work in progress. And I’m still I’m still finding things out about myself that I kept hidden away from those years.
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 13:09
And then you started working in New York, there was a stage you’re working in New York, and you developed chronic fatigue syndrome. And that was as a result of the 911 attacks. Do you want to share your story around that with us?
Serena Sterling 13:29
Sure, yeah. So I actually was getting tired. When I was studying journalism in London, because I felt emotionally I felt a little disillusioned. I wasn’t sure that journalism, I knew somewhere that I wanted to do something more, but I wasn’t sure what it was. So there was that aspect, the emotional aspect. And then the weather wasn’t that great as England you don’t, very often and just kind of cold and damp and gray and rainy. There was always in my early 20s. So I was drinking and not really having a very good diet. And so it was kind of like a Petri dish for just something to grow, like fatigue. And then I landed this dream job of mine, I got an internship and then they offered me the job to be one of their editors at Spirituality and Health magazine. But that magazine is located in the financial district. It’s like some Trinity plays. It’s near. It was near the World Trade Center. So I was on my way to work on 911 And I got stuck in the subway. And by the time I came out, the first tower had already collapsed. And I feel that it was such an overwhelming traumatic experience and I didn’t know how to even identify on my own the emotions I was feeling, let alone talk to other people and know how to feel better by talking about it. So I feel like I just repressed so many emotions and exacerbated the fatigue. And then I had to work from home for five months, because they were cleaning. The office took five months to clean. Like all the ash came in through the vents and everything. So yes. So then I went to my doctor, because I was just, I would do the dishes and then feel like I had to take a nap for two hours. I mean, it’s it wasn’t feasible to keep going at that rate.
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 15:20
Was it something that crept up on you? Or did you suddenly start feeling this fatigue? Because I know a lot of people, it is a thing, chronic fatigue syndrome is a thing. And I suppose for those of us who have never suffered from it, it’s very hard to understand and what you’re feeling so what were those symptoms? And how did you cope with day to day life?
Serena Sterling 15:47
It was very difficult. It was I didn’t really have I only I had a few friends in New York City, my brother, but my brother and I aren’t close. So all that my grandma. Right? My, my parents were basically pressuring him to invite me out to, you know, happy hour, things like that. But I always felt like I didn’t like brought along as a third wheel kind of thing. Yes. So for me, as I mentioned, it already, like started, I think, when I was in London, and then an even before 911, I remember coming back from lunch and kind of slumping in my chair to take a nap, because I was so tired, but then it just kept getting worse and worse. And I’m not really sure what the diagnostic criteria was back in 2001. For chronic fatigue, I think that perhaps maybe my doctor just kind of like heard my symptoms and lumped me into chronic fatigue, because I had debilitating fatigue and tiredness. And I also had joint pain, but I already had joint pain from the arthritis. So I think there probably are some other symptoms that I didn’t have. But those were the main ones. And it’s just, you know, I was already very driven. I got my master’s in journalism. Actually, I was finishing my master’s, I got an extension to do my dissertation. But I felt like I wasn’t productive. I couldn’t focus. All I wanted to just kind of like, lay on the couch and sleep.
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 17:16
Wow, what a way to live. Did you ever feel depressed through that time? Because I could imagine if you don’t have that energy to get through a day, it would play on your emotions as well.
Serena Sterling 17:29
Yes, I was depressed. I didn’t realize that I had PTSD as well. I had nightmares a lot. Every time I heard a siren. I was thinking oh, they they found people, they there was this huge underground mall at the World Trade Center. They’ve all they’re all just like surviving on the food from the restaurants. And I would just have these fantasies and I would but then I just was kind of like, what’s the point? Why even bother? If something like that can happen right in your own backyard? Like, what’s the point of going on? Certainly became very apathetic and depressed.
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 18:03
Did you see a therapist to help you through that?
Serena Sterling 18:07
Now that’s one thing I mentioned in the book also is that I, in my family seen a therapist was very, very much looked down upon it was kind of like only really sick people see therapists. And so I mean, I saw school counselor once in high school for 20 minutes. And I was so ashamed. I left. And I think no, I was, I was interviewing some of my former editors for my dissertation. And one of them. I think, she saw how depressed I was. And she was like, I highly recommend this psychologist I saw at a difficult time in my life, you might want to go and I did. And I hated it. And I just basically, I felt like I was circling around the emotions and just going into what I saw 911 But then I didn’t really feel anything. And I was like, that’s not for me. But I was working with a life coach at the time. And it was helpful, but it didn’t really get to the underlying root causes of why I was feeling so depressed.
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 19:10
Now, you share in your book, and also you shared with me that one of the ways you felt that you could deal with the Chronic Fatigue was just snort cocaine. Now, I find that kind of bizarre, only because I think, well, how do you arrived at that decision? And where do you go and find it from and how do you decide or relate the two together? Okay, cocaine’s going to fix my chronic fatigue.
Serena Sterling 19:44
It does sound like there are probably other things I could do but I feel like I had already exhausted all the coffee I could do. I I would you know, I basically was eating like carbs and sugar because that would give me a burst of energy and I would cry. Gosh, yes. So I was telling my friend that I was having all this fatigue. And I was like, Hey, why don’t you just you know, I remember being in college university and pulling all nighters by taking adderall or ritalin and I would just do it like, you know, a few times, and I still did really well, on my papers or whatever I had to get done. So I told him, I was like, Look, can you go and find some Ritalin or Adderall? Like I will pay you like this? And he tried, apparently, but he was like, I couldn’t get it. Like I was thinking, there’s so many universities, I’m sure some kid wants to give up their Adderall.
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 20:36
Look for someone shady.
Serena Sterling 20:40
Then he was like, Well, why don’t you try coke instead? And I was like, No, I don’t want I’m this is not to get high. It’s to stay awake. But I was desperate. Because I felt like another few months of being unable to focus and just wanting to sleep. And I would lose the job that I’d worked so hard to gain. And so I did, I did lines of cocaine in my kitchen in the morning, up until about 3pm. So that I could sleep at night. I didn’t do it. On the weekends, I did this for about a month and a half thinking like this will give me some time until I can figure out what I shouldn’t be doing. And then I just I always knew that it was some sort of like slippery slope. I had impostor syndrome, even though I did not put that label on it. I don’t think we had that label back then. But no, you for spirituality and health magazine, writing health articles while doing cocaine, how divergent from my goals is that.
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 21:36
That’s very healthy and that’s very spiritual. Not. Right. Oh, my gosh. So you sound like you were very disciplined with cocaine? Yes. Did it help you? And so because you came off it, obviously, you didn’t become addicted to it in that time. But did it help?
Serena Sterling 22:03
Yeah, it did help. Because also, it’s giving me that boost of energy. Were in it also. I mean, I drank a ton of water. And I got my work done. And I also it helped because it numbed me out to my emotional pain that in the months, a month or two after 911, I just simply did not want to feel so I would. I didn’t know that I was an empath until I was in grad school, and I heard this word but of what sorry, an empath. What’s an impact? Where you can take on the emotions of the people?
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 22:39
Oh, okay. Right. Yes. From from the word empathy. Yes.
Serena Sterling 22:44
So, I would be on the subway, and I would see people and I would just, I would feel awful, because I could see the terror and the sadness and the anger, everything that everyone was feeling in New York City, after 911. Basically, when I was using cocaine, I didn’t have to feel it, because there’s a very strong numbing effect. And so I just for the time that I was using it, I was like, Oh, great, I can like stay awake, I can go to my meetings and Soho once a week and, you know, show that I’m not falling asleep, listening to the whatever they’re talking about. And I can also come out. Perfect.
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 23:20
Did you ever ask yourself, why me? Like what am I meant to learn through all of this, and go into some kind of victim mentality?
Serena Sterling 23:32
I don’t think I don’t think I went into the victim. I think that sometimes when I’ve been depressed, I can definitely feel I’m in a victim state. And it’s hard to acknowledge that because when you’re depressed and can feel very justified and feeling that way. However, when I was in grad school for psychology, a supervisor once told me that people who are depressed are actually more realistic. Okay, have the same filters, that other people who are not depressed, and I see that like if we, we really pulled our filters off, and we’re actually aware of all the crappy stuff going on the world. I don’t think anyone would want to create relationships or leave the house. But in terms of the victim mentality, it was kind of like, okay, it’s like, well, like I was saying yesterday, like, no one’s going to save you even like you can go to therapy and people can help you. But at the end of the day, you have to pull yourself up and decide, like, I’m not going to live my life, being depressed and anxious and terrified of what could happen. I just have to live my life. And so I feel like in terms of lessons, I feel like I decided I was there that day. I’m going to just learn what I can from this and by going and finding after deciding to stop the cocaine, I found a doctor who could help me out By going through her protocols with the mind body stress reduction techniques, I really did learn, like, what is my body holding on to. And it just released so much that it took me out of whatever victim place I was in and helped me like, put one foot in front of the other and start making goals and plans again.
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 25:18
Yes. So to get to that point, well, there must have been a little bit more resilience in you than what you actually anticipated or expected there was because that’s a big thing to go through. And to experience to be there, the day of 911. And to come out and to be able to tell your story, how’s your chronic fatigue now?
Serena Sterling 25:42
I don’t have it.
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 25:44
Serena Sterling 25:45
Basically, the doctor in New York healed me in like three weeks, maybe a little bit longer here and there. But I mean, it wasn’t more than a few months, and I felt 100% better. However, it did come back when, seven years ago when my dad passed unexpectedly. And I cried for a week and thought I was over it. Yes. Even being like, you know, an expert in this mind body stuff, and how emotions get trapped in the body, I was just kind of fooling myself. And little by little, I just got more and more tired. And I had to heal from that, again, by going through what I do what I know how to do, which is express your emotions when you feel like bottling them up.
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 26:29
Hmm. So let’s talk about that now. You have body mind healing techniques that you use, that you’ve used on yourself, and you have a practice? Has it transformed you emotionally and physically using these techniques? And what are these techniques that you’re using?
Serena Sterling 26:52
Right, so some of them, the main one is called Well, what I do is I blend everything that I’ve learned over the years. One of the base ones is called neuro emotional technique. There are practitioners all over US, Australia, the US, Canada, but I bring in also things from psych K, and energy psychology and other modalities. And I bring in my training and education from clinical psychology. So that basically, the idea is that something’s happened in the future, there are not the future the present, like there’s a relationship that is troubling, or there’s something at work or you have pain in your back that came on kind of out of the blue, you didn’t fall, you didn’t have an injury, it’s there. It’s becoming problematic. And my belief is that something is going like pain, especially it will be so troubling that you have to look for answers. And a lot of times Western medicine doesn’t cut it search or a medication that doesn’t help. So then what do you do? And so these modalities get at what is underneath it. So when I work with someone when I work on myself, or have a colleague work on me, like the pain is just an entryway for finding out what are the emotions and the relationships and the memories that I’ve stored that I’ve never fully processed because either they were too overwhelming, or it was just too terrifying to be vulnerable or things like that.
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 28:25
That’s really interesting, because just you talking about that. Now, about 10 weeks ago, I was in Melbourne my mum was was actually very, very ill at the time. And I used to go for a walk along the main strip, maybe it was like a 45 minute walk and I do a lot of walking. I’ve never had lower back pain. And it was on the left hand side predominantly. And one day I just took off on my walk. And this day my husband was with me and all of a sudden, my lower back. Just went, just seized up and the pain was incredible. And I tried to kind of stretch it out. And it was you know, I got home from the walk and after a couple of hours of pain left and I thought oh, that’s okay. It must have been something that I’d done. Every time I went walking from that point on the back would start playing up again. Same place. Never ever had a back problem before. My mum ended up passing away. We knew she was going to be passing and it’s only now the two months later that the pain is starting to subside. And it’s actually I feel that it’s almost 100% gone and a part of me and I did go and seen osteopath who did a little bit of dry needling to he said that that area was really too height, and I do some stretching every night, put a heat pack on it, it’s almost gone. But it was really interesting what was going on in my life at that time, and how the pain just appeared out of nowhere. And I think, you know, my my intuition was telling me that that was that pain was manifesting as a result of maybe some grief that I was feeling. And now as I’m going through that grieving process, that pain is starting to leave my body. Is that something that you believe in? Is that how you would deal with the patient? Just say, if I had have come to you at that time? What would you have done with me?
Serena Sterling 30:44
I do believe that your body was communicating and grieved me as a very, I don’t grieve, I don’t think I grieve that Well, I think that it’s very difficult, especially when you lose someone close to you, like your mother. And sometimes, even recently, I mean, I feel like I was processing all the emotions, and dealing well with I was kind of like a nomad and driving all around the mountain states of the US for six months and thinking like I’m handling this, well, I’m totally fine. And then I develop this random symptom out of the blue and I was also home visiting my mother who was getting better over a sickness, pretty serious sickness, and just so many different emotions. And so many concerns. And worries may feel like if you would come to me and said, My pain has come out of the blue, I’m here visiting my mother, I know that she’s not doing well, I would say let’s look there, let’s let’s look at, I would use the pain as the entryway, I wouldn’t go down the rabbit hole of, of what anyway, I would probably focus on that as well. But first, don’t look at the pain and find out. And it’s so I’m using muscle testing, or applied kinesiology as a way to access the physiology like what your body is trying to say rather than because oftentimes, the mind gets in the way and can basically kind of like think and know what to say before. Whereas with these techniques, it’s a way to pinpoint what the emotion is that you’ve stuffed into your body. Or you’re not doing it consciously. No one’s doing this consciously. But it’s more like something, it was so much grief, there was so much knowing that a loss is coming can sometimes bring in and bring on some symptoms, based on the fact that the emotion is it’s too much to handle. So we take that energy and it goes into her body.
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 32:40
Right? So when someone comes to you start diagnosing them through the body like the kinesiology and you ask the body to speak to you. Do you then, from that point, start asking questions around what’s going on in their lives? Or is it purely from the physical aspect that you diagnose?
Serena Sterling 33:02
Well, I’m not diagnosing anything, per se. I’m more I’m looking for answers in terms of emotions. So the physical thing so your back pain, for example, I would, I would connect that to something there are three categories that I go into money, love, like money is the material things like money, love, job, career, finances, stuff like that. And then love is like, you know, people in your family, friends, spouse, whatever. And then there’s the category of you so I find which category it has to do with. And then I have shards that I go off of all these different emotions, it’s connected to Chinese medicine, where they’re all these organs that correspond to different emotions. I mean, I know the very basics of it from from the modalities I have studied, but then we would pinpoint what emotion it is. But we can also then I mean, it’s not just me doing it, like I’m and I have this old, this old like the day I left spirituality nowadays, they gave me this was a fake cover. And it was me on the front. Which was really sweet. It said healer for a healer for the next generation. And I sometimes tell my clients, I’m not healing anyone. I’m a conduit I learned the techniques help you, yes, access things that you can’t see, we all have blind spots. And so these are just one one, you know, a few ways that I know to get at what’s really underneath the physical pain. And so the physical pain is given me an emotion it’s given tying it to some category in your life. And then we can also trace it back to an earlier event when something similar happened and it got kind of stuck in the body and now it’s rearing its ugly head in a way because it’s trying to help you heal but wasn’t healed in the past or the present.
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 34:52
I’m very open to all of this. And what started my journey of just having a completely Open mind to all this alternative way of thinking about pain was by reading Louise Hays book back in the 80s. You can heal your life. And I remember simple things that she had broken down at the back of the book. If you have an earache, as an example, may not be specifically worded like that. Why aren’t you listening? If you have, let’s just say, you have a sore throat, what aren’t you saying? Why aren’t you speaking up? And sometimes I actually use that with my students. Sometimes they may come in and go, Oh, you know, my throat is a bit sore today. And I say, What aren’t you saying? And they just look at me. And sometimes it is something that they’re holding back. And they’re not using their most authentic voice in life. But it’s very interesting. Who is your typical client? Who comes to you?
Serena Sterling 35:59
I have people who are in chronic pain who have like you, you experience like people who have developed some pain that came on out, like I said, you know, doesn’t come from an injury. Or sometimes people think that like, oh, 12 years ago, I had a biking accident, and this thing never fully healed. And now and then it comes back. But people who for whom allopathic medicine has not worked, where they’ve gone to maybe like, six or 12 Different doctors, they’ve done the medication, they’ve tried physical therapy, and nothing’s working. And they’ve, they’re aware of the Mind Body syndrome, mind body connection. There’s something called tension myositis syndrome. There’s a there’s a doctor in New York, Dr. John Sarno, he became really famous from some of his books and his ideas around this idea, although these ideas of like repressing your emotions are not necessarily new, even like 30 years ago, I think we’ve been doing this for eons. And so that would be like one typical client, but I also see people with anxiety or depression, or people who are kind of just kind of stuck in their life, I had this one client who, well, I saw his mom first. And then she was like, you know, my son hasn’t really been doing anything since he graduated from university. And when we started working together, it turned out that he was still he had been hurt really badly by this girl that he was in love with. And then everything else became too scary to do because it was he basically had generalized that rejection to then being possibly rejected by a job or possibly rejected by. So he was like, I’m gonna go for a hike on this trail that goes like, across the country, and I won’t have to see anyone. And so it was his way of being like, I don’t need people. And he just he enjoyed his outdoor lifestyle and didn’t see a point in changing. And once we were able to heal that old pain and the old hurt of this girl, then he could start applying to jobs and move on with his life.
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 38:05
How old was this boy?
Serena Sterling 38:07
He was 23 I think?
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 38:10
Yes. So he had to be open to this kind of healing too. If someone’s not open, does this work? Like, do you have people that come to you and go, This is too woowoo for me?
Serena Sterling 38:21
I think I had not that many people, but I’ve had one person. She worked at one of the big companies. I was living in Seattle at the time. She, you know, like, Facebook, Google, Amazon, one of those. And she paid up front for like 12 sessions. And she stopped. She just went MIA after four. And I called emailed snail mailed and she just refused to come back. Okay. It because it can be, it can be kind of intense. It can be scary. It can be like No, I came for like, you know, pain in my jaw. I didn’t come to unravel stuff from when I was 12 or 18, or whatever it is. And so some people can be like, No, that’s not it. And they’re very difficult to work with because they’re already defensive. They don’t. They don’t see the point in that. They were like, This is not what I wanted.
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 39:14
This is not what I signed up for. Houston, we have a problem.
Serena Sterling 39:19
Oh, yes. So I tried to screen for that. And I think though that when people are really in so much pain, and they are aware of like my testimonials, or they know how long I’ve been in practice, and that I help other, I’ve helped so many people, if you’re in a lot of pain, I think you will be open to anything.
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 39:39
Absolutely. But isn’t it a shame that people have to get to that point that they don’t do something about it sooner? Usually how many sessions would people have to come to you for? Is there an average that seems to work?
Serena Sterling 39:52
Yes. anywhere between like 12 and 16 sessions, which is pretty short. If you’ve had pain for like years and years and years.
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 40:00
Serena Sterling 40:02
So for like that one issue that they have 12 to 16 seems to be the sweet spot.
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 40:08
Yes. And so you believe then that when we have pain, it’s our body’s trying to talk to us.
Serena Sterling 40:17
Yes. Our bodies and our minds.
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 40:19
Yes. And your book? What’s the story behind your book? What’s the message you you’re wanting to share through that it’s called pain, a love story. I mean, that’s pretty intense. I don’t know how we can be in love with pain. So tell us about the book.
Serena Sterling 40:37
Well, I gave it that title because my belief is that when it comes down to it, our pain, whether it’s emotional, or physical is tied to relationships, and how we relate to ourselves. But that’s all connected to how we were raised and the messages we were given when we’re younger. And if we heard that it’s not okay to have conflicts, then as we get older, we have that same message, and we fear conflict. So I think that our issues are connected very strongly to what we say and don’t say, how we’re heard or not heard, as it is relating to the relationships, whether we’re with romantic partners, or platonic friends or colleagues or family.
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 41:30
As a child, I remember I was always sick. I always had tonsillitis, pharyngitis, anything connected with the throat. And knowing what I know. Now I know for sure that I was silenced as a child, I grew up in a household where children were seen and not heard was a very strong Italian cultural family. And so I never spoke up. And yet, I always had problems with my throat. Very interesting. So looking back, I wouldn’t have known that at the time. But as I’ve gotten older, and delved into this, and even reading Louise Hays book, it just started making me think about some of the things that I went through in my life and some of the pain that I’ve had in my life, some of the illnesses, and I love how she calls disease, dis ease. And that’s pretty much what you’re saying is that all the pain that we feel is coming from an emotion or from a story that we tell ourselves, isn’t it?
Serena Sterling 42:38
It is. It’s it’s often what we’re not even? Well, first of all, thank you for sharing that because I feel like now it’s so it’s so perfect, what you do for a living, you’re you’re expressing through your voice, and you’re helping others find their voice also.
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 42:52
Yes. And I never thought about that till probably right this moment. Isn’t that interesting that we ended up doing the work that we do, and we seem to gravitate to that work? And we know what our mission is. But now, wow, it’s putting it all together and wrapping it up with a bowl. Isn’t it really?
Serena Sterling 43:13
Yeah, it is. I mean, because it was there. There was that time when I was a journalist and editor in New York, and I was on 911, my friend from journalism school was visiting me. And I was saying, like, I think there’s something else I want to do, but I don’t know what it is. And she started asking me about my interest and what I read when I’m, you know, doing independent reading, and she’s like, pay attention to that, because this is the first time today that you haven’t been concerned about what just happened. You’ve been like your eyes light up. And right. So it’s like what you gravitate towards. You’re in you’re doing your purpose. You’re on purpose. You’re, you got the calling. And now you’re doing it.
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 43:58
Well, our childhoods, actually, they do have such a great impact on our lives. And what about COVID? Has that changed your practice?
Serena Sterling 44:08
It didn’t, because actually, in 2018, I put I was working in the clinic in Seattle, and then I already had people I had someone in Malaysia that I was working with, and someone in Montana and someone in France and so I was like, you know, I’m just gonna put everyone online.
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 44:26
So you’re gonna have to do that do with that. Wow, that’s incredible. And how has your relationship with yourself changed over the years doing all the work that you do?
Serena Sterling 44:39
I’ve learned a lot about relationships from working with my clients, but I’ve also learned and I continue to learn and look at my own blind spots. And I feel like I’m a work in progress just and I tell people that all the time like just because I can help you get rid of this one issue doesn’t mean that your body He’s not going to speak to you again, in some other symptom, but now you have the tools to do it. And so I feel like, I still bump up against things that are difficult, you know, I can, and I tell my clients that too, I say like, it’s very easy for me to sit here and see what you need to do, what is happening, what you, you know, like more communication skills, stuff like that, when it comes to me, I can be terrified of the very things that I’m preaching to my clients. So it’s like, it’s okay to be vulnerable. But that’s like, I believe that when you stretch your comfort zone, that’s where you grow, people don’t always grow in their comfort zone. So I just have to tell myself, this is, you know, to tell the truth about what I really want and desire in my life and to go after it rather than to just get comfortable and maybe get another pain in my back or something.
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 45:49
It’s so true that when we go through adversity, that’s when we learn, that is a time for growth. And it’s really important to appreciate that process and not try and fight against it. When we have everything and everything in life is really good. We’re actually probably learning the least it’s when we’re going through those difficult times that we’re truly learning and growing as people. What would you say to someone right now who’s dealing with incredible pain, and they’re living with that pain, and they’re putting up with it, and they truly believe that there’s no help for them?
Serena Sterling 46:30
I would, first of all, empathize. Because I’ve had I’ve had pain myself and I and even though I have had pain, I don’t know what it’s like for someone else to have pain because pain is so subjective. But I would say that don’t take no for an answer. Just because your medical doctor said, there’s no cure, or this type of whatever you have, or we don’t really know what’s going on. There are now like 1000s and modalities out there. I do a few like there’s acupuncturist, chiropractors, massage, like, there’s something that can help you feel better without drugs and surgery. Yeah. And to keep going to keep looking inside yourself and to ask your body, like do some reading around like the mind body connection, read my book, and just keep looking for answers. Because they’re out there, your body’s trying to perhaps talk to you, it’s even when you have an injury, and I’ve worked with a bunch of athletes who would have injuries, and there’s something that was keeping them from healing that was more on an emotional level, like, well, if I heal, then I have to, you know, outdo my dad who got injured, when you know, with the same injury or whatever it is, like, there’s so many ways of accessing what your body’s trying to tell you. And I know it’s hard, especially when you feel like all you can focus on is the pain. But there are there are answers out there.
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 47:53
Yes. What you describe them, to me sounds like classic self sabotage. And that goes on a lot in the singing voice community to a lot of singers before a performance, or before a recital or before a competition, whatever it might be before an exam, they have a sore throat. And it’s it’s just that anxiety leading up to something can trigger a sore throat. And I think to the part of the body, that, for example, with singers, if we’re going to get sick, it will always affect our throat. If you’re an athlete, it’s always going to be your leg or your back or the when I used to play squash it was my ankle. It’s like is so weird like that our bodies are just amazing things, aren’t they really. So now in terms of someone that feels that they’re not being heard, this was the story of your childhood and even your teenage years, and it sounds like probably your job as well. What would you say to that person?
Serena Sterling 49:02
If they don’t feel they’re being heard in their life by someone important, I would say that one, there are a few exercises. One is to write a letter to this person where you don’t you don’t send it. But you write it out. First you write it all out, you do like maybe a few drafts. The first draft is like, bring all your rage to the surface about how pissed off you are that you’re not being heard or seen or whatever the issue is, and then maybe smooth it over a little bit. And then you know, read through the parts read through and again, like the first one is, you know, don’t even care about editing or grammar or spelling. And then you can go through again and notice where you are really sensitive like where most of the emotions are coming out and then do some journaling on that of like the different parts of that and then even though you may feel like that other person is still going to dismiss Do you dismiss your feelings, if you can decide to talk to them anyway, and tell them that, you know, this is important because you don’t want to feel dismissed, that they’re an important person in your life this is, so you can have a conversation around it, if they still dismiss you, that’s on them. And to remind yourself not to take it personally, because a lot of times the way people react is not has nothing to do with us and everything to do with their own experiences in life. So there are some starting points. But it’s important to voice what you’re not telling yourself or the other person.
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 50:37
And it’s also important for us to become better listeners, too. Because we don’t always listen to people, do we, we don’t always listen to their needs. So it’s to consider that to that being the person on the other end that how can we do better, to help others be heard?
Serena Sterling 50:56
Yes, I was talking to a medical doctor I have in my practice, and I was explaining that even just the first year of grad school and psychology, we have like a whole year learning how to listen. Because I think that somehow in our society today, a lot of the way we listen is to think about how that other person, whatever they’re saying, John, something in our memory about us. And so it’s very more like a narcissistic way of being in a relationship. Whereas if you just say like, okay, so what I hear you saying, is this and even just paraphrase, then it’s a way for them to feel like they really are being seen and heard.
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 51:36
What’s the greatest lesson you’ve learned about yourself? Over the this whole experience and everything you’ve been through?
Serena Sterling 51:45
That’s a very good question.
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 51:47
I think, was there? Is there a quality that you didn’t realize that you had? Or what what were you going to say?
Serena Sterling 51:56
Well, my previous dog Glinda, the good dog, I named her up to the Wizard of Oz, which I can’t, I just moved in. So I’m looking for like, my favorite quote from that movie, The Wizard of Oz is you’ve always had the power of idea, you just have to learn for yourself. And I do believe that I had this power when I was young, we just pile on a lot of limiting beliefs and then become right about it. Like, oh, I can’t do this, I can’t do that. Because it keeps us safe. And so I think that I one of my lessons and still learning, and I’m still challenging myself to learn is that it’s okay to be vulnerable. And it’s okay to let others in. Because that’s when they feel closer. And it’s better to reach out and tell people you need help and things like that, rather than to bottle things up and pretend like you can do it all on your own.
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 52:52
Absolutely. And it takes courage to be vulnerable. People think it takes courage to be stoic. But it actually takes more courage to be vulnerable and to feel your feelings. And that was something that I promised myself, I would do. Once my mom passed that if I felt like crying, I would just cry. And I didn’t care where I was, what I was doing and who I was in front up. And I can assure you, I think I’ve cried in front of every single student that came to my studio that first week back at work, but it really does help when you are vulnerable. It does lead to a better life, it does lead to you going through that journey in a more seamless way. What do you up to now?
Serena Sterling 53:39
What was that like for you when you did cry in front of your students? How did you feel?
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 53:44
I just owned it 100% I just 100% completely took ownership of every tear. And there was no shame. And my students were just beautiful. They were just so beautiful. I was very, very proud of the way they handled the moment. They all came in, they asked me how I was. No one came in pretending it didn’t happen. Because I went back to work two weeks later. And they all knew and they all asked me how I was. And we’re talking about students who are between say, 17 and 23. They all came in that they acknowledged that they knew that asked how I was and they all hugged me. And I thought I’ve just so proud of these young people. I’m so proud of them.
Serena Sterling 54:36
That’s so lovely. And like it’s we we tend to be surprised by other people’s reactions because I think what holds us back from being vulnerable, is that we think we know how someone’s going to react when we have no idea. It’s just a form of anxiety, this wish to control things of like, Oh, I’m not going to say anything because they’re going to react this way. But no, no.
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 54:59
No, and none of them. They all validated my feelings. No one tried to say our time heals everything, you’re gonna be fine. I didn’t get any of those cliche comments. They’re all very much our, you know, I can’t even imagine what it would be like for you. How terrible. We can’t believe you’re back here. We just love you. It was just all of that, which I didn’t expect, but I 100% appreciated. Yeah. So people can be surprising. And I thought, well, maybe this new generation coming through and that’s people, after all. So we’re going to share all your links, including the links to your book. Thank you so much for being on the show. Serena, you’ve been amazing. I wish you all the best. And I know that you, you are still on a healing journey we all are. If we’re being honest with ourselves, if we do believe that we have the power to heal ourselves, we’ll always be healing ourselves and something is like always throws us a curveball just when we thought it was safe. But we wish you all the best. As I said, if people want to look you up, they want to read your book, they can find all the information in the show notes. We wish you all the very best and look forward to catching up sometime in the future again, thank you.
Serena Sterling 56:25
Thank you so much for having me. This has been wonderful.
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 56:28
Thank you. Bye.
Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 56:34
Thank you so much for listening to this episode of A Voice and Beyond. I hope you enjoyed it as now is an important time for you to invest in your own self care, personal growth and education. Use every day as an opportunity to learn and to grow so you can show up feeling empowered and ready to live your best life. If you know someone who will also be inspired by this episode, please be sure to copy and paste the link and share it with them. Or share it on social media and use the hashtag #AVoiceAndBeyond. I promise you I am committed to bringing you more inspiration and conversations just like this one every week. And if you’d like to help me, please rate and review this podcast and cheer me on by clicking the subscribe button on Apple Podcast right now. I would also love to know what it is that you most enjoyed about this episode and what was your biggest takeaway. Please take care and I look forward to your company next time on the next episode of A Voice and Beyond.