How I got through the death of my father at 21 and a hospitalization with Azizi Marshall | POP 745

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A photo of Azizi Marshall is captured. Azizi Marshall is the founder and CEO of The Center for Creative Arts Therapy. Azizi Marshall is featured on Practice of the Practice, a therapist podcast.

What is the most necessary and healing lesson all business owners need to learn? Is there an old habit or pattern that you have that you think is necessary for survival? Are you burning your candle at both ends?

In the tenth episode of the How I Got Through It series, Joe Sanok speaks about getting through the death of a father at 21 and hospitalization with Azizi Marshall.

Podcast Sponsor: Therapy Notes

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Meet Azizi Marshall

A photo of Azizi Marshall is captured. She is the founder and CEO of The Center for Creative Arts Therapy, as well as being a speaker, author, mental health expert. She is featured on the Practice of the Practice, a therapist podcast.Azizi Marshall is the founder and CEO of The Center for Creative Arts Therapy, as well as being a speaker, author, mental health expert, creative entrepreneur mentor, and pioneer in harnessing creativity to heal burned-out hustlers. Azizi helps stressed out and overwhelmed private practice owners and female leaders reclaim their health, their time, and connection with themselves… without sacrificing their passion to hustle hard and achieve greatness.

Visit her website and see also The Center for Creative Arts Therapy. Connect on Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn.

In this Podcast:

  • The impact of losing a father
  • Being hospitalized
  • A lesson for business owners
  • Azizi’s advice to her younger self

The impact of losing a father

It made me look at my life and really reevaluate where I wanted to go. (Azizi Marshall)

The death of Azizi’s father made her realize that she wanted to make profound changes in her life.

It gave her the courage to leave a toxic partner, pursue her studies, and start a business that was based around helping other people to cope with traumatic events.

Being hospitalized

Azizi was working on her business while maintaining the usual pressures of being a partner, and sharing a home, and became ill.

She was:

  • Exercising heavily
  • Eating very little
  • Drinking a lot of coffee
  • Sleeping very little

I feel like I’m healthy, but I wasn’t, and my body was trying to tell me. (Azizi Marshall)

One day, Azizi woke up with tremendous swelling and pain in her face and body and was told to go to the emergency room by the dermatologist.

A few months later, she found out that her body had experienced elevated levels of inflammation due to chronic stress.

She made adjustments to her diet, sleep schedule, and exercise regime to bring her body back to a neutral state.

A lesson for business owners

Azizi learned one of the most difficult lessons for many business owners, which is the importance of giving up control.

She had to delegate some of her work out to her teammates.

Growing up we didn’t have a lot, so I always felt like I had to do everything to make something happen. (Azizi Marshall)

It was difficult for Azizi to let go and allow other people to do things for her, but it was one of the most important and healing lessons that she could have learned.

Azizi’s advice to her younger self

Slow down, you don’t need to hustle constantly. Slow down, because you don’t have to do this to survive.

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Meet Joe Sanok

A photo of Joe Sanok is displayed. Joe, private practice consultant, offers helpful advice for group practice owners to grow their private practice. His therapist podcast, Practice of the Practice, offers this advice.

Joe Sanok helps counselors to create thriving practices that are the envy of other counselors. He has helped counselors to grow their businesses by 50-500% and is proud of all the private practice owners that are growing their income, influence, and impact on the world. Click here to explore consulting with Joe.

Thanks For Listening!

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Podcast Transcription

[JOE SANOK] Just a trigger warning for today’s episode; we talk about the death of a parent, we talk about grief, we talk about health concerns and hospitalization. So just wanted to make sure that before we dive into today’s episode. This is the Practice of the Practice podcast with Joe Sanok, session number 745. I’m Joe Sanok, your host and welcome to the Practice of the Practice podcast. I hope you are doing amazing today. Hope your summer is off to a great start. We are just meeting in Next Level Practice. We do this what’s working thing every single month, and we’re talking about planning for the summer and do you think through it as a time that your practice naturally slows down do you think of it as a time to put in extra effort, time with the kids and just that idea of being a little bit more intentional in how we choose to live our lives and run our businesses. That’s what I’ve really loved about this series of the, how I got through it series that we started in late June to just talk with clinicians about all sorts of things they’ve been through just personally and then how have they got through it? How are they getting through it that we don’t have to tie this up in a bow and say, everything’s perfect now and here’s the Disney ending? No, it can be, I went through a bunch of junk and sometimes that junk still comes up and here’s what I’m doing to just work on that and to feel a little bit more grounded, feel a little bit more stable, a little healthier but it doesn’t always work. So it’s really awesome to be just having these different types of conversations with people. If you’ve missed it, back at episode 736, that’s where it kicked off. LaToya Smith actually interviewed me talking about becoming an unexpected single dad and my uncoupling and really the thing that kicked all this off for me in regards to this series of just wanting to talk to smart people a little bit more about how they got through it and see if I personally could learn a thing or two. So I’m so excited today to have Azizi Marshall. Really excited to have you here today, Azizi. Welcome to the Practice of the Practice podcast. [AZIZI MARSHALL] Thank you for having me, Joe. I am so excited to be here as well. [JOE] Yes, yes. I mean, this series is so great to just hear people’s personal stories. It’s great to cover business stuff, but it’s just really interesting to hear all the things people have been through. So why don’t we just start with, who are you? Tell us a little bit about your business, your personal life, and then we’ll dive into your story. [AZIZI] So I’m Azizi Marshall. I run, I’m the founder creator of the Center for Creative Arts Therapy. I would like to say that my start as a therapist began with my parents because both of them are in the therapy field. So my father was a counselor, my mom was a social worker and so I grew up in that, but then moved to Chicago to become an actor to do that thing. I found the love of theater mirroring my love of helping others and so I went through all of the studies and all of the courses and training to become a board-certified trainer in drama therapy. That’s where I feel my start in this field began was figuring out how to combine those two loves together and being able to do it in such a powerful way. [JOE] Well, and I think, I mean, and I know this isn’t what the whole show’s about, but I think when you’re a therapist and a counselor and then you’re doing acting, you can tap into different things. Like I do Improv and some of the, just character sketches, we are doing a training with some second city folks and I just feel like sometimes we’ve asked good questions and learned how to see human behavior and for me then feels a little bit easier sometimes to jump into new characters. [AZIZI] Absolutely. Especially when you get that training to understand the different roles that we play and how they show up with other people in our life that helps us create this sense of a whole person instead of these little pockets of people that show up. [JOE] Tell us a little bit about your personal life, who are the important people that surround you outside of work? [AZIZI] So as you ask that question, I’m smiling. I think of my family, I have two girls, two very different personalities. My oldest is 12 and she’s the musical theater, ballet dancer and then my youngest is my powerhouse. Her nickname is the tank and she is my hip hop dancer, my little creator and she is the feisty, sarcastic, just quick-witted child and just the combination of those two in her house makes it very interesting. [JOE] Oh, my word. [AZIZI] My husband and I are just like along for the ride, I feel at this point. [JOE] Oh, I am with you. I mean, my daughters, we were saying are just about a year younger than both of yours. I feel like I’m along for the ride, like I have no idea what emotions or drama or thoughts or questions are got to show up and it’s just entertaining at times. [AZIZI] Sometimes I laugh because my oldest daughter, she looks exactly like me. My youngest is a blonde-haired blue-eyed child but my oldest, when she makes these faces at me, I was like, oh, that’s what my mom saw and I just start laughing. I’m like, I know you’re trying to make an impact with that face you just made but honey, I can’t [JOE] Oh man. Well, so before we started recording, we talked about where it would make sense to start with your story. We were talking about maybe starting with your father. [AZIZI] I would say that was the turning point for all things. When I moved to Chicago to study film directing at Columbia and to pursue my acting career and I got pretty far, I got into the union, so I’m sag after member, but when he died, he died while I was still in college, it was right before my birthday, in between Thanksgiving and my birthday, so like that week period there, I struggled in healing from that, moving past that. Even as I think about it’s still overwhelming for me because without his death, my life would’ve been very different. I almost have to thank him in a way because his death got me out of a very toxic relationship that was not healthy physically and emotionally. It steered me towards my now husband who has been nothing but a support and an encourager and a cheerleader for me in my life. I would not be a therapist today, either if it wasn’t for his passing, because the next audition I went on, I realized this is not what I want to do anymore because it wasn’t fulfilling me. The auditions for commercials are, oh, they’re cute. They’re fun and they’re happy, but I wasn’t doing anything with my life or at least it didn’t feel like I was. So I wanted to be able to combine helping in some way with my love for theater and acting and performance and I saw how that could be changed only after my dad had died. [JOE] I mean, and how old were you again, when your dad died? [AZIZI] I was about to turn 21. So my birthday was hard. [JOE] I mean, just in the last episode we were talking to Jen Morley about her mom dying when she was 18. It’s just interesting, the timing of two people. We didn’t plan this to have them in a row, but how does someone that young process the death of a parent at that young of an age? Because to me, I’m just thinking, I hardly knew up from down when I was that age. Sure, I had goals, sounds like you had goals, but to process that level of grief and change and disruption within the family, what did that do to you? [AZIZI] It made me look at my life and really reevaluate where I wanted to go. I have a younger brother. He was 17 at the time and so I think without him, it would’ve been a lot harder. We really leaned into each other as a support. We both graduated then together, so he graduated high school and I graduated college and our celebration was together. I think that was really important in order to move through it, through the grief. Even now when it’s my father’s birthday, we celebrate it together. We call, we eat certain foods, we still tell stories. There’s so many hilarious stories of my dad and what he did to show up for us as kids like dressing as a California raisin and singing I heard it through the grapevine when I was in fifth grade or showing up, he was a black man and he showed up in white face at work and it was one of those things where it was just the things he would do to make people laugh and find joy in life. That’s something that my brother and I have carried on and I want to make sure that when I say white face, it was, he went to a professional makeup artist and made it look like he was a white man, so. He showed up at our house and completely scared my mom. It was the whole thing but he had also gone to work and had worked with his clients that way. It was how he showed up for not only my brother and I, but also for the clients he was helping to show them that there’s always joy, even though we may be struggling. That’s something that I carry with me and the work that I do. [JOE] I mean, when you think about your twenties or even pivotal moments in your life that your father wasn’t at that, most people have their dad at if they have a father that’s involved or connected, how did that feel or how’d you get through, I mean, you said you got married, so I mean, like those sorts of things? I imagine that was some complex emotions. [AZIZI] It’s interesting you say that too, Joe, because for when I got married, we did do something special where I had an image of him on a little locket and I put it on my bouquet so then he could walk me down the aisle. I felt like I was emotionally a strong in that moment, but my mom was the one who was breaking down as she’s walking with me. I was like, remember he’s with me. Then my brother, I really walked down the aisle with my mom and my brother so it was my whole family with me as I walked down. That was special to me. What I have noticed is that when I get these big wins, so for instance, getting in an article on an Oprah Magazine or being featured on CNN or moving to a new location for my practice, all these amazing things happening in my life or my children, they do a performance and my husband’s family is there to watch, but not mine, that I’d say is hard. [THERAPY NOTES] Is managing your practice stressing you out? Try Therapy Notes. It makes notes, billing, scheduling, and tele-health a whole lot easier. Check it out and you will quickly see why it’s the highest rated EHR on Trustpilot with over a thousand verified customer views and an average customer rating of 4.9 out of five stars. You’ll notice the difference from the first day you sign up for a trial. They offer live phone support seven days a week so when you have questions, you can quickly reach out to someone who can help. You are never wasting your time looking for answers. If you’re coming from another EHR, they make the transition really easy. Therapy Notes will import your clients’ demographic data free of charge during your trial so you can get going right away. Use the promo code [JOE] to get the first three months totally free to try it out. No strings attached. Remember telehealth is included with every subscription free. Make 2022, the best year yet with Therapy Notes. Again, use promo code [JOE] to get three months totally free. [JOE SANOK] Now you also had said, as we were talking about recording and where to go is that you had some hospitalizations or a hospitalization. Tell us about that. [AZIZI] The hospitalization, there were so many warning signs, Joe. It was ridiculous. I was having severe weight gain, which was weird because I was waking up at five o’clock every morning, running at least five to 10 miles. I mean the workouts I would do to my body, I was like, I’m not losing weight. I was just like, I was pounding my body. I was, I would say barely eating because I didn’t have time and if I was, I was just stuffing with carbs basically. Coffee was the thing that kept me going. I was probably sleeping maybe three or four hours if I was lucky because I was working on the business and it was just go, go, go, go, go, nonstop, nonstop. I was noticing I was having these weird skin things going on as well, but I was like, eczema. I’ve never had eczema before. I have dandruff. Well, I’ve never had dandruff before. What is this? It was just all these weird things. I had stomach digestive issues, I was like, I don’t know, I feel like I’m healthy, but I wasn’t and my body was trying to tell me. [JOE] How old were you at this time? Did you have kids already? Were you married or how far past your dad’s death was this? [AZIZI] Oh yes, this was, I want to say five years ago, I would say probably seven or eight years leading up to this point of just nonstop work, trying to get the business to be profitable. That was my focus. At that time, I had employees, my children were five years younger than that so they were about, oh gosh, toddler age and elementary school. So they were little and I was barely seeing them because I was working so much. I’d come home, I sometimes wouldn’t even have dinner with the family because I was still working. I’d tuck them in sometimes if I could and then I’d go right back to working. It was a hard time for sure. Just feeling like I had to work, work, work, work, work. The day that this all exploded and I literally say exploded, because that’s basically what happened to my body was, I was spending, I finally had some time to spend time with my daughter. It was a super-hot day so I was just sitting in the garage playing with my little one. We were drinking water and just hanging out and I came in, my husband was like, what is wrong with your face? I was like, what are you talking about? So I look and it looked like it was like a little bit of a sunburn. I was like, I’ve been in the garage. I haven’t been in the sun. I don’t know what this is. So I just put some lotion on just to soothe it and thought nothing of it. The next morning Joe, I woke up and I could barely open my eyes. It looked like my face had doubled in size because of the inflammation that was happening. It was the first day of a week-long intensive course that I was teaching at the center. So I was furiously texting people at work saying, “Hey, can someone take this class?” My husband was like, “Oh it could be fine. Just go in.” Because he’s always been like, go, go, go. So I was like I don’t think this is a go, go, go situation. I called around to try to find some sort of skin doctor to say, I don’t know what this is, but it’s not good. It was just getting worse. I showed up to the doctor and they said, you need to get to the emergency room right now. I said, I can’t drive because I can barely see. So the doctor bless his soul, drove me to the emergency room to get me in and they started pumping me with fluids. I basically, at the end of the day, had a second-degree chemical burn on my face due to the inflammation that was happening in my body. [JOE] Did they know the cause of how that was, how that started or? [AZIZI] No, they had no idea. They thought it was something that I had put on my face. So I was laying in the emergency room trying to text people through eyes that would barely open with ice packs on my face and IV fluids, just pumping all the things, steroids, all this stuff just to get the inflammation down. It wasn’t until, I would say two months after that I finally started to get answers on why. I met with an OD that had a lot more experience of natural causes, how the body adjusts to things. So I went through several panels of blood work to figure out why my inflammation was so bad. I ended up with several diagnoses, too many to list actually about different inflammatory diseases that I had and the overlying because was stress in the body. So when I am stressed, I tend to get inflammation. I was like, well, that doesn’t work with my life so I pushed back with the doctors so many times and they took my humor and my sarcasm with just, I would say with love and care because I fought against them so much. Some adjustments that I did have to make was in the food that I consumed with how much water I have to intake every day, with how much sleep I had to have, with the types of exercise that I do now that I can’t run 10 miles every single day anymore. Walking is actually better for me because of the stress response that happens when you run. So I have to be very mindful of any sort of stress in my life. [JOE] So what mindsets or habits had to shift for you to really start prioritizing your own body and your own health? [AZIZI] Probably one of the hardest things that a business owner can do is giving up control. I had to really lean on my team to take over a lot of the tasks that I was doing. What I love about our team is that we really focus on that, the positive things that your strength-based approach in things that you can offer within the business. So they each took on the things that they were excited about, that they knew they could do well. So social media things got taken off of my plate. Press releases got taken off of my plate. The billing, a lot of the billing got taken off my plate. The clinical directing got taken off, everything that I didn’t have to do besides the financial and the strategic planning that stayed on my plate, but everything else off. [JOE] What was hard about that? [AZIZI] I was, great question, Joe, it was the letting go. I always felt, and again, growing up, we didn’t have a lot, so I always felt like I had to do everything in order to make something happen. My mom liked to call me scrappy. When my father died, they were going to pull my grant and then I wouldn’t have been able to afford college. I remember writing multiple letters to the Dean, to the office, to financial aid and just saying, “Hey, this is what’s going on. I’ll meet with you.” My mom didn’t even know that I did that in order to stay enrolled in college. So I’ve always just done the thing to get stuff done and so it was hard to let go and let other people do things for me because I wasn’t used to that. [JOE] What about personally, like at home, what did you have to shift in regards to mindsets or habits? [AZIZI] That I had to shift everything. I had to shift the way we ate as a family. I had to shift my ability to put work away when I got home, I had to shift my focus to be with my family where many times I would be with them, I’d be sitting with them, but I’d be thinking about work or I’d be on my phone checking emails. So I had to learn how to put things literally away and almost lock it up so then I couldn’t see it or be distracted by it. I had to lean on my husband to take on some additional responsibilities, so grocery, shopping, laundry. Sometimes if it’s a very busy week, we just sent it out to say, somebody else is doing it, or somebody’s bringing groceries to us. He picked up a lot of the meal prep and really the encouraging thing too was getting sleep. That was also a really challenging thing for me because I always felt like I had to be doing something. So my doctors basically — [JOE] How much sleep do you need? [AZIZI] Me? Eight hours, at least, which was huge. [JOE] So all that, whether it’s the food or sleep or those things, I mean, those are big shifts. I mean, people for new year’s resolutions will say, I want to do these things and then they’ll fail by February 1st. I mean the stakes were a touch higher for you. Was it those stakes that really motivated you to make these changes and to keep with those changes or was it like, were there other things that helped you just stay on track with that? [AZIZI] It was the reality check for my doctors when they said, if you don’t make these changes, you will not be around for your children’s graduation. [JOE] Yes, that’s a pretty strong statement. [AZIZI] That was enough for me. They were like, ha-ha, all joking aside, seriously. [JOE] Wow, it is amazing how sometimes, whether it’s sleep, good eating or getting the right exercise, that those simple things can sometimes be the thing that our bodies need more than just about anything else. When you think about your younger self, if you could go back to any age and give some advice to yourself, what age would you pick and what would you say to yourself? [AZIZI] I’d probably pick age seven. Seven was when, I feel where I learned how to hustle, I learned how to take, I would take ketchup packets, Joe, from when my parents would order some sort of fast food and I would take it to my neighbors and see if they wanted to buy the ketchup packets. I would take ice cream and walk around and knock on doors and see who wanted to buy ice cream. I have a whole story about the lemonade stand that my brother and I put together. It was like the best lemonade stand ever. We were right next to a whole frat row of fraternity houses and sorority houses and we set up our lemonade stand there and I tell you, we rolled in the money on that day. From then on, it was like hustle, hustle, hustle, hustle. I never stopped. I would probably go back and tell that seven-year-old to slow down. Just slow down. [JOE] Would she have slowed down? [AZIZI] At that time, no. No, because the hustle was for survival. So now that you ask that question, Joe would probably be, you don’t have to do this to survive. [JOE] You don’t have to do this to survive. I mean, that’s such a powerful statement. I think so often the hustle in our private practices or in getting more media or getting whatever comes from such a fear of survival and scarcity. I mean, just even that message to ourselves now is so powerful. Wow, Azizi, this has been amazing. Thank you so much for sharing your story today and your advice and thoughts and just how you got through it. If people want to connect with you and read more about your work or your practice, where’s the best place for them to connect? [AZIZI] Yes, I’d say if they want to learn about the Center for Creative Arts Therapy, they can go to c the number four, and check out all the amazing things that we’re doing across the globe actually in training people in drama therapy and expressive arts therapy and community work we’re doing. Then if they want to learn more about me, then they can go to and learn all about the fun things I like to do to help support our community. [JOE] So amazing. Thank you so much for being on the Practice of the Practice podcast. [AZIZI] Thank you. Thanks for having me, Joe. [JOE] Wow, this series, you can learn a lot fast when you just ask people questions about their lives and how they got through things. I should have done this years ago. Thank you so much for being a part of this series, everyone. Thanks for listening and opening your hearts to these really tough stories, but also stories that just show the human experience and human grit and how in really difficult things that terrace open, sometimes we can become new and different people than we would’ve become. Even just thinking about my last year and a half of just being torn open and becoming an unexpected single dad and just all that comes with that, in a lot of ways, I feel so much lighter and so much, it just seems more simple even though that seems super weird to be a single dad and say, life feels simple. We also couldn’t do this show without our amazing sponsors Therapy Notes is our sponsor today. Therapy Notes is the top electronic health records out there. They include teletherapy platform, electronic billing, all sorts of coordination. If you have a biller they’ll even help you switch over from whatever EHR you’re using right now, totally free, switch it over. They have amazing customer support as well. So head on over to use promo code [JOE] at checkout. You’ll get some free months as well. Then know that their podcast sponsorships are working because they need to know that it actually works to do podcast sponsorships. So, use promo code [JOE] at checkout. Thanks so much for letting me into your ears and into your brain. Have a great day. I’ll talk to you soon. Special thanks to the band Silence is Sexy for your intro music. This podcast is designed to provide accurate and authoritative information in regard to the subject matter covered. This is given with the understanding that neither the host, the producers, the publisher, or the guests are rendering legal, accounting, clinical, or other professional information. If you want a professional, you should find one.