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Supporting Teens In Their Hurt, A Personal Story With Ciara Fanlo

Today, on the podcast, I talk with Ciara Fanlo. Ciara is a writer and the founder of Homing Instinct, a platform that offers support for teens and their families.

As a child and teen, Ciara felt depressed, anxious, self-harming, and suicidal. She went to countless therapists, took over a dozen medications, and was sent to a hospital, wilderness therapy, and a therapeutic boarding school. While she had some healing experiences, she largely felt that the psychiatric and residential health care systems failed to address the root causes and acknowledge the humanity and innate wisdom of teens.

After leaving treatment, Ciara committed to recovery on a different path. She came off all her medications, repaired her relationships with family, and graduated college with honors. She worked in different therapeutic settings and at a couple of large tech companies before deciding to devote her life to guiding teens. She now uses her experiences and insight to support teens in their healing. 

You’re going to love this conversation! Let’s dive in! 

Scroll down to read the full episode transcribed.

What You Will Learn: 

  • What was going on when she was a teenager that she was struggling so much?
  • Was there something at the time that parents could have done that would have been helpful?
  • How do parents impact their kids?
  • Ciara eventually found healing and actually got off medications, and graduated college with honors. What created that shift?
  • What wisdom and insight Ciara has for caregivers with a troubled teen like herself. 
  • What do our teens think when parents try to “help” them better? What do parents do that is helpful and not so helpful?

Where to find Ciara:

Find more encouragement, wisdom, and resources:

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And here is the episode typed out!

Welcome to the Moms of Tweens and Teens Podcast. If some days you doubt yourself and don’t know what you’re doing. If you’ve ugly cried alone in your bedroom because you felt like you were failing. Well, I just want to let you know you are not alone, and you have come to the right place.

Raising tweens and teens in today’s world is not easy. And I’m on a mission to equip you to love well and to raise emotionally healthy, happy tweens and teens that thrive.

I believe that moms are heroes, and we have the power to transform our families and impact future generations. If you are looking for answers, encouragement, and becoming more of the mom and the woman that you want to be, welcome. I am Sheryl Gould. And I am so glad that you’re here.

SHERYL:  Well, welcome Ciara to the Moms of Tweens and Teens Podcast. I’m so excited to have you on the show.

CIARA:  I’m so excited to be here. Thank you, Sheryl.

SHERYL:  You just contacted me; I don’t know how you found me. But I looked up your website; I looked you up on Instagram, and I read your writing and your story. And I was like, I have to have you on the show. The mom and caregivers are listening and must hear what you have to share with parents and your message. 

And I want to start, but I told you in the notes that I just want to start slow. And, like, bit by bit, have you shared your story? Because it’s so powerful. And we have so much to learn from your story. So let’s just start there. So tell us just a little bit about yourself. And why don’t you start with what you’re doing now? And what led you to what you’re doing?

CIARA:  Yes, so thank you so much for that lovely intro. So I would say that I had a night of the soul as a teenager; like many people in life go through some periods of feeling lost, alone, and confused. And I went through that at a pretty young age. 

And my parents wanted to help me with my pain and my distress. And they sought out many different treatment interventions for me, ranging from talk therapy and medication to an inpatient hospital program; I spent time in wilderness therapy and a therapeutic boarding school. 

So I spent much of my adolescence as a troubled teen in different treatment environments. And going through many different experiences ranging from healing to confusing to traumatizing, memorable to funny. And as an adult, I started by just writing and sharing some of my perspectives online because I had felt very misunderstood as a teenager. 

And I felt that there were not a lot of adults or people in the culture that I felt had resonant experiences with what I had been through, especially on topics that are not often talked about, like self-harm. 

And so I started sharing more and more online, which naturally became a platform for me to offer a teenager’s point of view to parents. And so what I do now is support teens and parents that families through these challenges and these transitions.

SHERYL:  Wow. So let’s start. It was like eight when you went to your first therapist, right? And, so, what were you struggling with? Like, take us back to that time? How are you feeling?

CIARA:  So when I was younger, I felt lonely. When when I was young, and for most people like your world is really small when you’re young, you don’t have all these opportunities to go to like a book club, or like a coffee shop and talk to people like it’s very limited who you’re interacting with. And I felt lonely. 

And a core need for a child or any human being is to connect and to feel witnessed. And I didn’t have the language for that at the time. I just felt like me and the world. And I felt overwhelmed by sadness. Like a very sad kid, I struggled to make friends. I was anxious a lot of the time. 

I was intelligent, which in some ways was almost more isolating because I found it very difficult to connect with people. And I would talk about wanting to die or feeling like I didn’t belong in my house. And so my mom found me a therapist when I was eight. And then I went to her for a bit, and my parents divorced when I was nine. 

So then I went to a different therapist to kind of have some help processing that. So my therapy experiences started pretty young, but they were a little bit touch and went, maybe for a few months.

SHERYL:  Yeah, I mean, wow, I’m thinking of like an eight-year-old and how you must have felt, and then your mom hearing you say those things and how scary that must have been for her. And that you were feeling sad. Do you have any siblings?

CIARA:  I have an older brother and a younger stepbrother. Also, it was me and my older brother. 

SHERYL:  Yeah. Okay. How much older is he than you?

CIARA:  He’s two years older.

SHERYL:  Okay. Okay. Yeah, so the only female, the only girl. It sounds like you were a very sensitive kid, and my oldest is like that like she would feel things deeply. They’re my other two; I could see they could let her roll off their shoulders. 

But she just deeply felt things if she got hurt. She was hurt. And that’s like a gift and a curse. As for me, now you’re using it as a gift to be able to help others out of your story. But at that time, it was really painful and lonely. 

CIARA:  Yeah. And like when you’re so young, and you don’t have language for it or even awareness of what’s happening in your system. Like I’m sure for your daughter, too, it is like being overwhelmed by emotion and not knowing how to process that. So you’re kind of carrying it around for a long time.

SHERYL:  Yeah. And so then, so you went, and your parents got divorced. Was that hard on you? 

CIARA:  Yes. It was very hard. 

SHERYL: Yeah. And, then, what happened? So then you’re 9 or 10, going into middle school, which, Oh, my gosh. Who wants to go back to middle school for a million dollars?

CIARA:  Surely no one could pay me to go back to school. I’ve listened to your other podcasts where experts have spoken about middle school because it is confusing, painful, and lonely. 

And it was for me that middle school is actually in many ways, in some ways, socially harder than high school. I felt like in high school, people were a little bit more mature. But in middle school, it was like one day; you’d be friends with people. And then the next day, they’d say, we’ve decided we don’t like you anymore. And we’re not talking to you. 

And there’s so much drama and gossip. And again, at that age, you don’t have the perspective of being an adult and being like, Okay, this doesn’t matter in five years. It’s your whole world. So one day, all your friends stopped talking to you like that, just is devastating. 

And in middle and high school, I felt like I was starving for authentic connection. And this is not to suggest that I was going around being real, honest, forthcoming, and vulnerable. And people were just snapping at me, it was like, I was acting how everyone was acting, which was like, it’s all about posturing and performance, and how athletic are you? And how popular are you? And how beautiful are you and how much money does your family have? 

And it’s the kind of like, mechanisms of socializing are so superficial, and so surface level. So it just extended that feeling of like, I feel so alone. And I don’t feel like I can connect with anyone because I didn’t know how to connect with anyone. Any of my peers weren’t modeling it like none of us were doing. 

So those feelings I had had from childhood, like, I had learned to cover them up. I learned how to make friends. And I learned how to engage with people and interact with them. But at my core, I still felt alone.

SHERYL:  Oh, yeah, gosh. Such a bad age. You don’t realize so many other kids feel the same way. And you’re just, I mean, I bet that would have felt so good. If the girl would have said, Oh my gosh, I just feel like I hate myself. I’m not pretty enough. I’m not this. I’m not that. I just feel so broken inside. It feels so lonely. You would have been like, thank you. I’m not alone. And I imagine you felt like something was wrong with me.

CIARA:  100%. Yeah, you nailed it Exactly. It’s like; it’s not like I was saying that I wasn’t being the brave one who was saying, like, I feel like I’m drowning. Does anyone else feel that way? Like no one was saying, and it would have felt so relieving if someone had been honest about that, so yeah, I could have known, okay. It’s not just me.

SHERYL:  Yeah, I don’t want to compare it to how you were in a depression. But even think that, well, I think I know, even as moms, we can feel that way are women that we have to kind of fake it because if I tell the truth about how I’m feeling, people are going to judge me, or I’m going to be rejected, or I’m going to be seen as weird. 

And when it’s the opposite, I’ve had to learn that. And I remember the first time I got into a therapy group, like, people were talking real, and I was terrified. I just sat there; I cried through the whole first time because people were opening up, and I was so scared. 

I thought, if I tell people how I feel, they’re gonna go, Ooh, and it was the exact opposite. And, yeah, I just think we’re really afraid to be seen known for our weaknesses, pain, and all of that. 

CIARA:  Yeah. So I appreciate you saying it’s so true. We’re all walking around, looking for other people to validate or reassure us and afraid they will see us. And they’re all walking around with the same experience too.

SHERYL:  Yeah, and then we ended up feeling lonely, like, we’re all wounded in different ways. Yeah. It sucks.

CIARA:  But it’s everyone. It’s like, we all need oxygen. We’re all ages. Like, it’s just, it’s a feature of just being alive.

SHERYL:  Yeah. Yeah. So then you’re in middle school. We all know how, and then you got into high school?

CIARA:  Yes. So I was fine in middle school. I wasn’t doing anything concerning, but high school was when all this blew up. And it didn’t happen overnight, as these things don’t. Like, it started with these feelings just becoming evermore present. In my mind, it felt like it was always just to the left of me, this feeling of like, I’m alone, no one understands me, and I’m not good enough. 

And I started to live from, like, you use the word wound, there’s this way in which I was almost like living my life through that wound, felt so damaged, and so different from everyone else, that I would act from that place. 

I would like to criticize myself for not saying the right thing in class or being funny enough in a group setting. And I would always be like running these tracks in my mind of, like, that was so stupid. That was so wrong. Like, you’re so ugly. You’re so dumb. You’re not good enough. No one likes you. 

And I wasn’t aware that, like I was even having that, it was just as automatic. Again, it’s like breathing. But having that track in my mind always made me feel awful. 

So I started self-harming because I had self-harmed when I was younger but hadn’t done it frequently. But I didn’t know what to do with all that judgment I felt for myself and all the pain I felt inside. So it was like punishing myself because I felt I deserved punishment. And it was also a way of manifesting or expressing just the pain I felt. 

I didn’t know what to do with it. And that made sense to me. At the time when I was crafting this pain, I had to put it somewhere, and it made it feel more real. So it started with that. 

And then, I started doing poorly in school because I was so down all the time, and I had no energy, and also, all of these beliefs about myself were interfering with my focus. Because I had very self-defeating thoughts like, Why even try because I’m not going to do well? And I can save myself from disappointment if I don’t put in any effort. And, stuff with friends would be challenging. 

I struggled with food, and it was just all these dysfunctional patterns that I got stuck in that were self-feeding like I would do something and then feel bad for it. And then I would do the thing again to try and feel less bad, but that would make me feel worse. 

So it was like, the shame cycle, exactly the shame cycle to break out of, and I ended up making a suicide attempt. And then that was kind of when things got more serious. And then this whole sort of effort and journey into the treatment programs started soon after that.

SHERYL:  So thank you for sharing all that. You said so many things, just the pain of being in your head. And I like what you said. And I think it’s just important to pause on how your thoughts like you were thinking all these things about yourself, but it becomes this like this, you manifest it, right? 

If it’s like this co-creation, you feel that, but then you think that nobody likes you, you don’t belong. And then you act in a way that reinforces those beliefs, yes. 

But you couldn’t get out of that cycle. And so it just became, I can imagine how you were feeling so overwhelmed, and just in your head that you just couldn’t get out of it. And so it felt like the only way out.

You didn’t want to have to be in that pain anymore. This is a personal question. But do you feel like you want to die? Or do you feel like it was a cry for help? Or both?

CIARA:  I think that answers in a few different ways. So that’s good. When I first thought about making a suicide attempt, it was there; there was a logic to it. And I remember at the time. I tried to imagine, “Okay, let me think about all the best things that could happen in my life in the future. Let me imagine that I get into, like, Harvard, and I have the perfect body.” 

I think of all these things. And obviously, those reveal very adolescent thinking, like, I think that things will make me happier, like going to an Ivy League, like being skinny. And I tried to imagine all of these things in the future. 

And I was okay, like, let’s say all these things happen, did those equal out the pain I’m in right now? And they didn’t in my mind. I was like. I couldn’t think of anything in the future that would be worth living for. 

And what I would say now to my teenage self-thinking for the future, like the kind of experiences that I’m trying to project into the future, like these hypothetical experiences, or, in that imagination, like they’re coming from, only my current life. 

I’ve only experienced life in the way we’re talking about, where I feel alone and disconnected from anyone. And I don’t believe in myself. And so, if I imagined that life would always be this way, even the best version of this, I don’t want to be alive for that. 

But I would say, like to my teenage self or another teenager in this place. You can’t imagine what’s coming because you haven’t experienced it yet. Like your brain can’t comprehend or fathom how much better things will be, how much more there is in store for you, and how much more there is worth hanging on to like you haven’t had that. 

You haven’t had that experience yet, to maybe have that feeling of knowing it’s coming. But have faith that there is something beyond your imagination, beyond your ability to comprehend right now. And I don’t think that I wanted to die. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to be alive. 

It was like, I didn’t want to live the life that I was living. And I didn’t, at that point, really understand that there was a whole other paradigm and experience to being alive. I just thought it was going to be a better version of this.

SHERYL:  Yeah. Wow. Well, and you talk about the adolescent brain; I’ve read articles you’ve written and looked at your Instagram like that. That adolescent brain – you don’t have that perspective. You’re just in the here and now because of the adolescent brain, so you can’t see, can’t think logically in the future, and the reason that it’s just so momentary. I’m in this pain, and I want to get out. 

How was your mom doing with all this? Like, when you went home at night? How was your relationship with her?

CIARA:   It was brutal. It was brutal for her. It was brutal for me too. But it was absolutely brutal for her because she’s my mom. And so when I’m in pain, she’s in pain. And most parents don’t – there’s no trial run with this. It’s not like you get to go through it with a robot or something to try and see how you do it. 

She was just trying to help all the time. And we got into a lot of fights, often. Because she had ideas of what she thought I needed to do to improve. And I didn’t always agree with those. 

Now I know it was coming from a place of love. But that felt like you think I’m broken. Like, that was how I often felt. I was like, you just look at me and see a problem to be fixed. And I don’t feel like you understand anything that I’m going through. And I didn’t know how to. 

That wasn’t like a conscious thought at the time. It was just like an energetic experience that I was conversing with her. And now I know that it came from so much love for me that she would have done anything to help me. 

And it was destroying her the whole time because I was a very high-risk child. And she did not know how to keep me safe. And I was pushing back at her for trying to help me. So it was not as if this was her wanting to fix me from her ego or something or just a desire, like, Oh, I just want this to be over, like she wanted to help me.

But the way that I felt was I was what’s wrong here. All the focus is on me being right. And I hated that. And let her know that in not-so-nice ways.

SHERYL:  Yeah. So all the focus, you said, is on me being right or on you being fixed?

CIARA:  Yeah.

SHERYL:  Yeah. Yeah. Gosh, I like I teared up because it reminded me of my oldest, where we talked a little bit, and she permitted me to talk is sharing our story. But I was so scared. And then she was so anxious. It came out as defiance. Yeah, because it was like she was anxious and stressed and hurting. 

And then it made me want to fix it because I loved her so much. And I wanted to help her and not add the pain, but then when I would do it, I tried to control it because I felt so powerless. But we were like missing each other and butting heads and fighting. 

And the more I would pressure her to try to fix them, the more she would resist and fight against them. And I can see it’s like, I forget I listened to another interview at the site and the term you use, but it’s like a designated patient. 

It was a hike. We made that kid the designated patient, like if I can fix this well-meaning and take you out of your pain. But I’m grateful I started realizing, like, oh my gosh, I need the support. I need the support because this is too much for me to carry. 

So your mom, your mom, and I’m assuming your dad was in this, but they were divorced. So that was probably just another layer of complication.

CIARA:  Yeah, for sure. For sure. I resonate so much with what you just said. Can I speak to a few? You said something I recognized in myself afterward: my mom’s efforts to help me. This goes from my mom to also then when I was in treatment programs, and the authority figures were staff members are professionals in those settings where their efforts to help me sort of set up this binary in my mind, where I could be cooperative and responsible, or I could be my person. 

And so my mom or whoever the authority figure of the moment was, it’d be like, you need to sleep, and you need to not hurt yourself, then you need to be honest. And I would be like. I’m not doing any of that because you said it. And a core need, because we’ve talked about the adolescent brain, is to individuate. 

When you’re a teenager, it’s normal to want to be separate from your parents and your family because you’re just trying to become your person. And when you become an adult, you go back. Still, there’s a developmentally appropriate period in which this drive to be different and unique, like a unique being outside the family, is very strong. 

And so I just had this internal conflict because I was more concerned with that individuation and being my person and wanting to put my feet down and be understood, but how I was achieving that, or expressing that, was through self-destruction. 

So even though I thought I was doing what was best for me, destroying myself. So I think that’s an important thing for parents to be aware of, like how you can try and get on the same side of your as your kid and not set up that kind of oppositional dynamic where you’re trying to enforce rules.

Then they’re resisting things that are good for them, which they might want to do if it wasn’t coming from someone they are resisting. And then you said that this is not my phrase but that you can’t pour from an empty cup. 

Parents, children, and teens like they feel their parent’s energy so much. And when a parent is well resourced and supported and is not needing anything from the child, like they’re not like, I need you to be okay, so that I can be okay.

SHERYL:  Oh, my gosh, yes. I use that phrase all the time.

CIARA:  Oh, yeah. Yeah.

SHERYL:  You be okay. That’s in therapy lingo. Like, if you’re okay, I’m okay. But you’re not okay. So you better get okay. So I can feel okay.

CIARA:  Exactly. Yeah. And as you said like, parents need to get their support because it’s not as if this is you. So when someone becomes a parent, they’re not affected by these experiences; if your child is doing dangerous things or sad, that will affect you. But as you said, you get that support and are well-resourced, so you can approach those interactions differently.

SHERYL:  Totally, rather than just out of that such a fearful place where I knew that I could see a real difference if I could go in and get support. And, growing up, so to speak, in my support group, I could come back and be so much more supportive because so much of it was my stuff. 

But I just think moms need to know the more we try to control our teens, the more they will rebel. Like it’s that individuation that you’re talking about, and that control, and then I will tell my moms, think about if somebody tries to control you if somebody tells me well, you have to eat this now. And you better go to bed at this time. 

I’m like, hell no, like, how much more teenager-like? It’s just so hot. It’s not going to influence positively. We’re gonna get a lot of resistance. And isn’t that here? Were you seeking that in negative ways to get that power in that control? 

I’m so relating to your mom. We don’t know what else to do. And when you have a kid that’s self-harming, you feel despair, which is so unhappy. And so, and I just love when you talk about it because she’d have such empathy and compassion for how where she was at.

CIARA:  Yeah, when I look back, I don’t know how she did it, honestly.

SHERYL:  Yeah. So then, what happened? 

CIARA:  Okay, I had been doing talk therapy while still in school, trying many different meds and going through a few. And that wasn’t making a huge difference in how I felt. And so, I took medical leave from school for a while and had mono then too, but I was in a really bad place mentally. 

So I took medical leave from school and then went to an inpatient program at a psych hospital. And I was there for seven weeks; I’m pretty sure for seven weeks. And that was a DBT program; what kind are you familiar with? Well, it’s a really popular type of therapy.

And so I went and did this program at this residential hospital. And I know some people have positive experiences in residential programs. So I’m not trying to speak for that in its entirety. But it was not a very impactful experience. For me, I didn’t feel like in that setting. I got down to the root of anything that was going on; I kind of learned some new coping skills like okay, if I have a panic attack, I can dunk my head in ice water, or like, here’s a way that if I’m feeling overwhelmed, I can calm my nervous system down. 

But I didn’t get to any of the foundations of why I was in so much pain; I just found some better ways to cope with the day-to-day of it. And medication was also a big part of that experience. Like, we were put on many more meds, and we went in on. And I kind of felt like a zombie, honestly, the whole time that I was there. 

I came home from that program. And I was allowed to come home on a home contract, which is a practice with people who are in treatment based like you can come home if you agree to all these things. And so, like agree to all these things. I was like, okay, I just wanted to go home. So I was like, I won’t do any of this stuff. 

And then I went home. And because I was saying nothing had changed in me. I broke every rule on that, like just later. And then, my mom said, You’re going on a camping trip. And I did not know what that meant. At the time, I thought it would be something like this because there are many different outdoor education programs and things, and schools are doing outdoor Ed. 

So I went to a wilderness therapy program that I got sent to, and I was there for 12 weeks. And that was the most positive of all of my experiences in treatment; it was not perfect. Some things were insane, deep, or amazing about it. But the experience of being in nature was so profound for me having space from them because we were with a basic – to just give a little bit of the logistics of how it worked.

I was backpacking with a group of teen girls. And then there would be a few guides, and they would switch. Every week, we’d get a different team of guides. So we would be with just a small group for a week. And all of this kind of angst that I was talking about, a feeling like I feel so alone, I feel like no one understands you because no one’s being honest about it. 

When you’re out in the middle of nowhere, with people all day, every day, and you’re going through hail storms, thunderstorms, and extreme heat, you’re exhausted and sick. And all this stuff is happening. People get honest.

SHERYL:  Yeah, yeah. Deprived and real

CIARA:  I loved what you said earlier because I had that exact moment when you described where it was; it was only like my fourth day; maybe it was early in my stay. And this one girl in the group started having this breakdown. And she said I feel like I’m always running from myself and the pain. 

And exactly as you said, I started tearing up because I was like, I have always felt that way. Thank you for being brave enough to say that. And I had never heard someone be so honest.

SHERYL:  Wow. That’s like such a breath of fresh air. Like, oh my gosh, that somebody just tells the truth. Yeah. Thank God.,  

CIARA:  Thank you for being new and saying what we’re all experiencing. Yeah, it was major. And another thing that was powerful about that was having those opportunities to contend with the elements and difficult experiences. 

We had to learn how to make fire with a bow drill set, a very primitive way of making fires like sticks in a rock and building shelter, star constellations, and challenging things. I’m physically challenged, like hiking and living outside for so long. And all those experiences became proof to me that, like, I could do difficult things. 

Like I had been saying to therapists for years, at that point, I felt so weak, incompetent, and like I couldn’t do anything. And even though when I went there, I still felt that way. And I’m not gonna say it was like it went away entirely. I was able to feel in my body a renewed sense of capacity. And of like, just like my ability, I could do challenging things.

SHERYL:  Like, almost like, would you the word would you use the word confidence?

CIARA:  That’s exactly the word. Yeah, a renewed sense of confidence. Yeah. And my parents came out to visit me there, too. That was a really powerful experience. They both came separately. But that was a really powerful experience, to have them come and to have the people who were facilitating that. 

Because, again, I’ve been to family therapy before they both came to the hospital. But the kind of conversations that we had at that program was way more real. So that was a really powerful experience. 

And again, I wrote an article about it; parts of it were not fantastic. But the most authentic experience of connecting with other people and the earth I had ever had. And then, after the wilderness, everyone goes to aftercare, which I think is unnecessary. 

But many parents, I think, are very afraid of their child relapsing in some way or reverting. So ever, like, pretty much goes to aftercare. And so, after the wilderness, I still needed a lot of credits for school. And so I went to a therapeutic boarding school. And that was a really difficult environment. It was very stern. They practiced attack therapy there. 

So there was a lot of really harsh confrontation. And a challenging place to be. So I was supposed to be there for two years and ran away after nine months.

SHERYL:  Yeah, I’m just so struck by your story that I’m just sitting here like, wow. We could go off on a tangent about that because I’ve heard different stories of different perspectives on that school or aftercare, but you had said before we got here that your mom thought you didn’t need to go. 

And yet, that’s what everybody was saying to what? For you to go. And so parents, we need to listen to ourselves, and you ended up going, you ran away, you came back? How did things get better? What happened that led you to healing having healing in your life?

CIARA:  I wish it could be as simple as I discovered yoga or this one therapy changed my life. There was not one thing I just plugged in which changed things. I read this great book about depression by Johann Hari, and he talked about how when people are in mental distress, it changes their perception of time like they can’t think of the future in the same way as someone who feels more mentally clear or healthy. 

And we’ve said as well, like, that’s a feature of the adolescent brain and the young adult brain because at that point, when I came home, I was like, in the years after this, I was like a young adult. But my experience in the wilderness was revolutionary and different from normal life; leaving backpacking for 12 weeks with other teams was just completely bananas. 

And the adults I met there lived very different lives and communicated very differently from anything I’d ever experienced. Like, they would say things like, where do you feel that sadness in your body, and I was like, why? No one’s ever asked me that. Or just sit with you like while you were upset? And, just be there with you. 

I never experienced that. And to just know that there were other lives and other ways to be an adult and other ways to be healthy and other ways that my life could look from what I had thought it needed to look before was enough for me to know that even though maybe I don’t know what I’m going to do five years from now, or I don’t necessarily know, when I’m going to feel better, or when this pain is gonna stop or how it’s going to stop, I know that a different experience is possible. 

Because I had that, I knew things could feel different tomorrow or a week from now. They could feel different. And so that helped me just keep trying and keep holding on. So I’d say, like, what I used as my compass and how do I pursue something, I looked for people who inspired me, and who I felt lit up by whose lives I looked at and thought you seem present and embodied and connected to the world around you like I want to learn from you. 

And so I just worked with so many different people, not back to back to back, but over the years, I just kept seeking and searching and looking for different lessons or teachings or things that might give me more orientation. And I would say through all that, though, there can, there was for me, and probably for many people in healing, a point where it’s like, okay, you’re taking in so much from the world, like, what about what’s in here. 

And there was a way in which that kind of seeking almost became a little obsessive. I was taking in so much because of that urge to be like, Okay, what do I need to fix next? What do I need to improve? 

SHERYL:  Yes, I’m never gonna be a map. I just got to keep fixing myself. 100%.

CIARA:  It’s like the shadow side of personal development, spiritual growth, or self-improvement. Like, are you using this as a way to diminish who you are? And criticize?

So I want to say that that was a really important question for me to just look for, like, what inspires me, what philosophy or languages or communities inspire me and make me feel lit up and let me go and be around those learn from those. 

And also continuously coming back to myself. And seeing where these efforts are, these readings are how I’m coping, trying to numb or dull something within myself. I’m trying to fix myself somehow. And those were kind of, I’d say, the two ways I walked on my healing path. 

And then with my parents, honestly, I know this might be difficult to hear because I know your audience, their teens and tweens, but age and time helped a lot. Just going through my own life experiences so that I could have more compassion for my parents and not just see them as these icons and, like, Oh, you’re real people, like I relate to you now. And I understand you more than I did when I was younger. 

Sometimes there’s just no substitute for time. And for just the wisdom that comes with age and experience, and being able to look more honestly at my role in situations and see them as human beings who were once teens and children.

SHERYL:  Wow. So many good things in there that you said. I would love for you to share because so much woven through your story is this desire for truth, for somebody to be real, for somebody to be willing to listen; I mean, when you described that, what the wilderness therapist was doing? They were just sitting with you in your pain. 

And so you talk about basic needs and what for the parents that are listening, what would you say that you need it at that time that you would want parents to hear if they have a because there are parents that are listening that are so in the trenches. 

If they have a kid acting out and struggling and self-harming, what words of encouragement do you have for them? What would you say to them?

CIARA:  It’s sort of like a paradox because it’s like you want to help, and you also want to be okay with everything. How do you do both of those things? But you need to do both. 

As we’ve said in this conversation, I think it’s important for parents to get the help they need to be a steady, loving, trustworthy presence for their children. Presence is the biggest thing your child needs from you. 

To know that you’re there when you’re there and available to them, a nonjudgmental, unconditionally accepting, and loving presence. And also, if your child is in distress, that’s not something you need to bypass or ignore; pretend it doesn’t exist. 

But I like children to feel how you feel towards them. So if you’re getting them a tutor, or you’re getting them a therapist or sending them to a program, or whatever it is, and it’s coming from this place of like, you’re broken and like you need to be fixed, or this is like such a problem, that you’re acting this way. 

They will feel that even if you never speak those words out loud. And I know, it must be so challenging to do that, as a parent, when you have all of this evidence and all this proof that there is something wrong, like, if your child is harming themselves, I’m not going to say like, anything’s wrong, like, just ignore that. 

But if I think for parents, the most important thing to do is that they find how to hold this faith and know that everything is going to be okay, both in just like the situation like everything’s gonna be okay.

Okay, the card has broken down; I was gonna be okay; we’re good till it’s all good. Like, find the ability to be that about the situation, but also in how you regard your child to see in them, even when they’re in pain or yelling at you, or like being difficult or locked away in their room.

You’re the creator of your life. I know that you’re infinitely powerful and already whole in every way. And that is how I engage with you from that place, from knowing you that way. And that’s like Jedi Level Mastery like to be able to do that in the face of always. 

But I needed that because I had so little belief in myself. And again, I don’t think my parents, at the time, knew that. But like my mom, in some ways, almost got into that story with me of like, everything is wrong, we need to help you like this is so bad. And I needed someone who could like to sit with me in that, as we’re saying, with that pain, but also be like. I know you’re more than your pain. And I know that you’re gonna get through this. I will hold that belief until you can hold that belief too.

SHERYL:  It’s so true. We hold our flag back, and our kids pick up on it. And we get anxious when your kids are distressed like you were. But then, we’re anxious, and then our kids see it. And it’s like, oh, my gosh, I am screwed up. Look at – my mom’s like, I’m messed up here. Like, we’re both screwed up. 

And we both need to know how you’re struggling, but I’m also struggling and learning. There’s a book called the parallel process. Have you ever heard of that book? It’s written for parents; its kids are in the wilderness. 

Oh, wow. It’s so good. Because that’s the whole thing, and that it’s good for the listeners, like for any parent that’s struggling, because that’s the whole premise of the book is like, it’s this is a parallel process, you’re the one that’s screwed up here, and my it’s my job to get you out of that, versus we’re both struggling here, I think, don’t you think that that makes a big difference?

CIARA:  Such a difference. And it reminds me of something else, too, which I think sometimes when this becomes a constant in the family, like when a child is going through this. I think it’s important that parents find ways to connect with and relate to their children outside of that – like doing an activity together or talking about a TV show, or just having moments of connection that are not always talking about mental health.

And then I think like the last thing I would say just because we’ve talked about the individuation like I think giving your teens exposure to different opportunities to have meaningful connections if that’s like a summer camp they can go to or like maybe there’s an after school program they can volunteer with or maybe you have, there’s like an aunt that they get on with who they can maybe go on a trip with. 

Sometimes you just have other ways that they can connect. Because they might not come to you and talk about stuff with their friends or a crush, they have in school, but they still need to be able to talk about that stuff. So just give them places they might connect with, like a teacher or mentor someone else. It could be really helpful. 

SHERYL:  I love that. Well, Kira, we’re gonna have to have you on again. Yeah, there’s just so much good stuff to talk about. And so much wisdom that you have, and I love that you can use your story. 

I think it’s really powerful when we can make meaning out of our difficulties, struggles, and trauma and use it for good, and that’s what you’re doing. 

You have so much insight and wisdom, and I think you’re wired like that from the beginning. When you’re young, here you are, and you’re so courageous. I can see you’re going to help so many people. You are so many teens and parents, and I’m just super grateful for you coming on the show today. Tell them where to find you.

CIARA:  My website is hominginstinct.org, and I am also on Instagram. Just my name is “ciarafanlo.”

SHERYL:  Yeah, just tell them briefly why you call that homing instinct. I could cry just on that. Well, yes.

CIARA:  So I love nature, as I’ve said, and metaphors, I love a metaphor. And animals, like bears, squirrels, owls, and salmon, in the same way, that they have a meeting instinct or a survival instinct, they have a homing instinct. 

So they cannot find their way home after traveling great distances or through unfamiliar terrain. Like there’s something in their body that just knows, this is where I need to go. This is how I need to move. This is where I needed to be. 

I loved that because this whole healing journey for many people, and I was about returning and remembering. And that we have the innate wisdom and ability to do that. And I love that. Just something that’s like in nature that’s like in. 

And then also for the word home, because family is so important. And so it’s about you, but it’s also about your place and your connection to a family to a world that’s more than just what you see.

SHERYL:  Yeah. Which gives our listeners so much help. Yeah. So thank you. 

CIARA:  Thanks again for having me. I appreciate you sharing so much too.

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