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  • Writer's pictureDianna Chillo, LCSW-R

I Am Not Done Changing… Challenging Fears, Enduring Adversity & Making Dreams Come True

“You’ve never been good with change, you’re just like your father.” This is a phrase that has been jokingly repeated to me over the years, by my mother, and I would be lying if I said it was not true. Transition and I have never been a harmonious duo. On the last day of third grade my teacher, Mrs. Keenan, became my first “on the spot” therapist, as she tried to console me because going into fourth grade felt too scary. During the summer before starting high school, my mother had to take me to the school for exposure experiences to ease my anxiety over the transition from middle school to high school. My first semester away at college I cried every day to come home. I honestly never thought I would make it through four years. There are many more examples like these throughout my life. So, when the decision to leave a group private practice that I had worked at for 10 years, to start my own private practice, the fear of the unknown was unsurmountable. However, despite that fear I did it. I clearly made it through all those unforeseen scenarios. I ended up leaving third grade and Mrs. Keenan will be a teacher I will never forget. I endured high school and became an athlete. College ended up being the best four years of my life, where I made lifelong friends and excelled academically. Today marks my three- year anniversary of opening the doors to my own private practice.

The vision to start my own practice was a dream of mine since graduate school. For a while, a part of me felt like remaining in the group practice I was already apart of, satisfied that goal. As you have read, staying with what is familiar to me has been easier then challenging my fears. But in 2016 something had begun to shift in me. The work I was doing with my patients was revolving very heavily on challenging fears, harnessing their passions, creating a vision, and making it happen. So, there I was, encouraging and empowering people to follow their dreams, and I was not doing the same. I felt unsettled and I began to struggle within myself with the work I was doing because I did not feel I was being authentic. How could I talk about taking risks and challenging fears when I wasn’t doing the same. My wheels began to turn, but certainly not without major ambivalence and so much fear and self-doubt. Then on New Year’s Eve, I rang in 2017 with some good friends who played a song by John Mayer titled Walt Grace’s Submarine Test Drive. I am very big into music. I find listening to it, specifically lyrics, to be a very cathartic experience. I will never forget the song, in part, because my friend played it 500 times, but more importantly it was so reminiscent of the journey I was contemplating. The song tells a story of man who had a dream to build a one-man submarine and set sail across the ocean. It seemed like an impossible feat, but one that Mr. Walt Grace was determined to accomplish. The song is a metaphor for anyone trying to chase their dreams and the challenges they may face getting there. But with perseverance one can accomplish anything they set their minds to. Being a role model to my daughter, Gabrielle, was a big push in stepping out of my comfort zone and chasing my dream. I have an important job as a mom, and that is not to be perfect or fearless, but to show her that she can do anything she sets her mind to. This is obtained through hard work and determination, and courage is not the absence of fear, rather recognizing your fears and working through them.

I have had countless sessions with patients and conversations with friends about change and uncertainty. As of late, this theme has come up more frequently. I felt compelled at this time to share a bit about my fears and this journey because it is so common to be afraid of change, however, fear is not necessarily an indication that you shouldn’t pursue something. I find that this is a common misconception. Fear and anxiety absolutely serve a purpose. At times they are warning signs, not to do something or to proceed with caution, but on many occasions these emotional reactions occur because the unknown is scary. And if you are anything like me, you want guarantees. When I was in the planning stages of starting my own business, I kept aiming for certainty that everything would need to perfectly align, for me to take that leap. I remember sitting in my own therapy sessions where my therapist would say to me, “Dianna, you’re expecting everything to work out perfect in order for you to do this,” and she’d laugh as I argued back while i retorted, “what’s wrong with wanting it to work out perfectly ?!” Sitting with the discomfort of the unknown was challenging but a necessary part of the process.

I began my journey taking the necessary steps to start this next chapter in my life. By May 2017 things were falling into place and by early June I told my boss that I would be leaving her practice to go on my own. That was probably one of the hardest decisions of this journey. I had accepted that things would not flawlessly align and that there would be a learning curve, mistakes, and unknowns. How could there not be, I had never done this before. However, I never saw what came next. On June 10th, 2017, about one week after I told my boss I was leaving and gave my month notice, my husband had a cardiac arrest in our home and had to be revived by myself a police officer and paramedics. He was stabilized at a local hospital and helicoptered to a specialized facility where I stayed until he was released. Life, and my journey, was put on a major pause. That was an unexpected turn of events that certainly did not factor into my need for a “perfectly aligned plan.” I was fortunate enough to extend my stay at my prior group practice, for a few more weeks as things at home settled and I could get back on my feet. Then on July 31st, 2017, I opened my doors to my first day of patients. But just as in Walt Grace’s tale, the seas were rough. That first year of opening my practice, my husband was hospitalized 9 more times due to major health complications and unfortunately was let go of his job of 20 plus years. As I navigated the uncertainty of a new business, life around me was anything but calm. All I felt was a perpetual state of fear. My daughter and I were a great team, and with the support of great friends and family we managed to keep life and my new busines moving despite these major life circumstances. The last three years have been filled with many different challenges, probably more than most could endure. I share that, not because I want anyone to feel pity or sorry for me, but to realize that I can overcome adversity. I am stronger for having gone through these experiences. They helped me realize my strengths, and as fearful as I am, I am still pushing forward. I do not regret my decision to start my own practice for one second. Even while I was going through everything, I knew I had made the right decision. So, getting back to third grade with all its discomfort for me, I transitioned to fourth grade which then, was a major accomplishment. At the time it felt like the end of the world, and as real as those feelings were, I survived them. We do come out the other side battles scars or not. Don’t’ get me wrong, I am still nervous of change. These experiences did not alter that in me. I am a creature of habit and deviating from my routine makes me very uncomfortable, but reflecting on these past three years, reminds me of what I am capable of doing. I am resilient and so are you. We all have the capacity to challenge ourselves if we are willing to look within. If someone like me can own up to their fears, step out of their comfort zone, and follow their hearts, then I think anyone can.

Song References:

Changing: John Mayer

Walt Grace Submarine Test, January 1967 : John Mayer

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