Defining and Choosing Happiness: How a Painful, Personal Rebranding Saved My Life


Blog by Bri Prooker, KOTAW Girl Gang member at KOTAW Content Marketing, boutique branding through storytelling studio
Personal rebranding story | Bri Prooker - KOTAW Content Marketing, brand storytelling in Los Angeles

There’s no such thing as bad PR, but is branding the bad really so bad?

For me, it was a lifesaver.

In the past year and a half, I have been rushed to the emergency room three times, been officially deemed disabled and been hospitalized for what one of the most renowned rheumatologists in the country declared “an extremely weird variation” of “an extremely rare autoimmune disease” for which “there are no case studies” — so “maybe it could be named after YOU!” (And no this isn’t exactly what you want to hear when you’re in the hospital hooked up to an IV with a morphine drip and getting “the most blood tests ever ordered in the ER”.)

Don’t worry, this isn’t going to be a depressing story. As long as you stick with me so I can get to the good stuff.

Acting Just Fine

This is a story about branding. Up until a year and a half year ago, I branded myself as talented, pretty, confident and kind. I wrote, directed and produced award-winning short films, one of which netted two interviews with Emmy award-winning entertainment reporter George Pennacchio. I went on auditions, I landed lead roles in Hollywood independent films and plays. I formed WOOF Productions, with the goal of donating film proceeds to animal rescue groups and charities. All of this, mind you, when my mom and sister and I were technically still in hiding from my sociopathic father.

It wasn’t until October 2014, with the premiere of the Lifetime movie Run For Your Life, inspired by my mom’s memoir, Quicksand, that we decided to come out of hiding in order to show other women that there is HOPE on the other side of domestic violence.

So I had been acting for 15 years before the Lifetime movie premiered because, unlike my character in Run For Your Life, who had to give up her dream of being an actor when she went into hiding with her mom and sister in order to escape her abusive father, my mom never set limits on my dreams. My mom always told me that I can do anything I want in this world and always found a way to help me make my dreams possible, despite any and all roadblocks. And being stalked by my abusive father, who hired a hit man to kill my mom when he failed to complete the job himself, was a pretty big – and scary – roadblock. But after surviving that hell, the good thing is that following my dreams then seemed like a cinch. I felt, if I could survive that, I can do anything, just as my mom always told me I could.

So I walked red carpets at film festivals and got strangely used to photographers yelling “Bri, Bri, show us your gorgeous smile!” with every step I took.

If you look at the pictures of me from these glamorous events, you’d have no idea I was sick, no idea I was in excruciating pain and no idea that my veins were bursting as I was standing to get my photo taken, leaking blood and essentially causing internal bleeding as I smiled.

Because I didn’t really want to talk about my auto-immune conditions and I most certainly didn’t want to be defined by them.

Bri Prooker walks red carpet with Woofie, her golden-chow rescue that inspired WOOF Productions

Bri Prooker walking the red carpet with Woofie, her Golden Retriever Chow Chow who inspired WOOF Productions, the film production company Bri founded with the goal of donating film proceeds to animal rescue groups and charities.

A Painful Rebranding

So I ignored the pain (as much as you can ignore pain that high doses of morphine can’t even numb) because I had such strength and such willpower. All throughout my childhood. All throughout high school —until I was finally properly diagnosed in college. And even then I pushed on. I wasn’t going to let auto-immune diseases and constant excruciating pain stop me from writing, directing and starring in plays while at UC Santa Cruz.

When the medication I was given gave me too many side effects to count, I got off of it. I opted for acupuncture because I wasn’t going to let medication define me either.

For one thing, I was given prednisone, which made me gain 30 pounds and took me two years to lose. Acting isn’t exactly the kind of profession that treats weight gain kindly (which I parodied in my my award winning GUT-TO-GO, which is the film that George Pennacchio covered twice on ABC-7 Los Angeles, the most-watched newscast in Southern California).

Fast forward to that first ER trip two summers ago: my head and throat are swollen to monstrous proportion. I’m having a lot of trouble breathing, and the solution is to inject me with high doses of prednisone (which I swore to myself I would never take again).

I took it, my mom and sister fought for me to be treated by the best rheumatologist in the country, and I made the decision to stop branding myself as the actor-writer-director who smiles through the pain.

I gained 40 pounds in the first two weeks of taking the high-dose prednisone (along with the puffy face that Ashley Judd wrote such a kick-ass essay about) and now I finally started to look like the kind of overweight person who might actually be sick (at least according to gross stereotypes).

I was still smiling (because despite everything, I have an unbelievably joy-filled life) but my tachycardia (and the fact that no amount of opiates could make me me loopy) finally proved just how serious my pain level was.

Now every appointment I have, nurses pull me aside after looking at my (extremely extensive) medical file from the past and a half year, asking me if I’m suicidal and might need to talk to a psychiatrist.

Doctors look at me like my life is beyond pathetic.

But I never revealed to them that I’m an award winning writer and actor or that I wrote a full-length screenplay called LOVE ABRIDGED that I plan on finding a way to produce.

They don’t know me as the girl on the red carpet who everyone wanted to take pictures of.

I didn’t tell them any of this. I told them about my pain.

Stifling the Giggling

And that’s how they branded me. They made me overweight with their meds, then branded me an “unfortunate plump woman who has no real quality of life.” (I actually read that in my case file.)

But the truth is, although the drugs and doctors may have made me look more the part of the sick, disabled person that I am, I’m not a different person than I was prior to a year and a half ago. I was just as in pain then, just as disabled then, only I didn’t brand myself as such.

When my condition worsened two summers ago, I decided to brand myself as in pain and disabled. I spoke only of my ailments, not my accomplishments. When my mom was in the ER with me and I started to giggle from our conversations, she would shush me because most people who are in as much pain as I am aren’t gigglers. “Giggling” in not part of the “in excruciating pain” brand.

So I stopped giggling, allowed the meds to keep bloating me up, and stated every scary detail of the worsening of my condition until I had a whole team of doctors on my case who not only believed in the severity of my pain and disease, but were determined to help alleviate it.

Defining Happiness, Branding ME

A friend of ours recently texted Kelsey saying she wished I could go back to being how I was several years or so ago, and when I saw the text, I was more than offended.

Yes I will always be disabled and likely always live in pain, but I am BETTER now than I was several years ago.

And that’s because I’m finally being true to me and not hiding any part of who I am.

Bri Prooker loving life and living each moment to its fullest with her three greatest loves: Pittie-Pie Ivy, Poodle Doodle LuLU and Kitten-Cat Doosis | KOTAW Content Marketing

Bri Prooker loving life and living each moment to its fullest with her three greatest loves: Pittie-Pie Ivy, Poodle Doodle LuLU and Kitten-Cat Doosis.

The beautiful smiling pictures of me from film festivals don’t show how much pain I was in, don’t show how I would be bedridden for at least a week after those pictures were taken.

I’m not going to lie — accepting my pain and disability and being treated for it rather than pretending I’m Superwoman and can do anything in pain that others can do while not in pain — has been extremely difficult.

I am now refusing to be on chemotherapy drugs for the rest of my life — the supposedly last (though scientifically untested) remaining option after a year and a half of brain MRIs and heart ultrasounds and bone scans and head CTS and giving so much blood for so many blood tests that I’m surprised I have any left to give.

I’m exhausted from a year and a half of appointments with specialists on top of home care (aren’t YOU exhausted just reading about all these tests and appointments and pokings and proddings?)

But I’m getting acupuncture once a week, taking my pain meds (along with about 20 other medications) and I just began Reiki, which so far has been surprisingly amazing.

And I’m optimistic that one day I’ll be on a red carpet smiling again — though without hiding or masking any part of me — having completed production of LOVE ABRIDGED, which my mom and sister and I plan to make together.

Because no one but me gets to define who I am. I have the power to decide who I want to be, how I want to be branded and what makes me happy in life. And I choose to celebrate life’s little joys each and every day because they are really the big joys.

For instance, It was scary and depressing when I was physically unable to walk Ivy and LuLU two summers ago. But now I can, and we regularly go on one to two mile walks together, which brings me an insurmountable amount of happiness. It was sad when I was in too much pain to hold up a book to read. But now I can do that too. And I’m well on my way to completing the Gilmore Girls reading challenge my mom and sister and I are doing together. Which is definitely a KOTAW Girl Gang HERE HERE moment to celebrate. As is the fact that I’m an official writer for the KOTAW blog.

How a painful, personal rebranding saved my life - Bri Prooker | KOTAW Content MarketingThe Power of Branding

I had to brand myself as sick in order to get the treatment I needed. I had to slow down in order to have a chance of getting better.

But despite the rebranding on my road to recovery, I haven’t changed, except for the better. To paraphrase Meredith Brooks’ belt-worthy song, Bitch — you know the one: “I’m a little bit of everything, all rolled into one!” — I’m in pain and I’m full of joy and I’m disabled and I’m incredibly funny and I’ve gained weight but I’m losing it.

I’m smart and I’m talented and I don’t care what anybody else thinks and I love writing and I have the best family in the whole world and the only thing that defines me is the love I feel for my life and my mom and my sister and the furry members of our KOTAW Girl Gang.

Fat, thin, vibrant, sick. These are all just labels.

When I stopped branding myself as talented and pretty and worthy of news-coverage, people looked at me differently. When I shared my weaknesses rather than my strengths, people pitied me.

That’s the power of branding, for good or bad.

My branding campaign to make doctors believe how sick and in pain I was (other than forcing them to look at my swollen head and throat — and an entire body covered in broken blood vessels) included dialing down my happy, suppressing my giggles and allowing myself to be intravenously given medication that would make me fat.

That’s not a bad price to pay for getting to walk my dogs again.

In fact, it was the best trade-off I’ve ever been given.


What are your thoughts about personal branding? Do you think revealing the flawed, controversial or negative side of your personal brand is a good or bad idea?

Where do YOU draw the line between vulnerable and TMI?

I’ve never been one to toe the line, so I took a leap of faith here and chose to be very open, honest and revelatory.

Thinking about revealing a particular story as part of your personal brand but not quite sure it’s business-appropriate? Tell me your story either below in the comments section or privately here and I’ll shed some light for you.

Want to know more about me and my personal brand? You can read my KOTAW bio or ask me questions below! Let’s swap stories!

Comments

  1. Kit says:

    Dearest Bri

    As someone who battles psychological and physiological demons on a daily basis, I am in awe of your transparency, tenacity, and talents. Your powerful article ‘zinged’ into my heart and is now embedded there forever.

    Yes, I was aware of your struggles (and your multiple ER visits) – although Mama Kat, being the life-affirming person that she is, tried to ‘hide’ her problems in order to NOT burden anyone. (I, on the other hand, am a whiner and have no problems dumping my woes on Mama Kat ;) hehehehe)

    I was PROUD of HER undying strength, unwavering support, and unconditional love for her daughters. I recall couple of her blog posts that masterfully recounted those nightmarish days – I had to doff my heart at your family’s tireless courage.

    But reading YOUR words – the words of someone who is LIVING through the pain and THRIVING despite the pain – is an experience like no other.

    I am proud of you, Bri, for not letting your health conditions define you. I am proud of you, Bri, for finding a reason to smile during the most morbid days. I am proud of you, Bri, for never letting your dreams slip away…au contraire, your struggles – and your honesty ABOUT those struggles – will only make you stronger, smarter, and sassier (!)….

    I love you, my polka dot-loving ‘sister’ (I think of you and Kelsey as my sisters – hope that’s okay) #HUGSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS

    MUAAH
    Kitto

    PS: I am stepping away from social media for a while and hence will share your article upon my return… :D

    • Katherine Kotaw says:

      Dearest Kit,

      I thought I answered this on Monday, but it seems that my reply to you (and a few others) disappeared into the Internet abyss when I hit the “reply” button.

      Thank you for your empowering message to Bri. It’s one that all should heed. Facing struggles honestly is a strength (as you’ve come to know) and I admire Bri for publicly facing hers.

      And I love your line about Bri’s struggles making her stronger, smarter and sassier!

      Bri will answer you personally in a few days. She made the (happy) mistake of looking at her Facebook page and worked past her endurance level trying to answer all of the comments about her blog. So she had to step away from the laptop for a couple of days.

      You, by the way, grow stronger with every “just for you” piece of writing. Keep writing even on days you don’t feel like it, don’t have time or fret that your writing isn’t worthy. When you let the joy of writing overtake you, the joy shines through in your words.

      xo

      Mama Kat

    • Bri Prooker says:

      Dear Kit,

      Thank you so much for all the love in your comment. It makes me happy to know my blog is permanently embedded in your heart. That’s such a powerful image (from a powerful writer!) and also such an amazing gift to me to know that.

      And I want you to know that whenever I am having a particularly painful or rough day, I will look at these beautiful and inspiring words from you:

      “I am proud of you, Bri, for not letting your health conditions define you. I am proud of you, Bri, for finding a reason to smile during the most morbid days. I am proud of you, Bri, for never letting your dreams slip away…au contraire, your struggles – and your honesty ABOUT those struggles – will only make you stronger, smarter, and sassier (!)”

      Those words are definitely getting tucked away in a safe place so I can easily access them to warm my heart.

      Thank you, Kit, for all your genuine kindness, support and friendship. I’m so thankful to know you.

      Here’s to being being smart, strong and sassy!! :)

      Love,

      Bri

  2. Sending lots of love to you Bri!! I have an auto-immune condition too, no where as severe as your condition, but I hear where you’re coming from about the prednisone for sure! Luckily I haven’t flared up as severely as I used to, and living with it is MUCH easier now.

    As for your Q “Where do YOU draw the line between vulnerable and TMI?”… my condition is colon related soooo…. there’s basically no space for me to vent in public about it since it’s ALL tmi, lol. When I’m really sick, there are moments when I wish I could cross those boundaries. I tried recently and instead of acceptance, I was given a genuine and drawn out “Ewwwwwwwwwwwww!” by one of my close friends, and the discussion ended there. *eye roll*

    I think there’s a point when suffering pain from an illness where you reach a turning point. A turning point that people normally don’t experience, and are left out from amazing self-discovery because of it. Because, in high amounts of pain, you’ve got to reflect on your life and figure out the big picture, your “why”, and decide that it’s more important than the pain. And figuring out that is an -amazing- strength. Sounds like you found strength in your illness, too.

    Lots of love to you & all the Kotaw ladies!
    -Nikki

    • Katherine Kotaw says:

      Hi, Nikki,

      I am sorry for the slow reply. For reasons I don’t understand, a number of my notes vanished into Internet ethers.

      Thank you so much for your kind words and support for my daughter Bri. And for sharing part of your story. As you know all too well, people have difficulty empathizing with issues they don’t understand, and autoimmune disorders of every type meet the “I don’t get it” standard.

      I am so happy that you have moved beyond the turning point and found strength in the experience. You will grow stronger and more confident daily — even if you get a few more ewwwwwwwwwwww responses — because you are light years ahead of your friends in terms of self-discovery.

      Bri will respond herself when she is able. She needs to take a break from the keyboard for a few days.

      But I know she is extraordinarily grateful for your support and will express it in ways far more eloquent than I can.

      Hugs and love to you from all of us,

      Katherine

    • Bri Prooker says:

      Thank you, Nikki, for all your love!!!!! I have felt your outpouring of love and kindness ever since you wrote this comment to me and I have been sending thoughts of love and gratitude your way since I couldn’t physically thank you here as soon as I would have liked.

      That’s part of my “rebranding” — doing what I need to do to take care of myself even when there’s something I really, REALLY want to do right away. (And effusive thank yous are part of my nature, as is responding in a timely manner, so it’s a challenge when my body and mind have opposing viewpoints.)

      My sweet Pit Bull Ivy just crawled up on the couch with me as I was writing this after looking at me sweetly and longingly for 2 minutes from where she was lying in the living room. Like she knew I needed comfort when writing this so I wouldn’t feel the need to rush and get it done even as my arms are starting to hurt (I can feel the blood vessels in my arms inflamed and Ivy is saying “just snuggle with me and stop typing!”) So I’m going to be really honest and take her advice and save this reply in a document until I’m able to finish it without hurting myself.

      (Continuing after a day and a half of rest:)

      I’m so sorry to hear that you as well have an autoimmune condition, though very happy to hear you haven’t had flare ups as bad as they used to be for a good length of time. I hope the time between your flare ups lessen and lessen and the symptoms become less and less severe.

      I recently ran into someone I knew in high school and she told me she had been symptom-free of her Lupus for eight years (as well as medication-free) which was very encouraging to hear.

      What is not encouraging is that there are over 150 autoimmune diseases and so little research on them, making them hard to diagnose and treat. Plus they affect more women than men and women’s health research receives far less money than men’s.

      My condition got so bad because I had it as a child and no one expected a child to have any autoimmune conditions (i.e.: I had many, many, MANY doctors appointments but doctors didn’t believe there was anything wrong with me.) So by the time I was finally diagnosed in college so much damage had already been done (leading doctors to fervently warn me I could die — it’s always one extreme or the other: there’s nothing wrong or “this is the worse we’ve ever seen!”)

      (Taking another break to save my arms… And yes, I could just write this is multiple sittings without saying I did, but I think there’s something empowering about being honest. I remember an episode of Conan where Anna Faris was a guest and Conan mentioned how good her skin looked and she made a point of saying thank you, but full disclosure: I have body makeup on. And I thought that was so good of her because so many women would have said thank you and pretended their skin is just naturally that perfect. Which would just make other women want to live up to impossible standards that aren’t even real to begin with. So this is my version of Anna Faris empowering other women by being real. Ivy is snuggled up next to me again saying to take a break and cuddle with her while reading a book!)

      (Continuing again after another day and a half of rest:)

      I’m sorry that your autoimmune disease affecting your colon makes it harder to talk about with acceptance. Because even if it’s generally a “TMI” type of topic, it’s something that affects you, meaning it’s part of who you are, and if you have to go through “ewww” and painful moments yourself, you should be able to talk to people about it without judgment. But, just like you understand about the awfulness of the prednisone side effects, I understand that there are a lot of people in this world who are sympathetic to a point and then decide they’re “over it,” whereas we don’t have that luxury living with a chronic disease or chronic pain.

      So the best we can do is to surround ourselves with loving, caring people, accept ourselves as we are, and do what we need to do to take care of ourselves — regardless of what anyone thinks. For instance, I need to stay as cool as possible to prevent my blood vessels from swelling and breaking, but used to always wear clothes that made me hot (long pants, dresses and long-sleeved shirts) in order to “hide” my disease. So hiding my pain made me MORE in pain and triggered my disease to flare up exponentially. Now I always wear shorts and short sleeve shirts and don’t hide my permanently blood-stained skin. Because that’s what’s best for me.

      I’m so happy to hear you’ve found the strength in your illness — what an eloquent way to put it.

      I realize this comment back to you is REALLY long (could be a whole other blog!) but what you said meant so much to me and I felt such a strong connection to what you said that I felt inclined to write a lot (no matter how long it took!)

      (Taking another break to cuddle with Ivy — she’s snuggled up next to me again! — but hopefully tomorrow I can finally submit this long reply to you!)

      (It’s now tomorrow!)

      I’m SO HAPPY my sister Kelsey found your Fables & Fauna illustrations and comics because we both love them SO MUCH, as does our mom.

      Seeing your beautiful drawings on social media makes me so happy and inspires me so much.

      You have definitely found true JOY in life and, as you say so eloquently, the STRENGTH in your illness.

      Whenever I’m having a bad day I will see what’s new at Fables & Fauna to make me smile — you are so, so talented!

      I’m so happy we connected!

      Love and hugs,

      Bri (and Ivy, who is once again snuggled up with me as I write this!)

  3. Nikhil says:

    I am feeling wet in my eyes by reading your story. You are such a brave girl. Hats off to you..

    Nikhil
    (myquickidea.com)

    • Katherine Kotaw says:

      What a lovely tribute to my daughter, Bri, Nikhil. Yes, she is, indeed, brave and her spirit soars above all obstacles.

    • Bri Prooker says:

      Thank you, Nikhil, for reading my story and for leaving such a heartfelt comment. Your words touch my heart and brighten my spirit. Thank you so much for taking the time to write to me. I’m very grateful, and hope to see you back on the KOTAW blog soon. :)

  4. Donna says:

    What a brilliant story about defining who you are and seeking happiness! Thank you for sharing your personal story, Bri!! Sharing our stories with others acts as a catalyst for change. Others will read your story but, more importantly, others will hear your story (Here! Here!) and they will draw upon your honesty and your strength. What an amazingly uplifting story of courage – you had the courage to define yourself and that has made all the difference!
    Your message of following your dreams and never giving up, no matter what, resonates within my heart! The only thing that defines you is LOVE and that, above all else, is the most beautiful thing of all!!!
    Thank you, Bri, for having the courage to open up and thank you for YOU!!! You are an inspiration to many and a friend to all who know you. <3
    Sending love and hugs to the entire KOTAWGirlGang, including the furry members!
    XOXO,
    Donna

    • Katherine Kotaw says:

      “The only thing that defines you is LOVE and that, above all else, is the most beautiful thing of all!!!

      This is a beautiful way to describe Bri. I will carry these words with me forever, and I am sure Bri will hold them dear as well.

      The KOTAW Girl Gang is blessed to have you in our lives and sends you hugs and tail wags in return.

      xo

      Katherine

    • Bri Prooker says:

      Dear Donna,

      I’m so incredibly grateful for your friendship. I felt happy posting this because I knew you would understand my message so completely — that my overriding mission is to be be ME and not hide any part of who I am for the benefit of others and detriment to myself. That’s why your “Go Be YOU” message resonates so powerfully with me.

      So many people love the message of “dance like no one’s watching,” but it takes a lot of strength to actually do this.

      The one good part of me REALLY deciding to FULLY and COMPLETELY accept my disease as part of who I am two summers ago when things got particularly bad is that I finally gave myself permission to genuinely do what I need to do to take care of myself.

      Which often feels like my own version of “dance like no one’s watching”. Because while at long doctors’ visits that keep me at the clinic 6 hours or more, I don’t just sit on the chairs in the waiting room pretending that I’m not dying of pain to have my legs dangling from the chairs.

      I can’t sit in a regular chair — my legs always have to be propped. And I can’t sit on anything hard or my blood vessels will break. So I bring memory foam pillows with me, arrange them on the floor (one to sit on, one for my legs to be propped on) and have become known as “The girl with the pillows”) Not as cool sounding as “The girl in the Denny and George scarf,” a la Becky Bloomwood in Sophie Kinsella’s Confessions of a Shopaholic, but so what?!

      I can’t stand in one position for even a few seconds — it’s excruciating because the nerves and veins are damaged and it’s hard/REALLY painful for the blood to travel back up to my heart. So my choices are being on the floor with my pillows or wandering around for circulation (which I have to constantly alternate between) and often when I’m circulating I flail my arms about and wiggle around like Ivy and do all sorts of funny stretches — and I don’t pay attention to what anyone thinks as I do this. I’m taking care of myself the best I can in a tough situation — so I will flail and wiggle (and keep doing my version of dancing like no one’s watching.)

      Thank you for loving me for ME and always sending so much love to the whole KOTAW Girl Gang, including the furry members!

      And thank you for your “Go MEE” cheer that I say in my head whenever I need an extra smile or dose of confidence.

      Love always, Bri (and Ivy, who is my sweet pittie-pie snuggle bug, pressed right up against me on the couch as I type this!)

  5. Whoa……what to say here, I don’t know! Someone once told me if you don’t know what to say just tell them that. And I am left speechless about your courage and strength Bri.
    Thank you for sharing your story (I might not be as eloquent in expressing myself here, English is my second language) full of hope and love, in spite of everything you go thru every day. I too suffer from an autoimmune disease involving my voice and I am a singer, aside from the physical disabilities in addition that one cannot see. I have always a smile on my face, while I realize that whining will not make it go away. So being upbeat and brave is my choice too, while others think there is nothing wrong with me. But I do share openly when I can and I am asked and everyone is stunned at that point.
    Well, how does the statement go, it takes less muscles to smile than to frown, I chose to smile and I chose happiness.
    Bri, I admire you greatly and keep the giggles, they will help you thru it all.
    Much love and blessings,
    Monika

    • Katherine Kotaw says:

      Awwwwwww, Monika! What lovely things you say — and most eloquently expressed. Few people whose first language is English could have expressed themselves so well — and fewer still with so much heart.

      I am among those who didn’t know you had an autoimmune disease. I am sorry for the pain it must cause you — both physically and emotionally — but it gladdens my heart to know that you, too, understand the power of a smile.

      And I pray that you always choose happiness.

      With love,

      Katherine

      • Monika Myeuropeantouch says:

        All 3 of you, the #KotawGirlGang has so, so much heart, it just exudes out of every post. Thank you for your well wishes, mine is absolutely nothing compared t Bri’s. I just get very concerned when my voice starts to hurt and I have problems speaking. As a singer and it is my favorite hobby, it always concerns me, the rest….eh…I will live and I will make it beautiful.
        Hugs and blessings
        Monika

        • Katherine Kotaw says:

          What a lovely attitude, Monika. It’s why you were given the gift of a beautiful singing voice. xox

    • Bri Prooker says:

      Dear Monika,

      I’m so touched by all the love in your words. Particularly what you wrote on Facebook: “I know your heart.”

      To get that as a reply from you after I said I’m slow answering comments because of needing to rest my arms and take breaks from typing was such a gift.

      I felt, no matter how long it takes me to reply or how much I have to rest, you know how much your kindness means to me. And just knowing that gave me so much joy.

      Thank you for imbuing so much empathy and understanding in your note to me. I’m so sorry to hear you have an autoimmune disease too — and even sorrier to hear it affects your voice when you’re a singer. I know the fear of your body causing pain from you doing something you love to do. Or your body not allowing you to do something you love.

      Singing was my first love, even before acting, and Julie Andrews was an idol of mine. I remember being absolutely heartbroken for her when she had surgery that took away her singing voice. And I was still a child at the time this was in the news, but I felt her loss so deeply in my heart. I remember thinking, how truly devastating for her throat not to allow her to sing any more, when it brings her so much joy.

      I’m so glad to hear you’re still able to sing — and send you happy wishes that you’re always able to do what you love.

      Writing makes me really happy, so I’m very grateful to be able to write again (even if I have to write just a little at a time and take days away from my laptop to prevent added pain and flare ups).

      Now I just have to figure out a way to find the resources to act in short increments so I can make my movie at my own pace.

      And keep reminding myself to do what I need to do to take care of myself, which right now means to stop typing and cuddle up with Ivy (who is right next to me on the couch sending healing energy my way).

      Thank you for wishing me giggles. Just the thought of that makes me smile and warms my heart.

      Sending much love to you for your friendship and your caring heart.

      xoxoxox

  6. Brian J Wood says:

    I want to be a friend for Bri. Kotaw is awesome. I really don’t know who I want to be or how to brand myself but I know Kotaw stuff will be a big part of what I wind up as

  7. Kim Vij says:

    It’s amazing how written words can be so empowering to each of us and how we find strength in them. You amaze me Bri. Such strength in all of the KOTAW girls! Through your talents and giggles I believe you will be able to help others find their personal rebranding and perhaps in your next inspired screen play.

    • Katherine Kotaw says:

      How nice of you to stop off here for Bri! And, yes, I believe Bri will help others rebrand themselves — and KNOW she will produce a brilliant screenplay. Bri will thank you personally, Kim. Her arms wore out from answering many more comments than she expected.

      xo

      Katherine

    • Bri Prooker says:

      Thank you so much, Kim, for reading my story and for your words that empower ME! You inspire me to keep taking care of myself AND following my dreams, which is an amazing gift. I’m so grateful the KOTAW Girl Gang has made such a wonderful friend in you ever since you watched my mom and sister’s visual storytelling presentation at the Visual Social Media conference. You are such a kind and caring person and I’m so grateful to know you. Sending big hugs and lots of love to you! Thank you again for your support and kindness!

      Love, Bri

  8. Adrienne says:

    Hey Bri,

    All I can say is that you’re one darn strong young lady.

    I had a consulting call today with someone who is blind yet here she is building a business online and blogging. I wake up every single morning and thank God for just how truly blessed I am and at times I feel so horribly bad for all of those people who don’t have it as good as I do. It’s just so sad and at time unfair but we’re given the life we have and it’s up to us to decide what we’re going to do about it. You my dear have chosen to keep that head up high and keep moving forward.

    I know that your loving family is a huge reason for where you are right now. So very supportive and loving.

    As far as branding, I think at times we have to show that vulnerable side because in my mind that’s who we are and we should never be ashamed of who we are. I only want to do business with those people who can relate to me and we have a good relationship anyway so if they can’t respect me for who I am then I don’t want to do business with them. It’s really that simple. Do I share everything about me though? No but I have shared some pretty personal things online and I think that’s just made me that much more human to others and in the long run has definitely helped more then hurt.

    I would love to snap my fingers and this horrible disease as well as what you’ve been through would be behind you. Sounds though like you’re on the right path so I will continue to wish you well, add you to my prayers and know that everything will work out for you in the long run. I have a feeling you’ll beat this thing too. Surprise and shock all those doctors. Love to see their faces when that happens. ;-)

    I wish you the best young lady.

    ~Adrienne

    • Katherine Kotaw says:

      Ha ha, Adrienne. I have NO doubt that Bri will shock her doctors! Her WILL is stronger than any of the medicines they prescribe and her mindset is light years ahead of their boxed-in thinking.

      Bri will respond personally in the next few days. She has been overjoyed — and a bit overwhelmed — by the response to her essay and needs to give her typing fingers a break.

      You are absolutely right that showing a vulnerable side is a strength, not a flaw, in business. Some of my clients resist displaying even the tiniest of quirks, and their brands suffer because of it.

      We do not do business with machines. Admitting a few foibles humanizes us — and makes us more attractive to clients and customers. And for those who find our flaws unlikable? Well, as you said, who wants to do business with those people anyway?

      I remember when I was a struggling freelancer, afraid to turn down any work, I met a client for lunch. He told me he hated dogs!!! I fulfilled the contract but denied his request to renew it. I could not work with anyone who hated one of God’s greatest gifts. And I was rewarded with a better contract with someone who introduced his dogs to me on our first meeting!

      xo

      Katherine

    • Bri Prooker says:

      Hi Adrienne,

      Reading your words is like receiving the biggest hug — a hug filled with love for me for who I am — pain, disease, flaws and all.

      I love how you said “at times we have to show that vulnerable side because in my mind that’s who we are and we should never be ashamed of who we are… if they can’t respect me for who I am then I don’t want to do business with them. It’s really that simple.”

      You’re right: It really is that simple!

      One of the best things about deciding to really be who I am and to say I’m done smiling through the pain is that it has allowed me to say “no” to all the other things in life that don’t make me happy.

      A friend of mine is disrespectful to me?

      I’m not just going to ignore it — I’m going to tell him.

      Because that’s what’s good for me — and my health.

      Someone asks me to do something that I know is going to adversely affect my health, even if it’s a request as simple as going out to dinner?

      I’m not going to say yes to please the other person and pretend I’m not in pain to sit in restaurant chairs where my legs have to dangle (which is excruciating for me).

      I’m going to say no and suggest we have dinner at my home where I can prop my legs on the couch and use my memory foam pillows and do what I need to do to take care of myself.

      And if the person refuses? Well then that’s their loss.

      Because like you said so eloquently, if anyone can’t respect me for who I am then I don’t want them in my life.

      It’s really quite freeing saying what I need, what I don’t want and what I can and can’t do.

      I’ve realize there’s no shame in saying I can’t sit in the chairs in a waiting room and can’t stand still either (I either have to be constantly moving for my blood to circulate or sitting on my memory foam pillows with my legs propped in front of me).

      Who was I trying to impress before? The receptionist? The other people in the waiting room?!

      Why was I hurting myself by sitting in the regular chairs and letting my legs dangle and smiling as my blood vessels broke?

      There is power in no longer compromising myself (or my health) for anyone. And I think this power is what’s going to allow me to “surprise and shock those doctors”!

      I LOVE that you wrote that and that you said you’d love to see their faces when that happens!

      You so get me! :)

      I’ve faced a lot of really horrible doctors who have denied my pain and let my disease progress while I suffered. I’ve met a lot of doctors who’ve tried to use me as a guinea pig to further their careers.

      And you’re right: One day it’s going to be me who gets the last laugh.

      I can’t wait to tell you all about it. :)

      In the meantime, thank you so much for adding me to your prayers. That means the world to me. I’m so very grateful to you for all your kind words and feel so lucky to have connected with you through my mom, as you are an amazing woman.

      Thank you for everything.

      Love,

      Bri

      • Adrienne says:

        Hey Bri,

        I wanted to stop back by and tell you a little story.

        I’ve been working with a lady this year who has been doing law of attraction now for over 40 years. She’s 71 years old and doesn’t look a day over 30. She’s had no work done at all and she even reversed all her wrinkles. She shared a story with us about a client of hers who was badly burned on her legs. The doctor’s had done several skin graphs but couldn’t do any more. They told her that her legs would always be horribly scarred. What she did though was envision herself with beautiful legs and she “felt” that she was beautiful and healthy. She did this religiously every single day, feeling that she was healed and within a months time she was. She woke up one morning and her legs were just like they were before the accident. The doctor’s were stunned but when you KNOW, FEEL, BELIEVE that you’re well the universe has no other choice then to make it so. We all just need to do a little more of that don’t we. You my dear can do just that. (((wink wink wink)))

        Now go prove those doctor’s wrong Bri, you my dear can conquer this.

        ~Adrienne

        • Bri Prooker says:

          Dear Adrienne,

          I love you so much for stopping by again to share these beautiful stories of HOPE with me. You have truly made my day and I’m going to read what you wrote any time I need help envisioning getting better and proving the doctors wrong!! :) I need to take a break from typing so will write you again as soon as I’m able (that gives me something to look forward to!!) but couldn’t not write you a quick note to thank you with all my heart for what you shared with me. I feel so loved that you took the time to brighten my day. What inspiring stories!!! xoxox

  9. Hi, Bri,

    I want to thank you so much for this post. It has changed my attitude! I have a chronic pain condition but look just fine. But I have “branded” myself with that disorder. This has opened my mind to NOT branding myself.

    I also have a great life and fibromyalgia is the only bad part of it. My new brand is a capable, young-at-heart, woman who has to rest in the afternoons and work from her laptop in bed. That is such a better brand than “chronic pain condition” and other crappy titles the doctors have bestowed on me.

    Thanks for your insight! I hope we both have a great week.
    Sue

    • Katherine Kotaw says:

      Wow!

      Bri will write to you herself as soon as she can. (the volume of responses to her blog post overwhelmed her, and she has to rest between them)

      But I wanted to personally thank you and, more important, APPLAUD you for saying no to the “crappy titles” the doctors labeled you with and creating your own.

      Too often, we apologize for our limitations rather than rejoice in our capabilities. I am beyond thrilled that my daughter’s essay helped you rejoice

      Katherine

    • Bri Prooker says:

      Hi Sue,

      I’m all for saying no to crappy titles doctors bestow upon on us!

      I congratulate you for rebranding yourself as a “capable, young-at-heart woman who has to rest in the afternoons and work from her laptop in bed.”

      Woohooo!! That is definitely someone I admire and want to be friends with.

      I also love my mom’s response to you on Google Plus:  “Male execs boast about their ‘power naps’ so why should a woman with chronic pain be embarrassed to take an afternoon siesta?”

      Doctors do us a horrific disservice by branding us with their crappy titles.

      Every time I see the long list of “confirmed medical problems” attached to the record of each and every doctor’s appointment I have, it’s like a repeated blow to the face reminding me of each and every horrible ailment I have to live with each and every day.

      Just like you say you have a great life and fibromyalgia is only a part of it, I too have a great life and chronic pain, disability and my autoimmune conditions are only part of my life too.

      It’s funny because “fibromyalgia” randomly got added to my long list of ailments 6 months or so ago without any of my (many, many) doctors ever discussing it with me.

      But there it suddenly was along with all the other crappy titles, and it has stayed on that long list ever since.

      As though I’m condemned to see myself as nothing but a long crappy list of random crappy titles.

      But I see myself as the luckiest girl in all the land to have a Pit Bull who snuggles up on the couch with me each and every day to take care of me, whether I’m writing, reading, eating or too in pain to do anything but lie there with her and snuggle.

      I count my lucky stars to have a Poodle Doodle who is so sensitive that she knows exactly which blood vessels are inflamed and hurting and sweetly puts her nose to them to make me feel better.

      And I feel thankful every day to have a magical kitten-cat fairy who held vigil over me just weeks after we adopted her when I was in so much pain I couldn’t sleep at night, for months on end. She would lie with me and look over me all night long and send me healing kitten-cat energy, purring and refusing to leave my side.

      I’m beyond grateful to have a mom and sister who are my best friends and who take care of me every single day. Who will never give up on trying to make me as pain-free as possible and will never give up on helping me make my dreams come true.

      Sure, I’m pretty much a vampire in that I usually can’t go out until 11 at night (because the heat is really bad for my condition.) But I go on nighttime walks with my pups and get to have fun adventures with them every day.

      Thank you so much for all your kind words here and on social media — and for letting me know what I wrote inspired you and you think I should write a book! I couldn’t ask for a better compliment and hope we can stay in touch and keep supporting one another.

      With lots of love,

      Bri

  10. Thanks, Katherine! This has helped me so much today (and beyond!)

    Sue

  11. Tamara says:

    Bri your authenticity really shines through. Thank you for sharing your story! I suspect I need to do some rebranding along the same lines, and had a few heart zings myself. As I read the post and saw the photo of flowers, I got a puff of fresh flower scent from the florist store not far away. Beautiful reminder of the joy of being alive, however we find ourselves today.

    • Bri Prooker says:

      Hi Tamara! Thank YOU so much for reading my story and for your very kind words. I’m moved by the image of you smelling fresh flowers from a local florist drifting your way just as you saw the beautiful flower graphic my sister Kelsey created for me. What a wonderful reminder, as you say, of the joy of being alive, no matter what might not be going right in your day. I’m grateful to live with three fur babies who remind me each and every day to smell the flowers, live in the moment, and focus on what brings me happiness. The past week or so has been particularly tough for me in terms of not being physically able to do as much as I would like, as much as I was able to do several weeks ago. I’ve found myself opening my laptop with the goal of replying to just ONE e-mail or ONE beautiful comment (or just typing the first few sentences and then saving it) and immediately feeling pain that doesn’t allow me to complete the task. But just as I put a period on the last sentence, my Pit Bull Ivy appeared and crawled up on the couch with me. She is now cuddled next to me, her velvety fur and loving presence pressed against me. Which is just the point I was about to make! If it hurts to type and I need to rest, I have a sweet pittie-pie to snuggle with me and make me happy. And that is truly something to celebrate. Even someone who is not disabled and in chronic pain will often think of what they didn’t accomplish rather than what they did. And Ivy crawling up with me (sweetly knowing I need to take a break from typing and crawling up to remind me) is the perfect example of relishing all the GOOD in life. Ivy and I both send lots of love to you, and hope to see you back on the KOTAW blog soon. xox

  12. K. Lamb says:

    Bri,

    Your words radiated off the page and I felt each one. Most profoundly, “Because no one but me gets to define who I am.” Never forget to believe in those words because they are the truest ones you will ever speak. I am in awe of your strength, courage, and wisdom. You will always be one of those rare individuals that truly sees the beauty in life because of your hardships, your struggles, and your enduring nature. You are beautiful in every form, in every way, because of your heart and spirit.

    Always a friend to you and the #Kotaw family,

    Kristen XOXO

    • Bri Prooker says:

      Dear Kristen,

      Getting a notification that you had read and commented on this blog of mine was such a happy gift!

      And reading your beautiful, heartfelt words is an even bigger gift. I’m going to copy and paste them in a document as soon as I finish answering you so I can save your words forever and read them whenever I need an extra dose of joy and magic.

      Thank you for saying that you felt every single one of my words — that’s an amazing compliment that touches my heart deeply.

      And thank you for pulling out that quote of mine and saying those words of mine are the truest ones I will ever speak. That means a lot to me because it will remind me to look at my words too whenever I have a bad doctor appointment or can’t physically do something on a particular day I want to do.

      In times of clarity, joy and inspiration, it’s easy to believe in our own words and convictions. But in times of stress and trauma, sometimes our own heart’s innermost beliefs can temporarily fade away. So thank you for reminding me of the truth in my own words and to seek them out.

      I’m more grateful for your friendship and support than words can accurately express. Please know how much you mean to me — and to the whole KOTAW Girl Gang.

      Seriously. Yesterday when I was doing some quick little social media posts I thought that signified that I was up to replying to this beautiful comment of yours that means so much to me. But when I started typing, I realized I was in too much pain. And your private words to me that you’re there whenever I need and I don’t have to rush to reply to you (which is in my nature — the desire to thank people right away and very effusively when they’ve made such a difference in my life, often at the risk of my health, which is why I keep needing to remind myself that the people who really care about me know what’s in my heart and WANT me to take care of myself) truly helped me rest not only without guilt, but WITH the feeling of having a friend care about me.

      You’re such a beautiful, vivid, inspirational writer (I smile just thinking about listening to the audio of your Dani P. Mystery story that my mom knew would make me happy!) And I love that we have a love of forts in common! I really might take you up on your offer of special fort building tips one day! I love that you have a recording fort — that definitely earns the coveted “KOTAWesome” title! (PS: For anyone reading this, check out Kristen’s recording fort and her inspirational blog about her corner of imagination, here: http://klamb.net/2016/03/20/my-corner-of-imagination/)

      Thank you again for everything!

      Love, Bri

  13. […] saved my life, by the way, when I needed to be rushed to the ER three times two years ago and then hospitalized for my rare and debilitating autoimmune conditions — and which continues to save my life by paying for bi-monthy doctor appointments, regular blood […]

  14. […] out or, when appropriate, tag a celebrity. Tagging Ashley Judd to tell her she’s mentioned in a brave and inspirational personal branding blog by Bri prompted Ashley Judd to share Bri’s blog with her 273K followers. […]

  15. […] knew it would be a dream come true, but wasn’t sure I could safely attend, due to my disability from my rare array of auto-immune diseases that leave me in chronic and debilitating […]

  16. […] of multiple ER visits and hospitalization three years ago — which led to me being officially diagnosed as disabled from debilitating autoimmune conditions I’ve had since I was a child — I had yet to find a way […]

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