July 17, 2018

What Kids Taught Me About Coping with Suicide Loss

What do you do to heal when your mind and spirit are in pain? The pendulum of pain swings through various degrees of suffering — from the seemingly benign pity party we play in our heads to the deep dark thoughts of suicide.


It’s been a year since Chris, my brother-in-law, committed suicide. His bloodied body was discovered by my sister and my then 8-year-old niece moments after he shot himself in the chest. A flood of emotions ensued.

After his suicide, I did everything in my power to be there for my sister, niece and nephew mentally, physically and spiritually. Even though I knew the whole “put your oxygen mask on first before you help others” mantra, I failed when it came to self-care and paying attention to my own mental and spiritual health.

I was mad at myself because I knew better — I needed to focus on my well-being — but I wasn’t ready. So I kept myself busy and redirected and deflected the thoughts and feelings whenever they surfaced.

When news broke about Anthony Bourdain’s suicide, I cracked. I couldn’t stop crying that morning because it ripped open a wound in my heart. He was beloved by so many. A fellow storyteller/broadcaster brother, he seemed to have the perfect job and life. Who wouldn’t want to travel and get paid to eat and meet people and learn about their experiences and perspectives?

With the timing coinciding with the one-year anniversary of Chris’s death (still can’t believe I typed this truth), I completely broke down. In times of distress, I write to right my sanity.

One week after Bourdain’s death, my niece and nephew started summer break. This would be the first time my sister had to balance being a working single mother while the kids were off for the summer. Since I was in-between projects, I told my sister the kids could stay with me for a month in San Francisco.

We ended up having numerous adventures. Three amusement parks in 11 days. We got a private tour of the famed Guittard Chocolate Company thanks to my friend Jen, a fifth generation Guittard. We toured tech companies like Facebook and NerdWallet. We explored secret slides and playgrounds and visited the Academy of Sciences — not to mention all the dinner parties at my abode and friends’ homes. We had a blast.


Little did I know (here I was thinking I was doing a favor for my sister and the kids) how therapeutic this would be for me personally. Despite the busyness, it turned out the downtime — the conversations we had while driving in the car and doing the “USUAL” (a term we coined where I lay in bed with them at night to talk about life’s big questions and just to be silly) — meant the most to me.

Here’s what I learned from the healing experience. My hope is you gain strength from this experience and know:

a) You are not alone in your pain.
b) People love you and want to help you. Make sure you share your needs with others.
c) It’ll be OK. Feel the feels and share your story with others.

After sharing my story about grieving, many people reached out privately and through social media to commiserate, send love and share their stories — which was symbiotic in spiritual healing.


1. Feel your feels: Only you know what helps you to feel out your pain. I work out, write and talk to friends. I realized that when I feel sad, instead of sitting with it, I tend to “keep busy” and distract myself from the feeling at hand. While I’m not a doctor or health care professional, I know that doing anything to numb your pain (i.e., drugs or alcohol) prolongs or stunts your healing and could be detrimental to your well-being.

2. Resilience. Let go: When you hold on, you get dragged. I knew this, but I needed my 13-year-old nephew to remind me. One morning, while my nephew and I were making breakfast, I asked him how he was feeling a year after his Dad’s passing. He said, “He did what he did and him dying wasn’t all bad. I’ve experienced a lot more things that I wouldn’t have since he died and we are closer to family (physically and mentally). I don’t want people to pity me.”

He is 100 percent right. We are not victims of what happens to us. Kids are so resilient. What a great reminder.


3. Play: As adults, we don’t make enough time to play — you know, doing what makes you excited. That thing that makes time pass by so quickly. That thing that gets you out of your head and, for a moment, lifts the worry we all are infected with.

Don’t forget to do what makes your heart happy and simply play without thinking about how crazy you look while dancing in the streets. Seek out joy and excitement in everything — even the mundane. Isn’t it interesting how kids can have fun doing the simplest things? My nephew and niece made up games (who can dissolve Bottle Caps candy fastest without biting), played “finish my sentence” and got excited seeing other dogs or riding their favorite amusement park ride, again and again. I’m scheduling more play time for myself, for sure.

4. Hope: Looking forward to something is important for our mental health. Every night when we did the “USUAL,” the kids would ask, “What are we doing tomorrow?” I realized that looking forward to something, whether it be a coffee date with a friend or exploring something new, is essential to our happiness.


5. Fun. Have more of it: It’s OK to cancel some of those appointments and do things that make your heart and mind happy. I’ve experienced a lot of grief in my life, especially after losing four family members in a year’s time. I realized that most of the stuff we worry about DOES NOT MATTER. Sure, skipping out on your loved one’s recital or staying later because of our day job seems like no big deal, but really, it is a big deal.

On the other hand, stressing out about whether all your food is organic is really a waste of time. Stressing or worrying about ANYTHING you can’t control is a waste of life. Thanks to my experiences dealing with death, I’ve learned to live more. I choose to live in the present moment, enjoy every single morsel of this crazy life that is really shorter than we think.

What do you do to heal from grief? I want to know. Please comment below and share how you care for your mind, body and soul and regain your energy and life.

Onward,
Toan

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June 8, 2018

Chris, Can You Hear Me? Our Whole World Needs to Talk

This past Saturday marked the first anniversary of my brother-in-law Chris’ suicide. My sister called me to ask if I could spend Sunday with her and my now 12-year-old nephew, Drew, and 9-year-old niece, Serena. We spent a beautiful day hiking at Land’s End along the San Francisco coast.

Hiking with my sister, niece and nephew in San Francisco.

Chris loved to hike, he loved nature and he loved his family. I know that 100 percent for sure.

I do not know why he chose to commit suicide.
I do not know why he didn’t tell anybody about his pain.
I do not know why he shot himself in the chest.
I do not know why he did it in his home, where my sister and niece could discover his bloody, lifeless body.
I do not know why he left us.

May 31, 2018

The Secret to Being in the Flow

How many of you feel in the flow? The truth is, even when life isn’t going the way we expect — and Lord knows many times it seems that way — we can be in the flow.

Everyone and everything is here to teach us something. It’s up to us to glean the learnings or they will reappear in a different way, shape or form. Challenges are merely opportunities for us to spread our wings when we’re ready to fly.

May 10, 2018

Recipe to Manifesting Your Desires

Update of blog originally published on Sept. 9, 2015

I believe every single person on Earth is brought here to share their unique gifts with the world to make it a more beautiful place. Our desire is the GPS to this zigzag road that seems confusing, daunting and overwhelming. But that gift has a responsibility. We have to follow it, no matter how hard, until that dream is realized.

But let’s be real. It’s hard and we all feel like giving up from time to time. Or perhaps you haven’t even begun the journey. This convo is a reoccurring theme in many of my circles and conversations. My hope is these words will lift and gift you to achieve, believe and receive. The secret is a mantra I repeat to myself and words that I share when friends feel like giving up: Trust + Action = Traction. Keep believing, take action and if it’s authentic to you – you’ll see and feel traction.

May 2, 2018

I Woke Up with $86,400 in my Account and I'm Sharing Some with Y'all

Morning y’all. I’m so excited. I woke up today with $86,400 in my bank account!

I am sharing $180 of it on you, yes you, because you need to hear this. How do I know you need to hear this? Well, you’re here reading this and watching the video it cost me $180 to make. My hope is that this $180 I spent on you is shared with others and is multiplied many times over into infinity.

Take a deep breath and watch this video about why I am sharing this precious $180 I will never get back...

March 20, 2018

A Love Letter to Me — and Spring ❀

Dear Toan,

Remember to be bold, share beauty and have fun this year! The words that describe the essence I envisage this new season are BOLD, BEAUTY and FUN.

This winter, as I waited patiently for buds to bloom and spring to arrive, I had a quiet epiphany: Everything leading up to the cherry blossoms and flowers started long before buds emerged from branches and stems. The soil, water and sun all played a part in determining how big the blossoms will billow and how plentiful the yield of flowers and fruit will be. Just like how the intentions we set are the soil, the conversations and baby steps of action we take are the water and sunlight.

February 1, 2018

A New Story for 2018

By Kathy Chow
Go Inspire Go Contributor

As we closed out last year, I spent the final month in moments of reflection. Over the course of 2017, I’ve witnessed family, friends and people in my professional network struggle. Some have lost their jobs, some have developed health issues and some have encountered the personal loss of family members, pets and friends.

I’ve listened to friends struggling to find their professional footing, manage the stress of family and are questioning what’s ahead in the next chapter of their life. From an outsider’s view, it seems we all struggled. And amid these struggles, we connected through the pain and sought new directions in editing our own stories.

Looking ahead in 2018, I’m challenging myself to rewrite my story. As a start, I plan to stretch myself in three areas:

January 9, 2018

How Oprah Speaking the Truth Helped Me Discover Mine

Like many of you, I was one of the millions of viewers glued to the TV during the 75th Golden Globe Awards, mesmerized and energized by every word our teacher-preacher Oprah Winfrey uttered as she made history, becoming the first black woman to receive the Cecil B. DeMille Award.

In true Oprah fashion, she taught us about phenomenal figures in history — Recy Taylor and Rosa Parks — whose lives should not be forgotten. She expressed sincere gratitude to all the women who have endured years of abuse and assault with emotion-filled words that felt like hugs reaching through our screens. She even gave a nod to men — her partner Stedman Graham and others who believed in, inspired and challenged her.

She called for a new day on the horizon, inspiring us all to speak our truth, which she preached “is our most powerful tool.”

One of Oprah's crowning achievements — inspiring us to follow our authentic truth. (Thanks Yasi and Luis for my fave birthday shirt. Now I can keep Oprah closer to my heart. LOL)

Her words and work have even deeply touched someone outside of her primary audience — a little immigrant boy on welfare, who grew up in the ’hood of South Sacramento, Calif. A boy named Toan. I may not be Oprah’s main demographic, but her words have touched and molded me just the same.

After watching her speech, I was inspired to write an ode to Oprah and wanted to hear how you were affected by her words. This from someone she probably never intended to reach, through the eyes and window of a gay, immigrant Asian male soul — me.

January 4, 2018

How to Achieve Productive and Successful Intention-Setting Sessions

Happy New Year! New year, new you?

How many of you subscribe to this way of thinking? New diet? New job? New boo? Do you set new personal, professional and spiritual goals during the new year?

So cliché, no?

I personally don’t set lofty goals just for the new year. Why? Because of a pattern of disappointment and feeling like a failure. Instead, I do check-ins periodically throughout the year. I call them “intention-setting sessions” and do them with my two soul sisters, Kate and Keely.

Kate, Kelly and Toan

Several people have asked me what happens during these special intention-setting sessions, so I’ve decided to share with you. Remember, this is all about what works for you, so feel free to soak in what works and expunge what doesn’t resonate with you.

December 5, 2017

Facing My Fears over CrossFit Transformed My Life Forever

When I first learned about CrossFit, I thought people who did it were crazed. I was intimidated by the chiseled athletes who looked like they were training to compete in the Hunger Games. The truth is, deep down inside, I didn’t want to be judged. My ego didn’t want to face my internal fears:

1. My fears: The fear of being judged by all the buff mofo’s for being out of shape
2. Low self-esteem: I thought I was fat and out of shape. I hated my body.
3. Giving up: It looked so hard, I worried I would give up and be a failure.

I was afraid members would judge me because I couldn’t do a pull-up properly. I never learned the correct way to do a sit-up, push-up or squat. The reality is, most people haven’t been trained properly how to do these basic exercises. My gut was nudging me to face my fears and try it. I did. (GULP) My life forever changed. The journalist in me researched the heck out of “CrossFit” before I even step foot in the San Francisco CrossFit box (gym).

I searched online for every article, video and tutorial. I asked my brother Dat (a CrossFit athlete) how he got his jacked bod. I reached out to my friend Doreen Hess and Rob Mayeda about their journeys to CrossFit. Their encouragement inspired me to face my fears. To say this experience was life-changing is an understatement. I grew physically, mentally and spiritually and might I even add – intellectually.