Courage, Healing, and Leading with Heart; Boots Knighton’s Healing Journey

In this episode of The Fire Inside Her, host Diane Schroeder welcomes a remarkable guest, Boots Knighton, as they delve into Boots’ extraordinary journey of resilience and self-discovery. Learn about Boots’ pivotal moment of advocating for herself in the face of a life-threatening heart condition, as well as her compelling journey of self-discovery after open heart surgery and the loss of her mother. The episode explores the power of radical acceptance, the importance of self-respect and self-care, and the transformative impact of making choices that align with well-being. Get ready for an inspiring conversation that will touch your heart and ignite a fire within you to embrace life’s challenges with courage and grace.

Boots Knighton has been an educator since the late 1990s in all facets of education including high school science, middle school mathematics, elementary reading, college level ecology, ski instruction, backpacking, and experiential education. Her greatest teacher has been her heart thanks to a surprise diagnosis in 2020 (during the pandemic) of three different congenital heart defects. She is now thriving after her open-heart surgery on January 15, 2021 and is on a mission to raise awareness through her podcast, The Heart Chamber: patient stories of open-heart surgery and recovery, that heart surgery can be an incredible opportunity to begin again in life and live life wide open.

How to connect with Boots

theheartchamberpodcast.com

Instagram

@boots.knighton

@theheartchamberpodcast

LinkedIn

www.linkedin.com/in/boots-knighton/

Facebook

www.facebook.com/SuzanneBootsKnighton

Substack

Joyful Beat | Suzanne Boots Knighton

How to connect with Diane

www.thefireinsideher.com 

Diane@Thefireinsideher.com 

Instagram

@TheRealFireInHer 

LinkedIn

www.linkedin.com/in/dianeschroeder5/

Are you excited to get a copy of the Self Care Audio download that Diane mentioned?

You can get that HERE –TheFireInsideHer.com/audio

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Transcript

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Diane Schroeder [00:00:00]:

Welcome to The Fire Inside Her, the podcast where we explore the incredible stories of individuals who have discovered their inner fire on their journey to authenticity. I'm your host, Diane Schroeder, and I am so grateful that you are here.

Diane Schroeder [00:00:23]:

Hi, friend. You are in for a treat this week. I had the privilege of meeting my guest, Boots, last year at a podcast convention. The universe conspired to help us connect at a pre-con mixer, and it was an instant connection. She is a light in this world, and her journey is remarkable. Time seems to be flying by and taking forever. I find it hard to believe that the pandemic was 4 years ago.

Diane Schroeder [00:00:57]:

Do me a favor. If you're in a space where you can, pause, take a few deep breaths, and think about the early days of the pandemic. There was so much fear, denial, and uncertainty about COVID-19. Now, imagine being in the prime of your life and having a heart attack. Still, no one believes that you're having a heart attack because you're so young and healthy, and then finding out that it isn't just a heart attack, but you have 3 different congenital heart birth defects.

Diane Schroeder [00:01:31]:

Boots Knighton has been an educator since the late 1990s in all facets of education, including high school science, middle school, mathematics, elementary reading, college level ecology, ski instruction, backpacking, and experiential learning. But her greatest teacher has been her heart. She is now thriving after her open-heart surgery in January 15, 2021 and is on a mission to raise awareness through her podcast, The Heart Chamber. Patient stories of open-heart surgery and recovery. That heart surgery can be an incredible opportunity to begin again in life and live life wide open. Today's guest is so special for a lot of different reasons. The alignment of the universe and just her incredible story truly embodies everything about authenticity. So, welcome, Boots Knighton. I'm so excited that you're here.

Boots Knighton [00:02:34]:

Thank you for having me, Diane. This is really special.

Diane Schroeder [00:02:37]:

It truly is. I've been looking forward to this conversation since we met a couple months ago. And my icebreaker question is, what is your favorite Pearl Jam song?

Boots Knighton [00:02:48]:

Oh, man. There's several. I really like the harder ones because like, verging on heavy metal ones because it just helps me move my own energy. So, like, Why Go is one. Another one would be Go. I don't know what it means or if there's any special correlation between 2 songs that have the word go in it, because I do believe in just going and, like, doing the thing. But those are 2 songs that I listen to when I'm actually about to go skiing or mountain biking.

Diane Schroeder [00:03:20]:

My favorite all time Pearl Jam song is Daughter, and I do really like some of their heavier rock stuff. And as I've become more of a fan over the years, they really do have some pretty heavy stuff as well, which is surprising.

Boots Knighton [00:03:34]:

Some of it's a little too hard for me, but those 2 just seem to, like, help me move my energy the most effectively. And I was just listening to another podcast the other day. It was talking about how music helps us move energy. No matter what that energy is, it could be sad energy. It could be excitement. It could be rage. And so, you know, like, I do listen to Rage Against the Machine particularly around election season, but Pearl Jam seems to be, like, my go to for when I'm ready to get out there and, like, really push the limits on something physically.

Diane Schroeder [00:04:11]:

That's magic. Well, that is a great segue into my next question which is, when you talk about getting ready to go skiing, or getting ready to go mountain biking, how did you get to that point in your life?

Boots Knighton [00:04:25]:

Well, I didn't ski. I didn't find skiing until I was 10. I grew up on the coast of North Carolina, and I kept hearing about all my friends’ taking trips to the mountains to go skiing at least once or twice in the winter. And our local church group that I would eventually join when I was old enough would always take a yearly trip up to Pennsylvania from North Carolina where we grew up for skiing. And I knew that I wanted to be able to ski too and be able to join that youth group already knowing how to ski because that seemed to be kind of like the crown trip for that church youth group every year. So, I begged my parents to take me skiing, and they relented, because they didn't ski either. So, we all show up to this little tiny mountain in Virginia called The Homestead. And I was 10 years old.

Boots Knighton [00:05:27]:

And, basically, there was some ice on some grass and that was that. And they hired a ski instructor for me. And by the end of the day, I was skiing the Black Diamond there, which, I mean, in Virginia, on ice and grass was probably the equivalent of a blue slope out here in the west. But I was hooked. And I told my parents at age 10 that I wanted to be a ski instructor. And I proceeded to go on the yearly trips, and I was always just skiing with the boys. I would always diss the girls in all our youth trips. And then my mom would take me skiing. My parents ultimately divorced when I was 12, and so then my mom really enjoyed skiing.

Boots Knighton [00:06:12]:

So, she would take me to, like, Killington and then to Colorado, and I just loved it. And so, I did go to college. I did do, like, what any respectable southern girl does. I got a college degree, but I still wanted to move out west. And so, I moved to Jackson, Wyoming in 1998 and started working at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort as a lifty, lift operator. And I was one of the 1st female lift operators at Jackson Hole. And then I ultimately joined ski school in 2001, and I've basically been in and out of ski school in some iteration or another since 2001.

Diane Schroeder [00:06:57]:

Wow. And what a beautiful location to land.

Boots Knighton [00:07:00]:

Oh, yeah.

Diane Schroeder [00:07:02]:

Very cool. And that determination and your mindset of being a ski instructor, you also, in the summertime, mountain bike. Correct?

Boots Knighton [00:07:11]:

Yes. And I love it. Now what's hilarious is that I originally thought I was going to become a fly-fishing guide, so I started pursuing fly fishing. One of my first jobs out of college, I actually lived in Oregon for a very short time working for the Bureau of Land Management, and I was counting fish. Literally, like, 1, 2, 3. Like, I gone to college to count fish. It was way more than that. So, I was working on salmon restoration projects in the coastal range of Oregon and just was really in love with fishing. I'd grown up fishing. I'd been in fishing tournaments with my dad and just thought that that would be my summer gig. And I had majored in biology at North Carolina State University and actually took some fisheries classes. So, I was, like, certain I was going to become a fly-fishing guide. And back in the day, there weren't many female fishing guides. But as I continue to pursue that, I bought my 1st mountain bike in college, and it was a hard tale. And trying to mountain bike in the middle of North Carolina and Raleigh, I mean, it was a little challenging, but I loved it. I loved riding a bike. And so, I started mountain biking in Jackson, and back then, the trails were hardly developed like they are now.

Boots Knighton [00:08:34]:

I started noticing that fishing was really slow and boring and too quiet and not fast enough, and I wanted to go fast and I wanted to be rad. So, I ditched the fly pole, the fly rod, the fishing pole, and then pursued mountain biking, and I just absolutely love it. I ride my bike as much as possible.

Diane Schroeder [00:08:59]:

So, you had those exciting like, you love adrenaline gathering. You like to go fast. You like to do challenging things, whether it's down a mountain on skis or a bike. How did that all change when you hit your early 40s?

Boots Knighton [00:09:16]:

I laugh uncomfortably. Yes. It changed a lot. So, I don't move as fast as I used to. That's for sure. Yeah. There was a little something that happened. Too little somethings, actually. I shouldn't say that. They were 2 huge things. In 2018, I had a really bad ski accident and hit my head. And thankfully, I was on the job. I say thankfully because workman's comp came to save the day there. I had a really bad concussion, and that definitely changed how I move my body in space. 2 years later in 2020 so that was, I hit my head just 2 months before my 40th birthday. And then in 2020, I had basically, a heart attack that led to the diagnosis of 3 congenital defects I knew nothing about and then resulted in open heart surgery, January 15, 2021. And then that definitely changed my pacing and how I move my body. It changed my rhythm for sure in the world.

Diane Schroeder [00:10:29]:

Yeah. When you shared your story with me back in August, I just, like, I can't imagine. And for a lot of reasons, I don't know what that would be like. I just can imagine how scary it was, and I spent most of my life in the fire service. And, you know, I was a paramedic for a long time and, you know, just helping people in the community and seeing sick people, and I joke that I learned enough to know what's really scary and what's really bad in health care. And I appreciate traumatic brain injuries are no joke, and it's a testament to how resilient and beautiful the body and the brain are because you healed that TBI just to, in the heart of a pandemic, realize that you have 3 congenital heart issues, and 2020 was not a great time for health care. It was really not a good time to be sick, and you experienced that firsthand. Correct?

Boots Knighton [00:11:24]:

Oh, yes.

Diane Schroeder [00:11:25]:

So, how did you navigate that world? Giving all this information, I'm sure it is overwhelming amounts of information. How did you navigate not only knowing that you just had a heart attack, you have congenital heart defects, and we're in the middle of a pandemic, how was that experience?

Boots Knighton [00:11:45]:

Well, I mean, it was all the things you could imagine. The crazy piece is that it was a good thing I had hit my head. I say that because through that experience, I learned how to advocate for myself. And I was not guided correctly at the beginning on how to heal well from hitting my head. And I really had to get very skilled at assessing health care workers to know if they were the right fit for me and if they were up to date on the latest research. I got really good at that. I got really good at hiring and firing my health care team.

Diane Schroeder [00:12:35]:

I love what you just said because I think that we have been conditioned as a society to automatically refer to the health care providers that they know everything, they know what's best, and you just have to trust what they're going to do and put your entire life and health in their hands. And that is absolutely not the case, which you figured out that you actually can fire your health care team.

Boots Knighton [00:13:01]:

Yes. And you can also file formal complaints against them if they are negligent. Just want to add that in, which I had to do. So, that is one of the many gifts that came out of my brain injury journey. There were so many gifts that came out of that. But that's probably, like, one of the number 1 gifts, top gifts, top 3. So, when going into this shock of learning about my heart, the other thing I was doing well at the time, I had already been working with my therapist for, like, six and a half years. And she and I originally started working together because my best friend had been murdered in Nicaragua, and I had no, I mean, absolutely no coping skills to handle that.

Boots Knighton [00:14:01]:

And that's how I found her. And so, we had already been doing a lot of really good work together on reparenting, getting distress tolerance skills, emotional regulation skills. Like, I had been in the process of really becoming my best and truest self with her. So, we had Karen's death, my brain injury, a few other minor bumps in the road. But the other thing that was happening at the same time that my heart made itself known was my mom had been diagnosed with rectal cancer in the same week, and my husband's mother had been diagnosed with breast cancer, and my car engine blew up. It was all in the same week that my heart said, hey. Something's not right. And I still manage to stay on my feet.

Boots Knighton [00:15:00]:

I share all of that because it is possible to go through a really dark or really challenging time in your life where your nervous system gets maxed out and still be okay. It is possible. So, I went into all of this and my therapist just kept me on a weekly basis. I was already on an anxiety medication because when I hit my head, that affected, like, some regulation stuff in my brain stem, and so we just upped my anxiety medication, and that was all so helpful. And for those who are listening maybe might have some misgivings about medications, I get it. I understand. But it is time we put down that stigma and the misgivings and really embrace medication as a tool. It is no different than taking an aspirin for a headache.

Diane Schroeder [00:16:09]:

Yes. I really appreciate you saying that. I remember when I was in a pretty dark space and I wasn't sleeping, I had nothing left. And a friend of mine was, like, you need a cushion, Diane. You can't. This isn't sustainable. You need a cushion, and I think you need to talk to your doctor about getting on some medication, and I did, and that cushion helped. I didn't stay on it forever. I was able to, you know, build up enough cushion to get off of it after about a year, but that was a game changer for me, and I do agree with you. That stigma, we just got to let it go. It's a tool to help you just like therapy is a tool, like learning how to regulate your body, all the tools that really help you navigate the bumps or the potholes or when your world comes crashing down.

Boots Knighton [00:17:07]:

Yeah. And my world came crashing down. Like, it was, like, officially in the pothole. I can't think of more trauma besides maybe being in a war-torn country. All of that was happening with COVID in the background. And Jason, my husband, he and I still talk about how we really could have cared less about COVID at that point. Because what became clear was COVID was not going to kill me. My heart was.

Boots Knighton [00:17:38]:

And the same was true for our moms. Right? Like, COVID was just this nuisance in the background that everyone else had not everyone, but the other people had the absolute privilege of bringing their wrists over, whereas I did not have that privilege. I had scarier, bigger things to worry about. So, it just has embarked me on a whole new road. Like, that moment in time when I got the diagnoses about my heart and yet it was plural. It was like in the matrix when Neo takes the red or the blue pill?

Diane Schroeder [00:18:16]:

Yep.

Boots Knighton [00:18:17]:

I can't remember which color it was. What color did he take?

Diane Schroeder [00:18:21]:

I think he takes the red pill.

Boots Knighton [00:18:22]:

Okay. Yeah. The red pill.

Diane Schroeder [00:18:23]:

But you can't go back. If you take the red pill, you can't change the way you see the world.

Boots Knighton [00:18:26]:

Right. And from that moment on, everything changed. That was my big fork in the road.

Diane Schroeder [00:18:34]:

So, it seems without knowing, you had been preparing yourself to handle challenges. Now, you know, because we can't predict the future. It's weird how the universe prepares us for challenges that we may not know we're going to have to go through. What was that fork in the road like? And when you realized that this is life or death and what really matters, how did you go navigate that? Like, what changed in your life specifically moving forward?

Boots Knighton [00:19:07]:

I'm just giving that a lot of thought because there's so much that had to happen. First, I had to literally pound the pavement for help. My 1st cardiologist who said, I'm going to go looking for all these things, and you better hope I don't find anything, he found all kinds of things that he said he was hoping he wouldn't find, and then he still said, but you probably just still have anxiety, so it's not your heart. And I was like, but I've had anxiety. It's under control. It's well treated, and my left arm shouldn't be bothering me like this all the time. I shouldn't be feeling like I'm going to literally die every day. Like, I felt like my heart was going to murder me every day.

Boots Knighton [00:19:49]:

And I asked him for a referral. He refused. And so, I said, fine. I'll just start advocating for myself with other cardiologists. And so, then I try a more regional place down in Utah. They also blow me off. And then one day in, like, late August, something told me to just type in my congenital defect into Facebook, and a support group comes up for myocardial bridging, which is what I had. And I joined the group, and that was where I learned that myocardial bridging is still not fully recognized by the entire cardiology community as a problem, as a pathological problem. And that a lot of people actually can have bridges and it not be an issue. But I was not one of those of people. I was one of the unlucky few where it was causing a major issue. And I learned that Stanford University was the place to go for myocardial bridging in all of the world. And that really only 11 surgeons in the United States were doing the surgery to unroof the bridges. So, I call Stanford. I'd gotten really good at advocating for myself through my brain injury. And so, it took a while to get my records there. Again, my 1st cardiologist wouldn't refer me even though he had worked at Stanford himself in the cardiology department. And finally on October 2, 2020, so my heart made itself known, like, June 24th or 26th. And then by October 2nd, I got a call from Stanford. It was a Friday afternoon. I was actually sitting right where I am right now. And they said, you need surgery. You really need surgery. And because of COVID, we can't help you right now.

Boots Knighton [00:21:54]:

And so, they scheduled me for middle of December and it was all this testing. Like, we have to redo the CT scan because we have a more specialized scan and redo the echo. And then we're going to have to do a heart Cath, which I hadn't had a Cath yet, and they were going to test my heart in the Cath lab to make sure that the surgery would absolutely, like, help me. Because my LAD was getting closed off with every heartbeat and so was my LCX. So, my heart was, like, depraved of oxygen at every beat. So, I had to sit still. By October 2nd, I was unable to stand and wash dishes in my kitchen. And my friends were bringing us dinners.

Boots Knighton [00:22:41]:

I was unable to function. And so, basically, by mid-August, I was really not doing well. And then by mid-September, I was a teacher, and I'd gone back to school, started the school year, but I was so out of breath all the time. I couldn't get through the school day, so I had to leave my job. That was the 3rd week in September. And then Stanford calls, and it was like this amazing moment of, see, I'm not crazy because I was starting to wonder if I was crazy because of all the gaslighting. And then the other part of me was like, oh my god. I need open heart surgery.

Boots Knighton [00:23:21]:

And I'm glad I had to sit all of that fall because it took all the way until December for me to radically accept that I had been born different than what I thought, that I couldn't control that, that I needed open heart surgery, that I could die while I was waiting. All the things. And my therapist and I had a lot of time together for me to continue to parent myself, to continue to work on the really important skill of radical acceptance and distress tolerance. I became best friends with stillness, boredom and courage.

Diane Schroeder [00:24:16]:

Those are pretty powerful friends to have, and thank you for sharing that experience. I really don't have any words for what you went through and how scary that must have been. And after you had the surgery and you were able to, you know, process that you made it through the surgery. And then now on the other side, how challenging was it to keep that radical responsibility mindset during your recovery and moving forward?

Boots Knighton [00:24:56]:

Yeah. The radical acceptance?

Diane Schroeder [00:24:58]:

Radical acceptance. Sorry.

Boots Knighton [00:24:59]:

It was really interesting because I didn't get to have the recovery that all heart patients need. There was a real twist to all of this. So, you might remember that I mentioned both of our moms had been diagnosed with cancer. Well, Jason's mom made it through to the other side just fine. She's still with us. She's doing great.

Diane Schroeder [00:25:27]:

Mm-hmm.

Boots Knighton [00:25:29]:

My mother, on the other hand, was not doing fine. And on the day that I got out of the ICU after my heart surgery, she went into the ICU. And she had heart failure. So, she had the rectal cancer and had been getting treated for that with radiation. But the real thing that she had been battling since I was like 10 years old was alcoholism. And she was also a smoker. So, all of that combined with the radiation, she was not in a good place. And by the time I got home from the hospital, which was like lightning speed from after my heart surgery, I was doing so well. So, they actually released me early.

Boots Knighton [00:26:27]:

She was still in the hospital, and I started managing her care from my couch. She lived on the coast of South Carolina, and her partner wasn't super capable of advocating for her. And so, I had to intervene from Eastern Idaho to agree to send her home with hospice. And I managed hospice while I was focusing on moving forward with my life. She was in the process of ending hers, and she died 9 weeks after my open-heart surgery. So, that was a lot to accept because I went through all the typical emotions.

Boots Knighton [00:27:17]:

You know, I'm the only child. She lived 2,000 miles away by herself. Her partner lived a mile from her. And so, I was left with dealing with her estate. And fortunately, because I'm so good at asking for help and she had put some help into place, I didn't have to do it completely alone, but a lot of it was on me. And so, 12 weeks post open-heart surgery, I cleaned out her house, which I don't recommend. And the radical acceptance has kept coming up over and over again, and I want to talk about what that means.

Boots Knighton [00:27:57]:

Radical acceptance doesn't say it's okay. It just says that it is. And it was interesting when my mom did pass, she died on the 1st day of spring. And for the 1st few days after she died, I noticed that I kept being more worried about my friends and what they had going on than focusing on what was happening for me and my body and my mom had just died. Like, I was trying to help my friend find a new mountain bike. And my friend was like, why do you even care about a mountain bike for me? But I just could not accept that my mom had just died almost immediately after I had just fought to live. It was such a dialectic of, I had been fighting so hard to live, and she had slowly been killing herself with alcoholism, and then she was successful. It was just too much for me to handle.

Diane Schroeder [00:29:06]:

Yes. That makes perfect sense. That sounds to me like a very reasonable trauma response to a very difficult situation where there is so much layers upon layers upon layers. Even after doing the work for several years to process that, being the daughter of an alcoholic is really hard. And unless you've walked those shoes, most people will never understand that.

Boots Knighton [00:29:35]:

Yep. And so, like, having to radically accept my mom had died of alcoholism, that I needed heart surgery. But wait, there's more.

Diane Schroeder [00:29:45]:

No.

Boots Knighton [00:29:47]:

I returned from cleaning her house out. It was like, nine hardest days ever. It was so intense because my mom and I had had a tenuous relationship because alcoholism. So, I learned a lot about my mom, and I had such an intimate view of her life and of her medical records and all the things.

Boots Knighton [00:30:14]:

I ended up writing a book about it. I haven't published it yet, but it took 94,000 words for me to process that. I literally wrote 94,000 words. So, I get back here and I'm like, okay. It's time to move on. I can go back to work. And I do, but I start noticing I'm getting zapped, like, electrocuted in my hands, particularly my right. And all the swelling had started to finally go down in my sternum from the open-heart surgery. And what was happening was my sternal wires were resting on some of my nerves and they were zapping me. And they were also starting to protrude through the skin. And so, by late May, I called my surgeon and I was like, I can't handle this. And he's like, well, you know, I was worried this would happen. I'm a very petite person. So, he was like, you know, I was kind of worried this would be a problem, but I didn't want to, like, set the intention. But you should probably get down here as soon as possible and deal with this.

Boots Knighton [00:31:20]:

So, then I had to leave my teaching job for the 2nd time in the school year for yet another surgery. And so, that was in early June, and then I was really not in a good place. Like, finally, the grief of my mom had hit, the grief of now needing a 2nd surgery. I'd worked so hard to heal the incision from the open-heart surgery. He had to reopen the entire thing. It was a very dark summer, and I will tell you, I was not able to radically accept much. Like, all my skills kind of went out the window. My therapist kept me in close proximity, and she just, like, held space for me. And I was angry. I was so angry, but then it gets even more challenging. So, I'm still having pain in my upper sternum all summer. And I called the surgeon in, like, mid-August, and I'm like, something still isn't right. And so, he orders a CT scan, and much to all of our horror, he missed a wire.

Diane Schroeder [00:32:29]:

Oh, no.

Boots Knighton [00:32:33]:

It had broken off in my sternum. And to make matters worse, the very top of my collarbone or, like, the top where you have, like, kind of a dip in your throat, that's, like, kind of where your sternum comes together,

Diane Schroeder [00:32:48]:

mm-hmm.

Boots Knighton [00:32:49]:

Was considered a nonunion, so meaning it didn't heal correctly. So, the bones were slipping past each other.

Diane Schroeder [00:32:57]:

Ouch.

Boots Knighton [00:32:58]:

And so that actually probably was what was causing the pain and not that tiny missed wire because that tiny missed wire was like a small amount of wire, but I started raging about the fact that he had cut me open again to get all the wires out, but missed the wire. And he was like, well, you were going to need surgery anyway because of this nonunion. It provided an amazing opportunity. I actually talk a lot about this, and I share even more about all the story in my podcast. Episode 2 in season 1, I talked about this situation with my surgeon.

Boots Knighton [00:33:38]:

Long story short, I let him fix it. And he has to open me for a 3rd time. And now I have the titanium plate that, like, keeps my sternum together. But it was just like this constant test of all my skills that I'd worked so hard to acquire. And I think I have a PhD level, like, PhD in all of it now. As my therapist likes to say, I've been playing in the deepest end of the pool of life where you just have to have every tool, every person, every skill you can to get through your days. And it was like that for a long time, but I'm fine now.

Diane Schroeder [00:34:30]:

It's all fine. We're good. It's fine. It's all fine.

Boots Knighton [00:34:34]:

Because, like, now that I've been through all that, I'm like, we're good. It ain't heart surgery in a pandemic with a parent dying.

Diane Schroeder [00:34:42]:

You know, my dad passed away in January of 2020. And while I miss him and it was really hard, I'm very grateful that it happened before COVID really took off. So, yeah. Yeah. Everyone has an experience of why 2020 and 2021, and everything was really hard. And you are just an example of not just resilience, because resilience is just getting through. You were very resilient for several years, and now you've taken that and your experience, and you're growing. It's that post traumatic growth. It's taking everything that you've experienced and, you know, that fork in the road and deciding that you are going to live your best, most authentic life, you're going to share your story and help others share their story, which is why you started your podcast, The Heart Chamber. Correct?

Boots Knighton [00:35:39]:

Mm-hmm. Yep.

Diane Schroeder [00:35:40]:

And that is beautiful. How has your life changed in how you treat yourself and take care of yourself with all that has happened over the last several years?

Boots Knighton [00:35:56]:

Oh, great question. I'm no longer a jerk. I think back to, like, how a lot of the decisions I made before heart surgery were performance driven, acceptance driven. It just wasn't for my highest good. It wasn't for my highest yes. And when I say highest yes, I mean, what really matches with my soul, what best regulates my nervous system, what is in highest alignment with my self-respect. So, keeping my self-respect intact at all times and only saying yes when I really mean yes and saying no when I really mean no.

Diane Schroeder [00:36:48]:

I love that. And for those of you listening, hit the rewind button and go back 30 seconds and listen to that again, because I always say that no is a boundary. And if you're saying yes to everyone and everything, you're saying no to yourself. And that is not a sustainable plan for a life filled with joy and love, in my opinion. What do you think about that?

Boots Knighton [00:37:15]:

Oh, amen.

Diane Schroeder [00:37:16]:

You've got to choose yourself first, and I love that. I love the it's only got to be a fuck yes. And I'm a recovering people pleaser and an overachiever, and, you know, I've got to do this. I've got to do that. Chasing it. And, really, the last few years has shown me that there is a different way to live, and there is a different way to find peace and slowing down, and it sounds like you have definitely discovered that and are thriving.

Boots Knighton [00:37:45]:

Oh, yes. My life is more fulfilling and filled with joy today than it ever has been, and I do so much less. There's so much room for expansion for my heart space now, and I only spend time with people that match me or excel energetically. You know, I really pay attention when I leave a conversation, I really pay attention to how I feel energetically, spiritually, emotionally, and the same for my work. Like, yeah, I wrote that book, but I know it's not meant to be out in the world yet. And so, I started the podcast because I just knew it was really interesting. It was as if spirit came and tapped me on the shoulder one day.

Boots Knighton [00:38:43]:

I was actually sitting in this chair on a call with my developmental editor, and I just interrupted. And I was like, I just heard I need to start a podcast. I mean, you hear about sometimes, like, pastors of churches or in any religious belief system. You know, I had the calling to, like, do this or that. And I'm not a religious person, but I am quite spiritual. And I really heard the calling, and I'm so glad that I answered it. And that also continues to be a giant yes for me. And most mornings, I still examine all my yeses and all my nos to make sure I'm still in alignment with all of them.

Diane Schroeder [00:39:31]:

That is so beautiful, and I talk to a lot of guests who are leaders and leaders in the fire service, leaders of their own company, to me, you are a leader of your life, and that is one of the most challenging positions to be as a leader. It's a lot easier to lead others, I think than it is to lead yourself and really advocate for yourself and be so in tune, and I commend you on that, and I have so much respect for you. And I also want to say that and I don't know. Have you heard of the Japanese art of Kintsugi? So, that's the theory that, you know, if pottery gets broken, they fix it by pouring gold on it to put it back together so that it's actually once the cup has been broken and put back together, it's more beautiful. And that is what I think of as humans, especially humans as special as yourself that, yes, you have been broken and you have that beautiful scar to let the light in and let the light out, and that is just what a gift to give to the world.

Boots Knighton [00:40:38]:

Thank you.

Diane Schroeder [00:40:40]:

I know that we could chat for a very long time, and I look forward to more conversations. But as we wind up this episode or wind down this episode, I am curious if you could offer a piece of advice to my listeners on something they can start doing today, right now for that radical acceptance, wherever they are in their life, whatever the one thing is. Is there something that you can give to let them start the process?

Boots Knighton [00:41:14]:

Yes. I want you to sit with that. That thing that is hard for you or maybe that is so amazing that is also dysregulating you. Maybe you just got the most amazing news of your life, but you can't seem to calm down. Or you just got the worst news of your life, and you can't calm down. Both have the exact same effect on the nervous system and your ability to stay skilled and regulated and effective in the moment. And so, one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself is to sit in a cozy chair with a cup of tea or warm lemon water and just sit with what is and notice what comes up. Is it grief? Is it anger? Is it despair? Is it unbelievable joy? Whatever it is, let it rise up, and then let it move through you.

Boots Knighton [00:42:16]:

Some of the most uncomfortable emotions for me have been disappointment and fear. Disappointment is probably my least favorite emotion. And I have learned to just sit in that and just radically accept. So not trying to change it, just letting it be. And it is amazing when you just sit there and let it sit with you, the fear, the grief, the disappointment, all of the things. It will start to move through you and it will impact you less and less, and it will dissipate. Then you can deal, then you can focus on the next right thing.

Diane Schroeder [00:43:06]:

Wow. That is such sage advice and wisdom, and I'm so grateful for that. Thank you for sharing your story and being so vulnerable and genuine and just offering everyone so many nuggets to take home and use for their life. So, thank you, Boots, so much again for this amazing conversation, and I look forward to many more with you.

Boots Knighton [00:43:38]:

Thanks for having me.

Diane Schroeder [00:43:40]:

Another great conversation. Thank you for giving the valuable gift of your time and listening to The Fire Inside Her podcast. Speaking of value, one of the most common potholes we fall into on the journey to authenticity is not recognizing our value. So, I created a workbook. It's all about value. Head on over to thefeireinsideher.com/value to get your free workbook that will help you remember your value. Until next time, my friend.