Taking better care of yourself leads to better self-esteem!

Enjoy a blog post by Kimmy Casey, Her Art is Heart’s April guest blogger! I spent a lovely sunny day, photographing Kimmy, her daughter Riley and husband Jerry out at their house, with fancy rain-boots in toe! From witnessing stickers on the walls and furniture, and Riley’s 3 trips to the swing (because it’s just too much fun not to!!) it’s clear Kimmy lives a busy life of mommy-dom. And what’s also clear is the amount of love this family has, and the great memories that reside at their home. Kimmy and Riley gave me the full tour of what brings their family joy, and as you can see from the photos, there’s a lot of love going around 🙂


by Kimmy Casey
When I was asked to be a guest blogger and the topic could be anything related to Susie’s passion of self-love, I instantly knew what I wanted to write about because…
the only way to show that you love yourself is to take care of yourself.
So let us dive down into the nitty gritty of what self-care truly is, how to choose activities that will bring you personal satisfaction, and how self-care has the power to drastically change your life.
What’s the first thing that comes to your mind when you think of “self-care”, or doing something to take care of yourself?
For me, it’s a quiet hour of getting my nails done with the faint sound of Vietnamese in the background that I don’t have to pay attention to, because I don’t know what they are saying anyways. The ONLY thing I have to do is pick a color.
All day long I talk to people for a living, and then I go home to a two year old. And if you’ve ever had the pleasure of having a toddler, you know that you have to give them 100% attention, and if you don’t, they find ways to command it. So if I can get away for at least an hour, where I don’t have to talk to someone, where I don’t have to “watch this, mommy”, where I don’t have to yell “stop pulling the dog’s tail”, then I am doing some self-care… or so I thought.
 There are several ways to define what self-care truly is. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) “Self Care in health refers to the activities individuals, families and communities undertake with the intention of enhancing health, preventing disease, limiting illness, and restoring health.” In the mental health world, self-care is your ability to take care of your own activities of daily living, also known as ADL’s (hygiene, sleep, eating, etc.).
I want to offer my own spin on what I have learned about taking care of myself. So, according to Kimmy Casey: “Self-care is the activities we do to cultivate our dominant positive emotions as a reward for ourselves”. (sounds fancy!!)
Okay, okay, so let me break this down. It is our basic human need to seek desire and reward. If you want to get into the scientific nerdy side of things, our body craves the release of the neurotransmitter Dopamine in our brain, and our brain releases Dopamine when we do things that reward our body… for example when we eat, brain says “mmmm… dopamine”. And when we flirt, our brain goes “I like the attention… here’s some dopamine”. And when we feel joy… dopamine. When we feel satisfied… dopamine. You get the point.

 Instead of the scientific word dopamine… I would instead insert my favorite positive emotions here. For me, when I get the chance to feel connection and belonging, my brain produces this feel good chemical. Everybody’s primary emotions are different. To find yours, think about 3 of your most favorite memories that you have, put yourself in those moments, and create a list of all of the emotions you experience in each moment. Compare your lists from each memory, and you should be able to see the common emotions. Is it joy, happiness, peace, relaxation, love, connection, belonging, warmth, pride, excitement? You choose! Use your own words. For me, my body craves connection and belonging, and my brain releases dopamine when I achieve these things.
 Let’s come full circle with this. Self-care, at it’s basic, is taking care of yourself. To take care of yourself is to make yourself feel good. The best self-care activities for yourself are the activities that you do that make you feel your primary positive emotions, whatever they may be. For example, where I thought my “self-care” was getting my nails done, this was an activity where I am disconnected and out of place. It was truly doing nothing to give myself pleasure. Fast forward to a time where I visited out of town family… I felt that sense of belonging, and I felt that connection with other people I loved. Or when I took a vacation with my husband at an all-inclusive resort, of course I belonged there (haha) and grew my connection with my husband. Or on a smaller scale, when I network with other people (like Susie!!) to learn of their dreams and goals and how they can support mine… ding, ding, ding! These are the things that truly make me feel alive, and when I allow myself to feel alive, I am taking care of my whole self.
  To maximize your self-care, figure out your top emotions that you love to experience, and do things that promote yourself feeling those things. So if your primary favorite emotions are to feel relaxed and pampered, maybe getting a mani/pedi is your thing. If you don’t know what to do or need examples, go to Google and type in “self-care activities” and the first link that pops up will give you 134 ideas. You see, when you do things to promote positivity and reward in yourself, your brain will automatically want you to do them again. And of course, the more positive you feel, the more you feel good, the more you reward yourself, the better you feel all of the time. And we all know what happens in our worlds when we truly feel GOOD – Our fear decreases as our confidence takes it’s place. Our procrastination disappears as our motivation grows. Our sadness and worry diminishes as happiness replaces it. The best way to show that you love yourself is to take care of yourself, and the best way to take care of yourself is to make you feel exactly the way your body is desiring to feel!

Don’t Make It a Thing

Photo taken by fellow photographer and graphic designer, Sarah Bennett. See her blog at www.bennetttrails.com !

Photo taken by fellow photographer and graphic designer, Sarah Bennett. See her blog at www.bennetttrails.com !

So I wasn’t always this way.

I wasn’t always easy to laugh, easy to forgive, nurturing and patient. I didn’t always have the ability to laugh at myself for the mistakes I make, or even to allow myself a Big Ole’ FAT ugly cry when I was upset. In essence, I used to be young. I used to be 21.

Maybe you’d assume I was a victim of the drink’, being the age at which I can consume alcohol. But no, actually everything got rough when I was 18. By age 21 though, I realized I needed to change something up: I realized I needed to start loving myself. That first step I took? I wrote myself a letter.

Dec 12, 2009. Not any kind of remarkable day with a remarkable story, just a day I chose to sit down and talk to myself. The catch was this letter I wrote? I couldn’t just look at it willy-nilly as I liked. I made myself wait until Dec 12th, 2015 to reveal it’s original contents. I guess even then I realized my overwhelming sense of urgency and noticed I lacked the patience I desired. So I made myself wait. I guess I was also trying to give myself something to look forward to, something personal: A secret- just for me, to myself. I guess that made it pretty special… I needed that.

Yeah… well… about that letter: I had forgotten about it! Dec 12th came and went, and I had the letter openly sitting out, ready for the BIG DAY. But it wasn’t until a good week and a half after the date when I happened to remember,

“That friggin’ letter!”

I wasn’t doing anything remarkable at the time.

You know how sometimes making a space, making something a “thing”, a ritual or tradition, giving it this air of significance makes a moment more momentous?

It wasn’t.

It was an off hand realization. I was running around my room, as usual, cleaning, hanging up clothes, and I remembered…

“The friggin’ letter!”

I believe my exercise playlist on iTunes was playing, bumping out some high-octane fuel. I didn’t switch it to low key, emotional music. I didn’t try to set the stage, center my emotions.

I didn’t make it a thing.

I opened the letter, and read it.


Self Portrait taken in 2009

Self Portrait taken during the dark years! 2009.

Now, back in 2009, my life was pretty damn different! I was a lonely, severely depressed, highly anxious college student with no free time because I overbooked myself with classes. I was stressed and decided I was to blame for that stress. I treated my body like it was public enemy #1 because I was the determined bounty hunter. Not an ideal person to be attached to! Every chance I got, I attacked myself, blamed myself, and tore myself apart with the guilt: Guilt on top of guilt, on top of guilt. I had so much anger but was so depressed and lost that I didn’t know where it was coming from. I blamed others and was a very, very difficult person to be around sometimes… especially if you were someone I loved and truly cared about. They took the hardest and most hits. Some stayed with me, some got the hell outta there. I never blamed them, although outwardly it would seem I did. Inwardly, I knew it was all me- but I was the queen of denial, queen of unhappiness, and queen of “I’m a freakin’ loser, woe is meeeEEEE!!!!”

But despite the terror that was I, I always had a spark. I knew what happiness had felt like. I knew I wanted to learn how to love myself better, and to treat everyone with love and respect.

Sadness? Dance it out!

So yeah, I knew vaguely what to expect from this letter. My past has been pretty well recorded. I’ve kept a personal blog since I was 14 and during 2009 in particular I wrote in it up to 9 times a day to relieve my mind of the destructive, obsessive thoughts that were morphing my mind into an all encompassing black hole of BLAH and AHH! And although throughout the blog I would curse myself, blame myself, tear myself apart- I knew it was because deep down, somewhere in the great abyss, I KNEW I had it within me to be better and find the light again. I just had no idea whether I was supposed to go right, left, – wait, did I pass go? I had never been lost before. And I had yet to find a working compass.

Alright, so I didn’t allow myself to think about all this the morning I remembered,

“That friggin’ letter!”

I just did it. I jumped in and didn’t have time to be a judgey-McJudgerson to my past and myself. “I’m sorry Mam’am, the baggage claim is on the wayyy other side of the building.” I was leaving my suitcase behind. All I needed was my ID and wallet: aka identity and abundance!

And so I read:

Dear Susie,

You know how you can be. You’re unbelievably talented and ambitious. I know you’re probably killing yourself right now to make things “perfect” or “just right” in your life. Just think like Eckhart Tolle- and think in the NOW- not the future.

You’re so smart and beautiful. You have so much going for you- so why create extra stress? I hope you’re still writing in your online journal- that’s good therapy. I hope you are where you didn’t expect to be in life- but in a good way. I’m only 21, young, naïve- you’re an uber adult now! What’s that about? Haha

I feel like I’m writing a letter to my older sister- because I just want things to work out for you/me. I hope you can make it happen- and you DID make it happen.

I think that’s all I’m going to say…

I’ll keep it short because I know it’s hard to read my own handwriting.

Toodles Susie!

I hope everything worked out


your younger self.


As soon as I read it, I wanted to write about my reaction, get my thoughts on it out. But life had other plans. Life reminded me that we’re constantly moving forward and not to focus on the past too much. As my mom always told me (especially back in 2009!) Rumination leads to Ruination.

Rumination Ruination

So, I moved on. I didn’t make it a thing.

This morning I wrote a new letter. I won’t say what’s in it- that would spoil the fun for Dec 2020! But I wanted to keep the tradition going: I wanted to have a reminder in the future of what it was like, and what I was thinking here in 2016.

It’s fun thinking how different I was in 2009, how much I’ve grown within that time: What I’ve learned, what I’ve experienced, who I cared for. And I no longer harbor resentment for the pain I caused. I have learned from my mistakes, forgiven myself and I believe that is why I went through this ordeal: to strengthen myself.

And yeah, everything did work out. It’s still working out. I have much to be grateful for. When I was 21, I didn’t know these words: Forgiveness, Gratitude, and Abundance… I didn’t even know


Now I’m pretty confident I know what love is. I see it all around me, am able to connect with it, I feel it within me. Before, I would feel “love” but couldn’t communicate it, wanted to understand it and analyze it, ultimately stripping it of it’s magic. Now I just let it happen, I go with it. I can cherish others and especially myself.

I no longer need a letter to give myself something to look forward to. I look forward to everyday- but there’s something powerful about getting a glimpse of the past and recognizing the growth you have undergone, subtle or bold. It’s pretty remarkable.

So I’m making it a thing.


Photos taken by the lovely Sarah Bennett of www.bennetttrails.com

Portrait of a Sister as a Soon-to-be-Mother

The soon-to-be-mother of twins!

The soon-to-be-mother of twins!

As I sit here, visiting my sister, Sarah, in her rural house, she plays on the piano while her husband sits next to her on the couch, running cake-decorating ideas past her. They work as a team, preparing the cake to celebrate her Baby Shower, happening tomorrow. Her belly is large, full of multiple heartbeats. Twins! Boys? Girls? They aren’t sure yet, deciding to wait until the birth to consider the amazing opportunities that await them.

I don’t often get a chance to see family, and when I do it’s usually always to celebrate a large family event. The excitement and anxiety in the air based around a huge life change is contagious! Getting to photograph my sister amidst this change is about capturing that energy. I watch my sister observe, calmly direct, and connect with her nephew in law and I see that crease between her eyes that our own mom used to get when we were growing up. I always called this phenomenon “worried eyebrows” and would physically push that look of concern away from my mother’s face with my fingers, making my mom laugh. My sister is perfect mom material. Sometimes she’s so “mommy”, I have point it out to her. “You sound just like mom!” It’s definitely a compliment.

In my own journey with kids, I am a beginner. Playing with John, Sarah’s 3 year old nephew in law, threw me into a learning experience for sure!

“I have to go bathroom.”

Oh no! Does he know how to go himself? Am I supposed to do something? I heard his mom and my sister laughing in the other room, knowing of my 0 to no experience with children that age. After determining he just had to pee, I was relieved of any overwhelming duties. Phew! All I had to do was keep him company.

“This looks so scary, doesn’t it?” Sarah stops me as I write, showing me the piece she plays, a Beethoven Sonata of some number. There are black marks as dense as a forest all over the sheet of music. To my eyes, it looked like this.

“Is it?” I ask.

But she knows it, having studied music throughout her life and growing up in the musical family we did. Some parts she plays slowly to get right. At every wrong note she pauses, laughs and makes a ridiculous silly noise. Her humor has always put me at ease, making me snort embarrassingly; but it’s just my sister, so snorting is perfectly acceptable.

Sitting here, listening to her play is like a blast from the past though, throwing me into our childhood where we grew up in a family that believed music was life. Everyone in the family played an instrument and sang. My dad was a music professor (a student termed him a “cute old guy” on ratemyprofessor.com) at Lock Haven University, jazz director, and played trombone in a Dixieland band. My mother was a music therapist, organist, and accompanist for Lock Haven University’s choir. All their kids (us) played multiple instruments throughout their (our) lives. Sarah, my older sister, plays trombone, piano, organ and studied music education in college. Sophie, our younger sister, can pick up any instrument and make beautiful music. I like to call her a music prodigy, but in reality she put a ton of work into developing her mad guitar skills! She plays guitar, violin, any string instrument really, and at one point an accordion and saxophone. Zack, my younger brother, plays trumpet, viola, and sings. Because he’s older now, his voice has matured and he sounds like a mini-version of my dad’s strong, baritone voice. Now, the mini doesn’t mean height wise! The dude is 6’4 at the moment, and I bet he’s still working his way up there.

I tend to tell people I am the “least musical” of the family. I tried my hand at piano, violin, and percussion instruments but stuck with singing for years and years. I sing in the Erie Philharmonic Chorus and was at one time the Development Director on their Board. These days I play the ukulele for fun and therapy, and own a guitar, which has a lot of dust on it at the moment. Music is my pulse though. I recognize it calms me, enlivens me, and is a necessary tool for staying centered in my daily life. This seems true for my siblings too.

And check this out! Sarah and her husband, Alex, are creating their own little musical family, similar to the families they grew up in.

Sarah and Alex

My sister met Alex at their college, IUP, where they both studied music education. He comes from a very musical family himself, with 3 sisters who were all drum-majors in high school. He plays countless instruments that I’m probably going to forget some when listing! He loves the accordion– celebrating his Polish heritage– and plays wind instruments. Together Sarah and Alex are continuing the musical legacy. I remember the days, waking up early in the morning to the sound of our mom, playing a tune on the piano, yelling out “Sugar-boogies!” at every other wrong note, and the other times making small little exasperated screams and laughs at her mistakes. Yep, my sister certainly takes after her!

Saying it’s comforting listening to the process of learning a musical piece is an understatement in a way. It feels necessary to be surrounded by that creative process, any creative process. I may not be as musical or instrumentally blessed as my siblings, but that same kind of creative energy that fuels my art fuels their music. I can relate, I can appreciate, and I can be motivated to go out and create as well.

Sarah finishes what she is playing, running her hands messily over the keys of the piano, a stark contrast to the original melody. Always the comedian, she remarks, “He didn’t write that, I added that.”

Creating beautiful music is one thing, but my sister is an incubator at the moment, creating one– no, TWO of the best creations there are to create.


Feti! (As I lovingly call them)!


Sarah's baby-bump!

It’s just like her to, on her first go, create a quartet of a family. I can’t wait to capture the other large life events that my sister will go through. I often look to her to prepare for my own future. I’m grateful to have her as a role model and learn from her journey. Today, it’s a big belly-bump, but in a few months I will have two new subjects (Nephews? Nieces?) to photograph and spoil! So this blog post goes out to you, Sister. Congratulations on your new family!