The Letter

The Letter

A couple of years ago, I found myself sitting besides my high school director, Mr. Quirk, just two days before he passed away. I called him "my other dad" and he called me his "troublemaker". It was at this time that I realized I was actually saying "good-bye" to one of the most important people in my life. Quirk and I were known for solving what always felt like the "end of the world" situations (which for someone with severe anxiety was pretty much a daily occurrence). In the moment, I felt overwhelmed with grief because I wanted one last conversation with him—just one more "here's how you handle tough shit" or a "you got this" talk, but he wasn't able to...damn cancer. I didn't know how to handle grief or anticipate the death of a father-figure. So when I returned home post-Quirk time, I did something I hate doing: running. I ran in the freezing-cold December rain in Connecticut, trying to outrun the impending doom of losing my Mr. Quirk. I didn't know how I was going to figure out the whole life thing without him. During my rain-run, I had this idea to write a letter to Mr. Quirk. I knew he wouldn't be able to read it, but it would act as our last "you got this" conversation—a summary of our learnings from over several years.

Now when I go through tough stuff, I read this letter. It's how I keep Quirk with me through whatever I run into. I thought it was about time I put something on this blog, and it felt like the Quirk letter was long overdue for it's feature because maybe it might just help someone else riding the waves of life. 

December 18, 2015 (Two Days Before Quirk's Passing)

Dear Quirkie, 

I've emailed you a lot over the years...probably too many, sorry about that. Today I went for a run which I really hate doing, but I wanted to take some time to think and process about what you've taught me and will continue to teach me. 

These are the lessons our journey has taught me so far:

1. Dream big and when you've done that, dream bigger. See, Quirk, the thing is you've grown me into being a dream bigger. It's been YOU that's guided me to step into my greatness simply because you always stepped into your own. I remember when you were starting a blog about the high school and I thought that was wacky because well, who blogs about a weird high school? I got a little competitive and decided I would have a better blog than you. We decided I should call it TeenSanity and it was a HIT... I think it's because you and I, together, we knew it was a catalyst for being dream biggers together. That is one of my favorite moments. 

2. Failure is only failure if you choose to see it that way. It was that damn Spanish final of my senior year and I really despised Spanish at that point. I had enough of school, gotten into Watson, and thought I couldn't possibly learn anything more from school. But there you were again with another big lesson, you told me to fail my Spanish test (who does that?)! Anyways I refused, always being the troublemaker. I had to get the God damn A on that last final. What I didn't realize till later is that you were trying to get me to see that failure is only failure if I choose to see it that way. You were preparing me for life as you wanted me to know that I would fail, but it wouldn't stop me, as long as I didn't let it. It would only be a moment to reevaluate how I choose to go forward. 

3. There is always another way. Time and time, again, you've helped me find clarity. Watching and learning from you over the years, I've learned that this finding clarity thing has come from agility. Whenever, I'd have an epic panic attack or thought my entrepreneurial journey was falling apart, you made it clear that I had a choice: I could choose to wallow in anxiety or choose to find another way. We always found another way and it was usually a better way. 

4. Trust the bigger game plan. You are a SPIRITUAL GANGSTER (I cannot take credit for that term as it is a brand). You know that everything has meaning, even cancer, it has meaning. We don't always know what the meaning is or what lessons will come out it, but if we trust, everything unfolds exactly how it's suppose to. The key is to trust and find comfort in the seemingly uncomfortable bigger game plan. I remember the first time I felt like the world was out to get me and you were there for it. I didn't get the fellowship I wanted and I thought that was my ticket after high school to succeed. So we did some brainstorming and we just kinda rolled with this "failure" and then I found my dream college was offering applications for their inaugural class. In my bones, I knew this was where I belonged and because we rolled with it, I now know how to feel trust. What a Spiritual Gangster you are...

5. Education can be the best damn thing ever and it's because truly great educators exist. I don't think anyone loved going to high school more than I did. I loved it when a student would do something strange and you'd meet them at their strangeness, if that makes sense? You built the most incredible high school experience because you let all of us explore what was uncomfortable, scary and strange to us. You want to be a writer, then write a book! You want to be a marine biologist, let's got to Hawaii to experience that field of work! People are often too scared to try out their dreams, but the education you gave us allowed for us to explore our dreams. That's what education is about and we had the opportunity because you are a beyond brilliant educator. 

Thank you, Quirkie, I know there are many more lessons to teach me and they will unfold overtime. We have this saying at Watson and it is "Protect Your Courage". See, you've been protecting mine and everyone who's ever been in your grace's courage. You, Quirk, have taught me that "Protect Your Courage" means to give people the freedom they need to fly. So now Quirk, I will "Protect Your Courage" forever and always. 

I love you.

With Gratitude,
Tessa (your troublemaker)

P.S. I know you may never read this, but I wanted to put it out into the energy space so you KNOW and FEEL it.

16 Year Old, Tessa, and Mr. Quirk  " In other words, the measure of success is not the presence or absence of panic attacks - those have been part of your life for a long time and may continue to be - but rather whether you are able to get the most from your experiences and continue functioning/growing DESPITE the panic attacks. " Wise words of Chris Quirk 

16 Year Old, Tessa, and Mr. Quirk

"In other words, the measure of success is not the presence or absence of panic attacks - those have been part of your life for a long time and may continue to be - but rather whether you are able to get the most from your experiences and continue functioning/growing DESPITE the panic attacks." Wise words of Chris Quirk 

On Showing Up

On Showing Up

I have a strange love of blogging when I am anxious…it’s like all the super creative juices get flowing and BAM! The inspiration hits me and you are reading one jazzy blog post.

Not this time folks, you’ve got yourself a “Tessa forgot her book before boarding her plane post and refuses to check her emails for three glorious hours.”

Anyways I digress and I am sure the editor of I Am Tessa, Amanda, would warn me that this is not the ideal way to start a blog.

Life’s been a bit messy, beautiful and overwhelming more so than ever before. I mean 22 year old running a nonprofit, operating in two different cities between two time zones with 4 schools, 1600 students, 4 ASSET Coaches, 2 interns….you get it.

I love running ASSET. I love equipping schools with the tools to help their students work through anxiety. It’s important work, but it’s probably the furthest thing from “easy work”. Some days it feels damn near impossible and I’d really like to cry about what I’ve gotten myself into, but instead I show up.

I show up.


And again.

And when I feel I’ve had just enough of showing up to the hard stuff, I show up some more.

A couple of weeks ago, I jumped on a call with one of my dear friends, Pavel.

Pavel, right now is showing up in Uganda running Mindfullwe, an organization equipping community members to be lay health workers to fill the gap of under resourced mental health services.

Pavel and I like to consider us honorary team members of each other’s organizations. If an organizational role could be “head cheerleader”, Pavel would fill that for ASSET and I’d be that for Mindfullwe.

We talked about how tough it was for Pavel to live in Uganda coming from Denver, and launching a brand new mental health organization—but my friends; he is showing up amongst the damn near impossible.

Pavel’s Tough Shit: Moving to a new country with no family or friends. Building partnerships with government organizations. Re-designing a training manual originally for India for Uganda. Fundraising. Kick-starting a mental health organization. NOT EASY.

Mine: Running a nonprofit for the first time. Fundraising. Building school partnerships. Writing curriculum. Training teachers. Onboarding coaches and interns. Launching a case study with the largest school district in Colorado. Living between two places. DIFFICULT.

We found ourselves reflecting that it was strange for two VERY anxious people, Pavel living with OCD and myself with the super-rad cocktail of anxiety disorders, chose one of the most anxiety-provoking life choices: entrepreneurship.

We called ourselves masochists. Laughed about it. Slightly cried about it (or at least I did).

During our call, I realized something that my very brave friend, Pavel and I, do well is we show up even when life scares the shit out of us.

Maybe one of the beautiful things about growing up with such severe anxiety disorders is that I’ve known nothing but showing up, again and again and again? If I’ve wanted to do anything, ever, in my life, I’ve had to show up despite how anxious I was feeling.

Bless the anxiety disorders once again.

So what is this “showing up” she speaks of?

Showing up is saying, “I see you pain, I honor you tears, and I am afraid of this seemingly impossible situation, but I am doing my best (whatever that is) and that is all anyone can ask of me.”

Showing up is never about being perfect. It’s meeting the pain with all you’ve got; all of your heart. I think when we meet the tough stuff with the whole heart, the unexpected happens and mountains move. Not because it was easy, but because we simply had the courage to do something most wouldn’t: honor the fear and meet it with love.

I am about to show up to ASSET’s partner school in Harlem on their first day of implementing our curriculum. Am I excited? Kale yeah! Am I anxious? Slightly. Is it going to go perfectly? Nope— nothing ever does on the first day. Will I show up despite all of this? Damn straight.

And I’ll do it again, and again.

Because that’s all we can ever do is show up—it’s all we can ask of ourselves.


Tip: It's easier to show up to tough stuff when you borrow a dog to come home to. 


The Brave Team

The Brave Team

“What if pain - like love - is just a place brave people visit?” 

Glennon Doyle Melton, Carry On Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life

On Sunday, I was feeling significantly anxious (mind you, I only blog when I am anxious as anxiety is my greatest inspiration...weird, I accept that).

This anxiety was tear-jerking, there's no sleep in my future-type anxiety. 

So there I am up at 3 am. My mind likes to believe that 3am is a very appropriate time to worry about everything that probably, most likely will not go wrong, but feels like it will.

As I am up at an ungodly hour, I decide to meditate. I light a candle and press play on my latest, favorite meditation on new beginnings. 

While I meditate, I get this strong urge to email "my people" to be brave with me. I knew there were a couple of upcoming events in my life that had me questioning my own bravery and strength. So I thought it'd be very powerful, if I built my own Brave Team. To know in those moments, I would not be alone. 

Yes folks, a Brave Team.

I asked my Brave Team to not physically join me at these upcoming events, but to mentally be with me. This can be taking some deep breaths with me or just simply feeling brave. 

Everyone I emailed asking to join in on my Brave Team got back to me. Everyone.

Not one person said it was stupid. No one balked at me or called me crazy. (That's a win in itself!)

Everyone replied with how SUPER JAZZED they were to be brave with me. 

Then I sent an obnoxious calendar invite to ensure that the Brave Team does not forget our upcoming brave events. 

My anxiety had me believing that I would be all alone in these upcoming events. That I, Tessa Zimmerman, would have to bear an unspeakable amount of weight and it would be this uphill emotional battle to show up with grace. 

Now with these upcoming events, I feel excited to show up because I know I am not walking this earth alone. My Brave Team is walking, breathing, and smiling with me as I show up.

It takes courage to show up to the scary, maybe even painful moments with love and grace. So I metaphorically built my own damn army to keep me accountable and supported in a being a brave person.

Anxiety Tip #88: Build A Brave Team. 

P.S. Sometimes members of the Brave Team show up wearing matching t-shirts with the phrase "I Am An ASSET To Tessa"...and we are still friends. We may not be able to all look in the same direction when taking a picture, but we can always be brave together. 


The Damn Yoga Mat

The Damn Yoga Mat

I feel overwhelmed. I feel pissed off that sleep has not been easy to come by for me as of late. I feel like crying in a corner by how much work there is "to do."

I am usually pretty fantastic (if I do say so myself) at letting all that shit go on the yoga mat. I step on and it's my cue to mind and body to go inward, let go, soften, and take some really big deep breaths.

Today was not one of those days. I am pretty sure I was an angry yogi today. 


The damn hot yoga towel mat. 


Now this may seem very silly and I admit, it is. But my hot yoga towel mat doesn't always cooperate. In fact, it likes to move as I move and usually I am pretty good at moving with my mat and readjusting. 

But not today. 

Today I felt as if the damn hot yoga towel mat might send me over the edge. 

We all have those moments where the littlest thing becomes the biggest thing. It can be the struggle to finding the parking space before a big meeting. It can be that the coworking space coffeemaker is broken. It can be that one professor HAD to assign an additional reading requirement. Whatever it may be, it's that one thing that overfills the cup. 

But it's never about these littlest things. Small potatoes, people. These are small potatoes. 

How do we get to the place to see that these are small potatoes?

Maybe it's not about getting there. It's about being here— feeling that anger, sleep deprivation or whatever it is. Not trying to change it, but being here.

Today I stepped on the yoga mat with expectation that yoga would make me feel better. That sweating all the shit out in an 100 degree room would "make" my life "better." Really I was attracted to put myself through more stress.

I do feel better (I love any opportunity to sweat), but I also recognize that I didn't actually allow myself to feel. Today I kept going onto the next thing and then the next thing, so it was the yoga mat that reminded me that I hadn't t taken the time to check in with me.

So I am over here feeling. It's not comfortable. I am feeling scared. I am feeling overwhelmed. But I am feeling and because I am taking this time to sensitize, I believe I will move through these feelings with grace and ease.

Just over here feeling (and forgiving my poor yoga mat). 


P.S. If you haven't picked up a copy of my debut book, I Am Tessa, and you want to get a toolbox of anxiety coping mechanisms, I suggest you head on over to Amazon :)



How I Continue To Ditch Anxiety

How I Continue To Ditch Anxiety

I'm not going to lie, I still live with anxiety.

Those mental worries lately have me face-planting into dark chocolate all while I throw spinach or kale into every dish I cook and hook myself up to an IV of kombucha (or as I prefer to call it 'buch.). I've been reconnecting to my breath as tears shed. But mostly I find myself on my knees wondering, "why the hell did this anxious gal choose to be an entrepreneur and publish a book?" 

When I wrote, I Am Tessa, I eloquently word-vomited my entire life's story of growing up with anxiety. But now I find myself as a young adult trying to figure this out and want to scream aloud #adultingishard. Something I am continually amazed by is that my 19 year old self figured it out: life is only hard if we choose to see it as such. Focus on the messy thoughts and messy life happens. *pats self on back*

Yet I find it very easy to return to messy thoughts, to dive into gluten-free paleo cookies (because that must mean they are healthy, correct?), or to flight my fears by doing as many push-ups or burpees till my body gives out. What I've realized is that I, myself, and I believe many others do to get so caught in the day-to-day that we forget to see the magic around us. We forget to take time to do the little things or we do them without much thought. 

When I do experience anxiety, it's because I have gotten lost in past mistakes or am worrying about futures ones. So it's the little acts of health, friendship, and love that ground myself down and continue to ditch that pesky fight or flight response. 

These tips are what I've found to be of help lately: 

1) Hydrate

Simple and sweet. There are little things we forget about throughout the day that actually sends our bodies into the stress response like not enough water. I'm also currently obsessed with the 'buch (kombucha). That's right folks this green juice gal has gone rogue on fermented tea—all hail good gut health, which brings me to my next point...

2) Take Care Of Your Gut

There's a reason our gut called our second brain and we have those "gut feelings". Some foods that keep me healthy and happy: sauerkraut (put it on avocado toast, I dare you), bone broth, eat yo' veggies and fruits, and did I mention grab a glass of 'buch?  P.S. you can even make it yourself! 

3) Move With Ease

Let go of the phrase "no pain, no gain". Tension-based movement also tells our bodies to engage the stress response. Soften. Focus on your breath. Move how it feels good for you. Trust me, it's a lot more fun to wiggle your way through yoga than just hold a pose. 

4) Be Mindful Of The Magic 

As I poured all my worries onto my dearest mentor the other day, Kate, she responded with, "But Tessa, look at all that you've manifested!" It took me a moment, but as I thought it over and realized that there are so many small moments of magic that I overlook (and I know I am not the only one). The small magic moments can simply be a friend I've been thinking about then they text me spontaneously. Or for me, it's the number 88. Shows up everywhere, maybe it's because I am aware of it, but I like to believe it's my magic reminder that I am right where I am supposed to be.

There is so much life happening as a child, as a teen, as an adult, but isn't that beautiful? Scared and excited share a fine line. Which side of the line will you choose? This gal is choosing excited with a little help from the tools above, sweating it out in yoga, and calling upon friends and mentors for emotional boosts.

Join me?

Grab your copy of I Am Tessa on Amazon!