How I went from a small-town country girl with low self-esteem to a tree-hugging psychotherapist helping hundreds of people build a life they love.
Okay, that’s not a stretch. Many therapists get into the business because they wanted to dive deep into their own lives before taking a deep dive into someone else’s.
However, before there was a thriving mental health practice. Before I became Dr. Ryan. Before the LoveCast and Self Love Tools. There was just a depressed, anxious girl turned woman with low self-esteem and a severe case of “I’m not good enough.”
Desperate to measure up.
Longing to feel loved, seen, heard, and felt.
Fearful that all I’d ever be is a wannabe even though I was doing every. single. thing I knew to do to propel myself into something greater than I could possibly imagine.
Cotton Bolls, Self Help Books & A Thousand Dark, Lonely Days
I was 16 when I listened to my first self-help cassette tapes. Then, I was spending long, lonely Summer days cooped up in a California apartment surrounded by moving boxes, feeling too sorry for myself and wondering how in the world I’d ever become more than a depressed, anxious girl longing for more. (Yeah, I was that sappy teen. Today, I’d be called “emo,” except I probably wouldn’t sport grunge-wear because my conservative, evangelical family would have had quite a heyday with that one.)
The road to feeling good enough, loving myself, and contentment was long and winding.
I latched myself onto some of the best mentors a girl could hope to have (thanks to Mrs. Wheeler and Mrs. Gilbreath). Both allowed me to grow, expand, and explore in ways they could have never known back then (I’ve told them both at this point - they meant that much to me.)
The shift into “I am good enough” was gradual, to say the least...
I thought getting a college degree was my ticket out of that small, West Texas town. It was, but I still had myself to contend with. Turns out, in adulthood, I was just an older version of that sad, lonely girl in college. I spent long days and nights battling my own low self-confidence, unworthiness, and feelings of inadequacy. I didn’t have a clear path for helping myself, nevermind the wherewithal or energy to help others...yet.
Those were very down days...
I would venture a guess that at least 90% of every action I took throughout all of my 20s and most of my 30s was to prove to others and myself that I measured up. I was bullied and left out as a teen then ghosted by several friends as an adult. The early days as a friend and girlfriend were filled with poor communication (to say the least), promiscuity, and an all-out effort to feel some shred of joy in my body.
The truth is, I had glimpses of happiness when I was alone. I read every self-help book I could get my hands on. They all gave me a boost of confidence I was craving.
I got my bachelor’s degree in Human Development and Family Studies, then my Master of Education in Counseling. I had immense joy in my work with others, a sense of pride that I could do for them what I couldn’t do for myself, and a definite sense of purpose and meaning in my life.
However, even when I finally began my life as a mental health counselor, I still felt empty and undeserving, and my self-doubt was stifling.
My failed relationships and inability to connect with others in more profound, more meaningful ways left me feeling completely empty.
Because of all my failed relationships and my current failing marriage, I didn’t trust myself. I certainly didn’t trust other people…
My marriage was on the rocks.
My support system was non-existent at best.
The first years as a counselor were rough.
On the outside, you wouldn’t know a single thing was wrong. But on the inside, I was drowning in my own self-loathing.
Even with small victories helping others, this ache inside me continued to snowball. I grew even more distant from others while immersing myself in my counseling practice and growing my business.
My own personal therapy sessions, medications that weren’t working, and my failing marriage left me feeling like an enormous hypocrite.
It wasn’t that life was hard now that I look back on it. It was that I was physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually empty. (You can put the evangelical and rigid rules in the girl, but you can’t make her feel loved. That’s my new motto.)
I had no idea how to refuel myself. I had no idea how to feel whole, grounded, safe, and accomplished, even though I was an accomplished person by all outside appearances.
After many painful conversations with my partner, I’d made a decision to leave...
But then...some pretty miraculous things happened that seemed to put my whole life in alignment. A series of events led me to some significant realizations about myself and my place in the world...
- Vision boards.
- Unexpected twins.
- Heartfelt conversations.
- Habit changes.
- The most amazing, intensive book that took me on the most incredible journey...
- A deep dive into me plus some pretty memorable life events, and my life took a sharp right turn.
Me, isolating, meant I couldn’t face reality. Me, connecting with my inner self, meant I could finally face my most profound life challenges. My intimate partnership felt renewed. My home was filled with child laughter, dogs, legos, barbies, and dress-up costumes (hello, love of Disney).
- Therapy practice grew exponentially...
- More education...
- A pretty badass couple’s therapist…
Life was looking up! I even started a Ph.D. Program to hone my skills as a Love Therapist (that is, helping couples and individuals learn how to love).
Then, midway through that program, Mom fell ill and died suddenly.
My life was totally, completely, unspeakably…wrecked.
Everything I thought I knew about self-care, resiliency, connection, and love fell entirely out of focus, and I couldn’t for the life of me get my groove back.
Of course, I knew cognitively that this was all normal. Grief is an absolute punch in the gut. It takes you on so many wonky, uncertain, emotional paths that you feel like a crazy person (I don’t use that word lightly…).
I’d been doing the deep work and caring for myself.
But when Mom died, I was left with this deep, painful, lonely feeling. My tether to planet Earth just died, and I felt utterly alone, and as if the only person who truly ever loved me was gone.
Of course, she wasn't the only one who loved me. But, I once again had to dig into some personal realizations. Like, for example, why I kept pushing people I loved away.
Some life truths came painfully into focus as soon as mom died…
- I’d spent my whole life digging into my own pain, then digging into other’s pain, without realizing the ONE thing that kept me feeling so lonely...
- I didn’t trust a single soul in the whole Universe. Except for Mom, and she was now gone...
- While I took care of all the basic self-love things (ate well, slept well, meditated, moved my body, got into nature, etc.), I gave those close to me a vast berth. Like, way longer than arm’s length.
The sad thing is, I had some fantastic friends, but I hadn’t let myself get really close to a single one of them for fear that they’d always leave me.
In hindsight, this worry of not measuring up is what kept me so weird, distant, and untrusting for so many years. Allllll those years of feeling so empty, and it was my own fear of not measuring up in someone’s eyes, they’d leave me, and I’d be all alone. So I just didn’t invite anybody in.
Many people thought they were in. But they weren’t in...
My trust for myself and for others was absolutely, totally shot.
But when Mom died, I was forced to look at myself in a full-length mirror. I thought I’d already been doing that. Nupe. Was not. Not even close.
It’s been 4 years since she died, and wow, what a journey...
One night, Mom met me in my dream, and we had a very painful but real conversation. When I saw her, she was already with another family, living out a new life. She noticed me in the distance and came to me. We hugged for a long time. I cried and told her I missed her. She said, “I know.”
I asked her if she could come back to me...please. I begged.
She said no.
Instead, she hugged me long and hard...it was a squeeze so tight that it put my soul at ease. I felt comfortable once again in her arms - a place I hadn’t been since childhood. But I needed that, and she knew it.
She said, “I have to go live a new life now, so I have to go. But, you’ve got this. You have people. You are not alone. And your soul will never be lonely as long as you reach out, connect, depend on people. Connect with your Spirit. Connect with your inner Self. It’s okay to trust others. It’s okay to lean on them.”
And then she left...
And frankly, I was okay. I was really okay.
I began to live life with EVEN MORE gusto, meaning, and wonder with the realization the life is so short.
The truth is, my clients have always known me as an intuitive, insightful, deeply connected, caring person. Thankfully, I didn't have a huge external transformation. But internally, a lot changed. On top of that, I'm extremely intentional about my own self-care.
I use what I know about creating a life vision, prioritizing yourself, and basic mental health to help my clients make sharp right turns, too.
Together, my private clients and I create daily, weekly, and monthly agendas, plans, and rituals based on their most in-depth, internal longings. I help them harness their big life vision. I show my client’s how to feel content, happy, and healthy in their whole body.
Most of all, I help them feel connected, seen, felt, heard, and understood through the spectrum of life tragedies, crises, and situations. I thrive on teaching my personal clients several important things:
- How to get connected, stay connected, and use those connections as major life supports.
- Write their Big, Hairy, Audacious Goals (thank you, Jim Collins).
- Reverse engineer their life back to today.
- Everything I’ve not only gained through my 12 years of higher education
- Everything I've gained in my 18 years as a psychotherapist but also my entire adult lifetime learning, growing, and becoming.
- That you don’t have to rely on a one-size-fits-all program that someone else has done, medications that do not work, or merely feeling mundane, crappy, and lifeless.
If you like what you’re reading and want to get started with my free online Self Love resources, check out one of my starter guides below.
My Self Love Tools Model (SLT Model) was born out of a great desire to help those who have forgotten how to tune into their very unique needs + make yourself a priority.
Are you ready to learn smart, decisive action steps for creating a whole-person, individualized self-love plan that puts you at the top of your to-do list?
If yes, you’re ready to invest in yourself once, and for all, so you know how to get on the best mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual path to whole-body wellness.
I promise, you have what it takes to love yourself truly, madly, deeply, and any time and money resources you invest in yourself is money and time very well spent.
Ready to make some bold moves and get some authentic contentment in your home and professional life?
A Little About Me
- Ph.D. Family Studies, Texas Woman’s University
- M.Ed. Education in Counseling, University of North Texas
- B.S. Human Development and Family Studies, Texas Tech University
- Mom of 3, all girls, including twins
- Wife of 1. He’s the hardest of all of them.
- Loving, trustworthy friend.
- Owner of I Choose Change PLLC Counseling Center.
- Psychotherapist for over 18 years.