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May 17, 2023

Episode 80: Pursuing Vitality When Life Knocks You Down with Joanne Greene

In this episode of our podcast, we delve into the life of our speaker, Joanne Greene, who is currently in "act three" of their life. This is her favorite stage, where she gets to do what she wants, such as writing and doing podcasts. Joanne has learned a lot and enjoys sharing her knowledge with others. She also enjoys practicing yoga, hiking, spending time with friends, and being an extrovert. But life hasn't always been easy for our speaker. She shares her experiences of being in a traumatic accident, losing family members, and being diagnosed with cancer. Through it all, Joanne shares her approach to facing challenges, taking things one step and one breath at a time. Join us and come away with a renewed sense of resilience and determination.

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I never bought the adage “little girls should be seen and not heard.” I’ve used my voice on San Francisco radio and television, webinars and podcasts, to explore the issues of our time with playful irreverence, candor, and compassion. Now, with many decades of seasoning, I’m sharing what I’ve learned about navigating family and career, moving through pain and loss.

Currently, I co-host the podcast All the F Words with Gabi Moskowitz and recently launched a new podcast In this Story where I share micro-essays set to music, showcasing tales and observations from my animated life.

On June 20, 2023, She Writes Press will publish By Accident: A Memoir of Letting Go, in which I emerge from life-threatening calamities with a big fat smile and a heap of hope.

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🎶 Podcast Intro: Welcome to the pursuing uncomfortable podcast, where we give you the encouragement you need to lean into the uncomfortable stuff life puts in front of you, so you can love your life. If you are ready to overcome all the yuck that keeps you up at night, you're in the right place. I am your host, Melissa Ebken let's get going. 🎶

🎶 Episode Intro:Joanne Greene was hit by a car crossing the street. Everything changed in that moment. She joins the podcast today to share her remarkable story.  🎶

Melissa Ebken  0:01  
Joanne Greene, welcome to the Pursuing Uncomfortable Podcast.

Joanne Greene  0:06  
Thank you. I like nothing better than pursuing uncomfortable things. 

Melissa Ebken  0:11  
We're gonna get into so many things that you have pursued that were a little more than uncomfortable, shall we say. So you have some experience with that.

Joanne Greene  0:22  
Uncomfortable actually sounds benign in comparison, for like, extreme pain, sheer terror, all these other things. 

Melissa Ebken  0:32  
Yeah, you know, what's a little bit extreme terror now and then among friends, right?

Joanne Greene  0:36  
There you go. There you go. 

Melissa Ebken  0:38  
Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Joanne Greene  0:40  
Well, you're meeting me at a stage of my life that I have to say is my very favorite. And I was listening to a podcast where Jane Fonda was interviewed yesterday, and she talks about her life in act one, act two, act three. Act three being 60 and above. And this of course, presupposes that we will all live to 90 not a bad thought. And I'm, I'm in act three and act three is awesome because I've learned a ton. I get to do exactly what I want to do for the most part, every single day. And what I want to do is write and do podcasts, I do two podcasts. I've written a book. And now I get to go around and tell people all about the things that I've learned that maybe will help them avoid some pain, which could be an amazing thing. And beyond that, what do I do? I do yoga, and I hike and I have friends and I'm an extrovert. So I'm always out there in the world, eating and watching American Idol right now and so many things.

Melissa Ebken  1:55  
It sounds fantastic. I love that you get to do whatever you want. That just sounds like the childhood dream for every person in this world.

Joanne Greene  2:05  
It is and the difference is, I really know what I want now. When you're a child, you don't you have this fantasy about what something's going to be like. I wanted to be an actress as a kid. Ooo, I totally don't want to be an actress now, that does not sound good at all. And but now I've gotten to try out all these different things and so I know really what my lane is and what my wheelhouse is, and fortunately made a couple of really good decisions like married the right guy. Have great kids. Now I have grandchildren. Really the best thing in the entire world. So yeah, life is good. 

Melissa Ebken  2:49  
Awesome. Well, let's dive into the I mean, I love hearing how good your life is. But let's jump to the extreme pain and sheer terror, shall we?

Joanne Greene  2:58  
Absolutely, I, no life comes without some of that. So that's number one. Right? I don't know that I would know how great my life is now if it hadn't sucked so badly some number of years ago. So the story begins when I am crossing a street. Broad daylight in the crosswalk. 

Melissa Ebken  3:24  
Let me guess. You were minding your own business.

Joanne Greene  3:27  
I was I was. I had a cute little dress and these cute little orange shoes. I was feeling good. I had finished a day of work. I was going home to watch the first debate between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. I'll do the math. It was 2012 and a car stopped for me, a sedan This is relevant to the story later on. Sedan stops for me. I'm walking and just as I get in front of her car, I hear an explosion. And I find myself airborne. Oh and and my entire self screams. I don't know if I really screamed. But I heard this in my head. Fwomp? Really? Now this? Like now this? I heard an explosion because usually when you hear a car accident, there's a screech of brakes and then a smash. There was no screech of brakes because there was a truck that came 50 miles an hour behind her at full speed he was, God knows what he was doing, picking his nose or, you know, texting, and he smashed into the car that had stopped for me. She slammed into me. I flew up onto the hood of her car. This is where the sedan comes in. Because if it had been an SUV I would have gone under. Oh. So now I'm on the hood of her car. My head is banging against her windshield, and she's catapulted 50 feet down the street. And I am very aware that this accident is still in progress. And that this might be the last moment of my life. Really clearly knew that and I was conscious the whole time. Then I fell off onto the street fell off the hood of her car, landed on the cement to the middle of the street, and knew that I was alive. And but I was in shock. And thus begins the story of how a person who had always felt the need to control everything, who was in constant motion at all times, who was who believed, I think, inside, if anybody had asked me that I was really only as good as my performance on any given day, at whatever it was that I was doing, suddenly finds herself unable to move, I had four pelvic fractures. In the whole right side, all the soft tissue on the right side of my body was crushed. So that's where my story begins. And I go to the hospital, and I'm in the hospital for days. And the book that I've written by accident, A Memoir of Letting Go, follows me from that moment, through the next few years where the accident is only the first thing that happens to me and a series of other things happen. All true. It's a memoir, and what I learned about how to be still, something I had never known before, how to ask for help. Not in my lexicon. How to accept help from others. How to lower my expectations of others, and accept where people are. So many things. So it was all about, I can do this. From the moment it happened. What I said was, okay, let's do this. And I did it. And I think the reason I was so surprised, Melissa, that that this was happening to me was that I was just coming off of a period of four years in which I had lost my mother, my sister, and my brother. So I had been in the absolute depths of grief prior to this, and I had, I thought that that was the lowest point that I had been to hell and back in effect, and that I had marshaled all of my resources to come back from that and be able to go back to work full time and embrace life again. And then this happened. And it was like, what is the universe telling me?

Melissa Ebken  7:52  
Oh, my goodness, I don't even know where to begin with all that. That's so much. I guess I'll start with a question. You talked about many things that you never thought you would have to address, the loss of control, having to ask for help having to accept help having to accept others, where they were, what was the biggest surprise to you in all of that?

Joanne Greene  8:15  
It was a very big surprise, that I could literally sit still. It's truly something I had never done. I'm sure you know, people like this, like people in constant motion. I often say that I was a human doing rather than a human being. I didn't make that up. I don't know where I got it. But I got it somewhere. I credit someone else for that when I love it, because it's really, it really, very aptly depicts my state. I needed to literally be able to stare at a tree branch for hours because I could not move. And I couldn't concentrate. I will I was also in a lot of pain. But I couldn't concentrate on things. So I just had to know that, for instance, this too shall pass. All the adages that our mothers told us; count your blessings. It's so true. When you are in the absolute depths, when you are in the uncomfortable place, if you stop for a minute, and feel gratitude for what you do have, it helps. It just helps. So that's one of my many learnings. Count your blessings. Say I am grateful for this I at least I have a husband who loves me at least I have a home where there's heat, where I'm not also freezing in addition to being unpaid, at least there is food that someone brings to me because I certainly couldn't get food on my own.

Melissa Ebken  10:14  
What was powerful about being over doing?

Joanne Greene  10:18  
Getting to know myself in a different way. Also, also understanding that I was okay just as I was. That I was broken, no question physically and absolutely emotionally broken. The trauma of being in an accident like that is no joke. And thankfully, we have the resources that I was able to get targeted psychotherapy. Because often what happens, I learned, is that you hold the trauma in some part of your body. And you end up having physical pain, where there's no real physical injury, because of the way you're holding yourself to not confront that trauma. Short story, first appointment with a somatic therapist, and this is a particular kind of therapy that's good for many things, but it's especially good for trauma. The therapist was putting me into kind of a altered state, a little bit of a almost meditative state. And I was trying to imagine myself the moment before I walked off the curb. And she said, now turn your head to the right, this is the direction that the truck was coming from. I could not move my neck, I could not move my head to look to the right. And my eyes popped open. And I said to her, my necks not injured. And she said, this is the proof you are looking for that this kind of therapy works. Because what had happened is, the trauma had lodged in my neck, even though there was nothing wrong with my neck. And over the course of that first session, we were able to work through it so that I had full range of motion in my neck. Had we not done that, I might have had this trauma lodged in my neck and not been able to fully move my neck for the rest of my life. This happens to people. So yeah,

Melissa Ebken  12:31  
Our bodies minds and spirits are uncannily and powerfully connected.

Joanne Greene  12:39  
That is truth. That is absolute truth.

Melissa Ebken  12:44  
What's something beautiful about yourself, that you encountered in this process,

Joanne Greene  12:51  
Optimistic. I am a cup half full, even more than half full, it is about to spill at all times. And also, and maybe this is the most profound thing, I've always known that I was a survivor. I've always known that I had I don't know if it's courage, or a fight in me or bravery. But it was really clear from the second this happened, that I was going to do this, whatever it took. And that was my mantra. I said it not out loud again, but in my head. Just at the moment that I realized I was being hit by a car as a pedestrian. It's like such an extreme thing that you you know, we all like it goes through our minds at some point in our life, like, oh my god, what would happen if I was sure you're crossing the street and something startles you, and you go, Oh, that could have happened. There was that fraction of a second where I said, yeah, this is happening. I am being hit by a car. I am flying through the air. And I went, alright, let's do this. And I was talking only to myself. We're going to do this we and whatever it takes. And when the doctors told me that the recovery could take up to a year and a half, try wrapping your mind around that. No one had ever told me. Right? What? What the heck is that? Like, you know, two weeks you can you can wrap your brain around a two week recovery. I had had surgeries before I had. I had had things you know, I was in my late 50's when this happened. A year and a half, like what? And that's what it took. Yeah, it took a year and a half.

Melissa Ebken  14:46  
Now that's not your only difficult medical thing. 

Joanne Greene  14:49  
Oh, what did you read my book or something? 

Melissa Ebken  14:52  
Well, one should.

Joanne Greene  14:57  
Thank you. Thank you. So yeah, then then um, first of all, there are always setbacks. Just know that whenever you go in for any surgery, even if it sounds like it's a minor thing, it's always like a little complication that nobody tells you about you. And I always, I always say, when these things happen, why didn't you tell me that could happen? And they always say, if I told you everything that could happen, all the possible complications, you would never have had this surgery, and that is very true. So stuff happened. And I finally got better. And then the next thing that happened was my husband and I went on a vacation. It was amazing. We went we're gonna go to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, I live in California. So this is a not was like a two hour flight or something. Not bad. We get there. They tell us it's gonna be raining for the next couple of days. No big deal. And then we find out that in fact, we are in the path of a hurricane. And fast, fast forward, direct hit of a category four hurricane, direct hit which means, no power, no water. I can't even tell you what, how traumatizing this was. So I mean, water coming into our hotel room. Like thinking we may not make it and it goes on and on for hours, you know, I like earthquakes much better. Short. 20 seconds. 30 seconds? Not well enough? No, I mean, I can order it will be

Melissa Ebken  16:37  
Happening. But your only source of information is coming to you in a language you can't understand.

Joanne Greene  16:44  
Well, first of all, there was no source of information because we had no power. So once we lost internet access, that meant we couldn't even let our kids know that we were okay. So there was a two day period where they really did not know. The people at the hotel were wonderful, you know, they came and knocked on the door and brought us food. And but you know, then the food ran out, because this went on for a couple days. So yeah, eventually we were airlifted out of this. This is no joke by the Mexican military, in a military transport vehicle to Tijuana. So okay, so there's that story. I go back to work. Um, this is the very short version, I go back to work. And I find that in a few weeks, I'm short tempered, which is so not me. I'm irritable. And I think, oh, I should go back into therapy. This has reignited my trauma being in the hurricane and, you know, it reignited so I should go back to that somatic therapist and I go back and first appointment, I start crying, I realized, oh, yeah, I've got some stuff, I need to talk through. But the following week, I had a routine colonoscopy scheduled because I was turning 60. And let me tell you listeners, do not postpone those tests, do not postpone your Pap smears do not postpone your mammograms and definitely do not postpone your colonoscopy because I was fine. It was just checking off the box. And I go for the colonoscopy and the nurse tells me afterward that the doctor wants to speak to me. And the doctor comes out and says well, Mrs. Greene when it looks like this, and it was it was I don't want to go into the details. But yeah, we're pretty sure it's cancer.

Yeah. Oh, boy. I feel like I should have foreboading sound effect at that this point.

Yeah, and it was. It was. 

Melissa Ebken  18:05  
Goodness gracious. I want to interrupt real quick. From all the losses you experienced of your mother and your family to this point where you know, .

Joanne Greene  19:03  
I'll tell you exactly 2006, five months apart my mother and sister died. 2010, out of nowhere perfectly healthy as far as I knew, my brother died of a massive hemorrhagic stroke. Accidents in 2012. Cancer in 2014. It built like bam, bam, bam, bam

Melissa Ebken  19:27  
Air lifted out of a hurricane in between. 

Joanne Greene  19:30  
Somewhere in between. Yeah, so it was you know, and you know, PS I'm fine. It was stage one cancer, I had surgery and I got the great news. I'm gonna get these are spoiler alerts, I should stop, you know, giving up giving everything away. But there's more and other things happen too and you know, one of those many old adages that we heard from previous generations was, what doesn't kill you makes you stronger. That's true. Yeah, that's true too. So yeah, now, I feel like, bring it on. No, I really don't. I'm reveling in the fact that I have had other than COVID, which knock on wood I have not gotten somehow. The last few years have just been amazing. And I'm expecting the next few to be amazing as well. So

Melissa Ebken  20:28  
Can you benchpress a semi? No, because you were probably pretty strong.

Joanne Greene  20:33  
You know, I am actually in better physical shape now than I've probably ever been in a combination of hiking, yoga, Zumba, dancing. Yeah, I definitely. I don't know about a semi. But I can certainly lift my phone with either hand.

Melissa Ebken  20:52  
Look at that folks. Jump over to YouTube watch the video. She tells me that with such ease and grace, and that's really impressive. Thank you, doing that for us. Joanne, we have you read Viktor Frankl's book Man's Search for Meaning.

Joanne Greene  21:19  
Oh, very, very long time ago.

Melissa Ebken  21:22  
Yeah, one of the compelling things in that to me as, as I read it, and as a pastor, now, as people come and speak to me, he found that when people would come and talk to him, they would talk about their pain, and it would consume them, until they found out what he experienced surviving the camps in during the Holocaust. And he had the worst of it, the worst of it all except for the dying part in the camps. And then they would say, Oh, my trauma doesn't count, because I didn't experience what you experienced. And he said, you know, whatever we have happened to us, whatever trauma we have, it fills us. Whatever pain we have, be it physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, it fills us. That pain doesn't know any boundaries. And I'm guessing you can speak to that.

Joanne Greene  22:19  
Absolutely, I have great compassion for people who break a finger. Right? I'm not going to measure one injury against another or one loss against another, if you're a person who feels a lot. And you know, I am both blessed and cursed with a lot of feels, as they say. It's extreme in that moment. And you can't measure this, this is not to be measured. But I do think that survival is something that comes deep in our DNA, I believe it comes deeply in mind. I am the grandchild of immigrants who left Europe because they were being persecuted and came to this country knowing nothing, really not knowing the language, not having any higher education, or any real skill. And they built a life and prioritized being in community and having fun, and finding beauty and the arts and hard work and education. And that's how I was raised. And I think that gives you a certain fortitude and a certain ability to meet the challenges that life will bring. And it will. Nobody escapes without having to walk through the muck. It's just different mock.

Melissa Ebken  23:59  
Right? Well and Lynn Anderson reminded us that no one ever promised us a rose garden, ever. We're gonna have those difficult times. And even when they seem small to us. Like you've mentioned earlier, they're going to lodge themselves somewhere in our bodies. So even if it feels, don't discount your pain, don't discount your trauma. Don't belittle it, face it, because you need to clear it out of your body and out of your mind and spirit.

Joanne Greene  24:29  
And somewhere nearby, there is a rose garden. So I would even say, yes, you are promised a rose garden. You just may have to go on a really arduous journey to find it.

Melissa Ebken  24:44  
Oh, love that. That's beautiful. This time has flown by and I want to hear so many more details about all the experiences, but fortunately, they're laid out in your book. So click on the link in the shownotes friend and get that book, go on this journey, you're gonna laugh, you're gonna cry, you're gonna sympathize, you're gonna say, Oh, I'm glad that wasn't me. And you're just gonna love every bit of it. And you can hear Joanne's voice in the background guiding me through it all. Joanne as we close today, what final words or sentiments would you like to share?

Joanne Greene  25:22  
Well, first, I just want to say you can actually get the audio book and actually hear me telling you the story. So that exists, too. And if you don't mind, can I just also mention my two podcasts? 

Melissa Ebken  25:33  
Not at all.

Joanne Greene  25:34  
Not at all. Okay, great. 

Melissa Ebken  25:35  
Absolutely go ahead, There was,

Joanne Greene  25:38  
Okay, what one of them for those of us with short attention spans, I put myself in that category, is only three minutes, and it's called In This Story. And they're just my micro essays. Stories from what I describe as my animated life. The other one is called All The F Words, which is supposed to make you go, hmm. There's nothing, there's nothing dirty about it. They're F words like fundamentalism and, and freckles, and first time and friendship and family and all of that. And I do that podcast with a fellow writer, friend, almost 30 years younger than me. So you get a two generational take on all these different issues. What do I want to leave people with? I want to leave people with the idea that everything is doable. If you take it one step and one breath at a time, I also learned that breathing, take that extra moment. Breathe in, breathe out. It's your best friend and it can really help to regulate your whole system. If you take the time to breathe.

Melissa Ebken  26:56  
Joanne and thank you so much.

🎶 Episode Outro:Thank you so much for tuning into today's episode. If this encouraged you, please consider subscribing to our show and leaving a rating and review so we can encourage even more people just like yourself. We drop a new episode every Wednesday so I hope you continue to drop in and be encouraged to lean into and overcome all the uncomfortable stuff life brings your way. 🎶

Joanne GreeneProfile Photo

Joanne Greene


I never bought the adage “little girls should be seen and not heard.” I’ve used my voice on San Francisco radio and television, webinars and podcasts, to explore the issues of our time with playful irreverence, candor, and compassion. Now, with many decades of seasoning, I’m sharing what I’ve learned about navigating family and career, moving through pain and loss.

Currently, I co-host the podcast All the F Words with Gabi Moskowitz and recently launched a new podcast In this Story where I share micro-essays set to music, showcasing tales and observations from my animated life.

On June 20, 2023, She Writes Press will publish By Accident: A Memoir of Letting Go, in which I emerge from life-threatening calamities with a big fat smile and a heap of hope.