Susan Ortolano, M.A., CMRC, PCC
Intuitive Life & Relationship Coach

The Power of No

bigstockphoto_The_New_Beginning_139502 20-ish years ago a close friend of mine told me about a self-defense program she was taking. She said it was really powerful and that I MUST take it. I was living alone at the time and thought it might be a good idea.

The program was really intense. The “muggers” were dressed in big padded suits with huge heavy helmets. We would learn a skill and then have to face the muggers as they attacked us. They went full out on us and we were instructed to do the same. One of the skills we learned was once we got the mugger down, we were to smash their face with our foot and yell NO, NO, NO. Although the physical aspect of the program left me feeling a bit more powerful, the biggest impact for me was yelling NO three times. It felt really weird and uncomfortable at first. It was one of the biggest challenges of the program for me. I had no idea at the time that the word “NO” would be an even bigger deal to me as life moved forward.

In my former profession as a teacher, I had to say no quite a bit. No, you can’t go to the restroom right now; no, I will not change your grade; no you can’t retake that test. There were many moments where my compassion got the best of me and I would give in and say yes. Yes, I’ll stay after school and talk with you; yes, you can turn your homework in a day late; and yes, you can leave a little early today. To the administration it was yes, I’ll be on that committee; yes, I will go to that meeting; yes, I will handle that for you.

I definitely had a hard time saying no and I extended myself way beyond my physical and energetic capabilities. It was exhausting.

I had a hard time saying no outside of my work as well. With my first husband, my “no” didn’t seem to mean anything. No, you can’t buy that motorcycle, its more money than we can spend right now; no, you can’t have an “extracurricular” love life; no, you can’t just “not” have a job; and no, you can’t speak to me like that. I didn’t hold strong boundaries with him or with some of my friends at the time either. I gave myself away, let people treat me badly, let them take advantage of my loving and compassionate nature, and then I got sick.

Although getting sick was a nightmare, it gave me the “motivation” I needed to learn the power of NO and hold better boundaries. NO, I won’t be going to that event; NO, I will not be able to help you; NO, I will not be continuing my work as a teacher; and NO, I will not be in a relationship or friendship that doesn’t work for me.

I finally had the courage to let people out of my life who didn’t treat me well and choose more of what I wanted. It came out of necessity, but it began to shift things.

Today, although I’m much better at it, it is still a work in progress. Having my own business has gifted me with new opportunities to hold good boundaries: NO you can’t have your session if you haven’t paid me; NO, you can’t show up late and expect me to extend you the extra time without charging you; NO, you can’t miss a scheduled session and not pay for it; and NO, I do not do this for free.

Even though holding good boundaries is still a work in progress I no longer need to use my health circumstances as a reason to take a stand for myself. I now have to let people have their own reaction to my truth and let go of thinking I have to fix it, make it better, or resolve the disappointment for them.

Now, I don’t need to provide an explanation or a reason unless I choose to; a simple NO, because it just doesn’t work for me, will do. Funny how so many things in my life have been improving….

Yelling NO three times now feels just fine.

What am I Supposed to Do Now?


When I was in first grade it was already clear what I might do for a living. I always finished my work before my classmates and was then asked to grade papers. Yes, I was 6 years old grading papers and helping my teacher. In 3rd grade I was sent to tutor the first graders and in 5th grade I was sent to tutor the 3rd graders. In 7th grade I was a teacher’s assistant and while I was in high school, I was teaching preschool.

It was clear I was born to do something in the teaching field.

I began my career as a high school teacher when I was 23.

Health challenges began shortly after my teaching career began. I managed to continue to work and although some of those initial challenges were solved, new challenges came forward.

By the middle of my 13th year, I had become so ill I couldn’t teach anymore. I was in pain, couldn’t walk well, was too fatigued to come to work every day and knew it was time to go on medical leave.

It occurred to me as I left that it would be the last day I would ever teach in public high school.

Going through illness is devastating enough.  Looking at what might become of your life, your career and all of the changes that have to be made, the future can certainly look dismal and hopeless to the imagination.

I never imagined the illness would get worse and that I’d have to recreate so much of my life. In my work life, outside of being a teacher, I did psychic readings for people and was rather good at it. I enjoyed the one-on-one counseling type work and looked into ways I could do that in the condition I was in. I decided to hire a coach. It was awesome! Coaching opened up doors for me that I hadn’t even imagined and I was finally able to see how I could do the psychic readings by phone and allow myself to get the care I needed at the same time.

After my positive experience, the field of coaching was intriguing to me. I knew I didn’t want to be a therapist even though my M.A. degree trained me as a counselor. After looking at the coaching profession and watching some good friend who were coaches, I decided it was the path that was calling me.

I was able to do all of my training by phone and set up my business to operate by phone and Skype. My business grew quickly and before I knew it I was working as a Professional Intuitive Coach and was loving it. I have loved it ever since and now also teach and train other coaches for an international coaching school. This new career has allowed me to do what I need to do to take care of myself, do the work I love, and make good money.

Living with chronic illness means it’s time to get creative. There is often a new life that is ready to unfold and initially we aren’t listening. The illness is the kick in the pants that comes along to help guide us there.

I felt that the tools that helped me succeed could be useful for others so I designed the Vibrant Pathways Coaching Program to help those living with chronic illness explore what new purpose and new life is waiting.

Listen to the inner nudges you are receiving. Look at what you can do, what is possible. Are you feeling called to start your own business? Are you a writer ready to start writing? Are you a teacher or counselor?  Are you a graphic designer ready to bring website visions to life?

Imagine that your illness is happening for you rather than to you. The universe is calling you to a new life and a new career. Are you listening?

Creative Shopping

 bigstockphoto_Shopping_bags_849877                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Wouldn’t it be cool if there was a store called For Your Thighs Only that had you pick a style of pants and then a friendly alterations specialist would come to measure and design the pants just for your shape? The pants would be designed so perfectly in whichever material you wanted them to be.

Living with chronic illness often means it’s even more difficult to find clothing, shoes, and even make-up that fits, is comfortable, and really suits our needs. With my condition I have had a lot of joint pain, specifically in my knees. I have had to wear pants that were loose and comfortable. I also initially gained about 27 pounds of swelling and just about ran out of things I could wear. Back then, I could barely walk and couldn’t get around to the mall often or for long enough to seek out new clothing. Besides, the idea of buying bigger pants felt humiliating, frustrating, and just incredibly sad for me. I also had to wear medical compression socks and couldn’t wear most of my shoes. It was hard to find what I needed and what I could wear since the fashion trends dictate what’s in most of the stores and they generally cater to very thin women, between the ages of 12 and 29, who are very healthy.

It was a difficult time and I found it infuriating not being able to get what I needed and not being able to get out and shop. And let’s face it, the stuff out there that is comfortable is often on the frumpy side.

I finally decided I had to take a stand for myself and reinvent my sense of style. I had to find specialty shops and do special orders at times to find clothing I liked that also worked for me. Once I had my new look put together, I was able to search the internet and find what I was looking for. I would go to specialty shops for larger women and then get alterations done to have the clothing fit. It worked! I was able to get clothing… finally. I also discovered the fabulous Zappos. Through Zappos I have been able to order shoes, get them delivered, try them on in my own home and send back the shoes that don’t work for me. I’m so grateful for this online shopping service and for clothing companies that think beyond the trends.

Even though I’ve lost a good portion of my weight, my knees are still sensitive and I still need to shop at specialty stores. I’m grateful to have so many other options and creative ideas about what to wear and I love the style I’ve created.

For most people, it’s relatively easy to find something to wear.  For those of us with chronic illness who need things outside of what’s trendy, we just need to get a little creative and reinvent our own sense of style!

What’s in it for You?

canstockphoto0193300-reflections  In the early stages of illness I was trying to figure out what happened to me, why, and how to heal it. It was a difficult process and initially I was so focused on trying to figure it out medically, that I was missing the real answers. I was asked the question “what are you getting out of being sick?”

I was appalled, insulted and infuriated that anyone would think there was something in this for me, as if I somehow asked to be sick. I mean seriously…does anyone really want to be sick??

I allowed myself to be resistant to that idea for a bit and looked at all of the losses I had experienced and all I had missed out on. With all of that, why would I ask to be sick? But as someone committed to getting to the inner core of the matter, I finally had to ask myself that uncomfortable question.

 What I came to was the following:

 How I have “benefited” by being sick and then the reality of what really happened-

 1) I got to be special rather than boring or ordinary. Even though being ill has not been fun, it did have me stand out.

 Yes, I may have stood out, but not because I did anything special. It was more of “Oh, poor you.” Who wants that???

 2) I was able to say “no” to things because I didn’t feel well rather than I just didn’t feel like going somewhere or doing things. Somehow a part of me thought that the “being too sick” reason warranted more compassion.

 Actually people have had a tendency to get mad and stop inviting me.

 3) If I failed at something, it was because I was ill rather than because I wasn’t good enough.

  That was a shock to discover but it makes sense to me that it was in there.

 4) I didn’t have to be as responsible for as many things.

 That may have been true but then it prevented me from having things I wanted that required higher levels of responsibility.

 5) People would be nicer to me.

 You would think that people would have had more compassion and be nicer to a sick girl, but that has not been my experience. Many people did not want to have anything to do with me; friends have fallen away; people didn’t always know what to do or didn’t feel they wanted to take time. And some people have treated me like I’m an incapable idiot. Good thing I was able to say “good riddance.”

 6) If I did something fabulous, it was more of an extraordinary accomplishment because I had been so ill doing it, you know, like in the movies…

Ok, I have to admit that people have acknowledged what I have accomplished, but there hasn’t been so much of a “wow, how did you do all of that and dealt with your health at the same time?” You know those movies where the main character has to overcome so many odds, finally does it and at the end of the film, we’re in tears? Yeah, that didn’t happen.


My real insights have been that I have to acknowledge myself; be kinder and more compassionate with myself; trust that I’m special enough; say “no” when I need to without a reason; embrace failure as an opportunity to move in a better direction; and accept the responsibility that comes with the things I want in life.

 I feel blessed and grateful to have learned these things and funny that as I have, my physical condition has improved.  Hmmmmm…..

 So ask yourself the question. I know it’s uncomfortable and even painful, but the freedom on the other side of the question is worth it!!

What….Me Worry?

bigstockphoto_Pouty_Princess_1732299My lovely grandmother, Ann, was quite a worrier. She worried about so much, mostly about things that hadn’t even happened.  She worried about my mom, my uncles, my brother and me, my cousins. In her heart she loved us all and just wanted to make sure we were safe. When she died in 1990, one of my well-intentioned relatives turned to me and said that I would take her place as the family “worrier”.          Gee, thanks…. 

 It wasn’t quite the inheritance I was hoping for but it certainly was a piece of information for me to look at, which I unfortunately didn’t do for about 10 years.

 We were raised to worry about things. Our minds actually think that if we live in fear and worry, we are protecting ourselves in some way. I have had several coaching clients who didn’t know how they would manage life if they didn’t have fear and worry. They really thought that holding on to that energy was serving them in some way and could not think of living life without it. I would imagine that they would manage life with more peace, faith and ease if they learned to let go of that.

 Trying to feel safe is quite common among us. We want to achieve our goals, have good money, loving relationships, vibrant health, a lovely home, a fulfilling career, and avoid having “bad things” happen to us. We want to know that all will be well and tend to spend a lot of time preparing for things to go wrong, making sure we will be able to handle it and save ourselves.

 Yes, my family member was accurate in passing the fear and worry torch to me. Even at a young age, I was really good at it. My health was certainly an area of my life that gave me many opportunities to worry. On days when I was in a lot of pain, I worried that it would never end and when I was on an upswing, I worried that I would be in pain again. It was a never ending cycle!

Through my studies of Spirituality and particularly the Sedona Method®, I learned that fear and worry were not serving me in the way I thought they were. What I thought would protect me actually caused me more suffering. What good did it do me to worry or be afraid on days I felt sick? Did it contribute to my wellness, make me feel more hopeful or more positive, or keep me safe? No. It just sent me into a tailspin of negativity and suffering and the negative energy did not exactly bring good health my way.

When I learned to let go and release fear and worry, I felt more peaceful, more hopeful, and more positive and my health started to improve. I have used the techniques I learned in all areas of my life and feel more peaceful than I ever have.

So as much as I love and appreciate my grandmother and the love for her family that led her to want to protect us, I let go of the role of family worrier and much prefer the vibe of peaceful warrior.

The Real Holiday Gifts

canstockphotogiftHappy Thanksgiving, Merry Christmas, Happy Chanukkah….the most wonderful time of the year and all that. It has always been my favorite time of year. The weather finally cools down here in southern California, the lights on houses and trees are sparkling, and there’s a feeling of hope in the air.  But for many, holiday time brings up other issues.

 Holiday time can be filled with so much joy and spirit, but also moments of taking stock of life. Last year for me, after many years of improvement in my health, my body took a nose dive. I became mostly bedridden and spent the holidays wondering what would become of me and how this could happen after so many years of progress and life feeling so on track.

 I chose to take my own advice and look at why this was happening for me rather than to me. I had to let go of any expectations I had of how the holiday season was “supposed” to be and look at what actually was happening. Fortunately for me, I have tools to work with, an awesome husband, some loving supportive friends, and a job I love that I can do from home. I was able to move through this “alleged relapse” and look at all that came my way as the real holiday gifts that were being presented to me.

It isn’t easy looking at what appears as a struggle, difficulty, or immense challenge and considering it a great gift. For many of us, we want what we want and when a certain “self-determined” amount of time passes and we don’t have what we intended, we decide that things are just not working and often that life just sucks! If things appear to be moving in the opposite direction, it really triggers quite a stir and we can get caught up in a cesspool of negative thinking.

 Each alleged challenge comes to us either to make us aware of something in the way of our intention or to let us know there is some false belief internally trying to get our attention so it can be cleared or healed. All there is to do from my view is recognize it, welcome it, release it, and be grateful for it.

I looked at what gifts presented themselves this year. Some are manifestations of intentions I have been working on for a while and some are little nudges letting me know what still lives in my consciousness that needs healing.

 Either way I welcome all as my holiday gifts this year and will use each one wisely!




A Bit About Gratitude

bigstockphoto_Happy_Jump__1686684Yes, Thanksgiving is here and looking beyond turkey, stuffing and cranberries, what does it mean to actually be thankful? How do we welcome gratitude when there are things that seem so far away from anything we would be grateful for?

 Looking at the economy and how so many are struggling financially, it is sometimes hard to see the blessings in life. Living in a body that isn’t functioning so well hardly wells up feelings of gratitude.

 Ultimately it is a choice. I remember years ago when my beautiful niece Maya was 2 weeks old, several of us just sat and watched her. She would move and we would just marvel at her. She made a sound and everyone was so excited. As she grew and developed, we all just gushed over the things she would do. She took a step…wow!! She smiled and said “Dada”…awesome! She seems so smart, so clever, so amazing.

 As kids grow older and we get accustomed to the new “normal”, the moments of awe seem to fade away. Then the criticism steps in and the focus becomes what kids are doing “wrong” rather than what is so fabulous about them.

It is the same with our own outlook on life. I mentioned in an earlier post the first time I was able to go to the grocery store after having been bedridden for so long. I would walk down the bakery aisle and just take in the yummy smell of the bread, cakes, and goodies.

Although I still have an appreciation for it, I notice myself wanting to get in and out of the store as quickly as possible and no longer marvel as much at the fact that I can go to the market as it simply became normal for me.

 It is easy to forget what we once were so grateful for and move on to focus on the latest goal that we haven’t achieved yet and how frustrated we are at how hard we have worked and how far away the goal seems.

 So for this day, in the midst of what may seem to be a struggle to achieve the next thing, what can you be grateful for? Remember when we all marveled at something that today seems so normal and easy.

 Today I am grateful that I can grocery shop with ease. I am grateful for my awesome husband, the new home we are getting, the wonderful clients I have, the beautiful friends in my life, my wonderful family, the parts of my body that are working well and the other parts that are trying, and all of the abundance that has come my way. Today I pause to acknowledge these things and more that at some earlier point in my life seemed nearly impossible.

 Look at the things that used to feel impossible – things when initially achieved felt miraculous – things that perhaps today seem so normal they go unnoticed – and allow yourself to be immersed in the wonderful feeling of gratitude.

Here’s the Cure!!

tn_Yellow flowersI really appreciate the love and support of friends, family, and people with good intentions. It means a lot when people reach out and I know when they do, they are just trying to be helpful.

There have been many times, when sharing about my health situation, when people suddenly claim to have the cure. They tell me if I try X, I will be healed; if I try Y or Z, I will be cured in no time. One well-intentioned friend said that if I didn’t try ABC, I would never be well as it was the only path to physical wellness.

 Thanks for the buzz kill, Dude!!

I have been blessed to have (after an initial 22 doctors) a team of 3 that I know, love, and trust. What I like most about each one is that they consult with me as a partner in my own medical care. They trust that I have some sense of my own process and ask me my feedback when we consider treatment protocols. Once we choose a particular protocol we give it some time to work in my system so we can carefully evaluate its effectiveness.

I know there are some great protocols, medications, supplements, and treatments out there and I have surely tried and spent money on many. I have learned to better trust my partnerships with my team to bring forth what is right for my system. If I hear an option that sounds interesting, I will bring the idea to my doctors and get their feedback. We then decide whether or not to move forward and try it.

Some if these well-meaning folks may have seen great results with their miracle treatments, but not all treatments work for every body and it is important to carefully evaluate each suggestion. Some people are so insistent that I try this or that and that I listen to them and then I will be cured. I appreciate the suggestions, people, but please take a step back. I have done research on the internet, have spent many years reading about all sorts of options, and while I may not be the brightest bulb, I am not the village idiot either.

 I had a couple of people tell me that if I would just take more walks, I would be just fine. I don’t recall any of them having M.D. after their name!

 What is really helpful for those folks who want to make a suggestion to someone who has an illness is:

 Ask what they have tried and are currently trying

 Ask if they are open to hearing about a treatment option


If the person says yes, then feel free to share, if they say no, let them know that you have some information if they become interested.

 The key issue I had to learn was finding a balance between being open to hearing about new options and trusting my own instincts and my team of medical people. I never want to shut out any possibilities, but am not going to blindly try everything either.

 For those who want to reach out to loved ones with chronic illness and help, there is one question that is always appreciated. That question is:

 What can I do to support you?

 That question means a lot! Then the information can be shared and those who wish to help will know exactly what their loved one wants and needs.

 For more information about supporting those with chronic and life-changing illness, check out my resource page for friends and families:

But You Don’t Look Sick….

LighthouseI remember after having been ill for about 2 years, one of my closest friends was diagnosed with breast cancer. I spent a lot of time supporting her and certainly understood what it was like to be ill. I knew she was going through the worst time in her life and did my best to be there with her through it. She had a lot of love and support from friends and family and today she is cancer free, which is such a blessing.

People tend to understand when you say the word “cancer” that you are really ill and could actually die. There are often physical signs of that disease and of treatment. Many people lose a lot of weight, lose their hair through chemo and look like they are ill.

 The diagnosis that I had was what we call an invisible illness. Many people don’t know what Fibromyalgia, Chronic Fatigue, Lyme disease, etc. are. They look at me and say “well, you don’t look sick” and assume I’m either lying or that I just feel fine.

 There were times I had little support from my family and some friends because they didn’t know what I was experiencing and didn’t look ill to them. There were actually moments where I thought it would be easier to have something like cancer because people would have a better understanding and more compassion.

On one hand, that was all fine. I’m glad I didn’t look sick and didn’t need a pity party, but because I didn’t look ill and people didn’t understand what I was experiencing, I didn’t have as much support as I would have liked. I certainly didn’t need ‘cancer’ to validate my own process.

 There came a point where I just had to let people have their own opinions and process and if they didn’t believe me or offer support, then I just stayed focused on the people in my life who did and let the rest go. The last thing I needed was to spend my valuable time trying to convince people how much pain I was in and why I needed to take good care of myself. It was hardest with family, but focusing on trying to have this make sense for everyone wasn’t serving my healing process and had me focused in the wrong direction.

 I learned to just let people stew in their own thoughts and opinions and just do what I needed to do to take care of myself. It has not been easy at times, but much better for me.

As I did that, I actually had some people come back into my life who tried to understand and I am happy for that, and letting go of the need to explain myself to everyone felt so liberating!

In the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson- “We must be our own before we can be another’s.”

 Committing to our own self-care first is most important whether we look sick or not!

Finding Beauty…

bigstockphoto_Colors_Of_Love_2457177Size-wise, I was never really a “twig” but always maintained a thin frame, worked out and ate consciously. I was not what our culture considered ‘gorgeous’, but was considered attractive to many people. I have always loved using make up and even though I have unusual (actually more like possessed) hair, I always tried to do my best with it.

 One of the things that happened to me with the illness was I put on close to 30 lbs. of swelling and inflammation and had a red rash over part of my face. It was hard to find clothing that was loose, attractive and comfortable, and even more challenging to find shoes. The worst of it for me was the fact that I had little control. Here I had all of this extra weight on me and I hadn’t even earned it!! If I had eaten my way to the weight gain, I could deal with that, but having it have nothing to do with my food intake and no way to control it, I just had to work with the feelings that came up and learn to deal with what I saw in my own reflection. Although I’m blessed to have a wonderful husband who finds me beautiful at any size, I was having trouble seeing it myself.

 Being ill is just not quite an obvious pathway to feeling beautiful and sexy. There were so many moments of frustration, tears and sadness when I felt I had lost my “time” to look youthful, shiny and attractive. Aging was also setting in and I felt I had missed out on some of my physical “prime” way too soon as I was in my 30s when the illness began.

 With no control of the situation, I had a couple of options. I could be miserable about it (and there were days when I actually chose that route) or I could work on letting go of what I learned through our cultural programming and learn to see the beauty in the reflection staring back at me.

 Here are some questions I would ask myself:

What do I see when I look in the mirror?

What thoughts and feelings come up around that?

Could I let go of those thoughts and feelings? (that sometimes take a while)

What about my reflection do I like and appreciate today? (even if it’s just a little bit)

What beauty can I see when I look in my eyes?

 After a while, I began to see beauty beyond the physical body. We all have it and when we look deep enough, we can see it, feel it and own it. It’s an inner beauty, a spiritual beauty and one that emanates through the soul. I was stunned by that discovery and have learned to look deeper, especially on days where my physical look isn’t what I hope for. I now can enjoy carrying it with me knowing it is always there.

 I’m grateful I can look beyond the “sagging, bagging and dragging” and learn to see the beauty that is ever present and never changes. When we can really see our own beauty, we can see it in other places as well.