Blog #16

the sting of social media

I often think how lucky I am to have grown up without the added stress of social media in my teenage years. I honestly can’t even imagine the negative impact that would have had on an already fragile psyche. I was so insecure about my appearance, fitting in, about my role in friend groups.  I bring this up because all of those insecurities come rearing back today as I see posts from friends that I was once incredibly close with, that don’t include me.  It is just as painful and confusing to me as it must be to our kids when they see themselves excluded from something.  Fortunately, I am a 50-year old, self evolving woman who, although stung by the pain of exclusion, can also rationalize the situation and realize that (as a dear friend tells me) the “season” of those friendships may have past, and that’s OK.

Since I have started A Path To Hope, I have met and made some incredibly important friendships that I realize I needed to fill a space in my heart and allow me to do this work that I am obviously passionate about and was chosen to do.  Many friendships have faded, and I am not sure why, but that is life and I will figure out the reason someday.  I do not think I have changed in a negative way but rather I am finding a voice that I didn’t know I had, and I like it!

Our kids, sadly, do not have that perspective yet or know a world without social media.  It is our job to help them by trying to understand the world they live in.   I will share my experience today to illustrate the example of the impact a simple post can have without that ever being the intention.  I will emphasize that the stronger you are with your own self-worth, the easier it is to move on from the temporary self-doubt you feel seeing posts that affect you, for whatever reason.

And that is a gift worth giving!



Words from our community....

Interacting with a family who has lost a loved one to death by suicide,advice from a grieving family

Approaching a loss survivor of suicide, can be a difficult and awkward thing.  Grief affects everyone differently so there is no “right” way to approach a survivor. I have found, through our family, there are certain actions that we all have similar thoughts.  First, never hesitate to mention their name.  They are always on our mind.  Secondly, be prepared for varied reactions.  One day someone can say something and you are fine, and another day it hits you differently.  Grief comes in waves with no warning.  Please don’t take our reaction personally and don’t try to avoid the subject in the future.  We are emotional and it is freeing when we can let our guard down and feel the feelings. Thirdly, please don’t be offended if we don’t have a valid reason for not attending a seasonal party or function that we may not feel up to.  

As a father, losing my son, I could talk about him all day long.  When his friends stop by for a visit and sit and tell us stories about him, we get to have a glimpse into a side that we didn’t get to see.  I always learn new things that I may not have known about him.  It always fascinates me what other remember about him and how he has impacted their lives and how he was loved.  One thing I wish is that I would have taken the time to get to know his friends better when he was alive. 

It seems as time goes on without him, people have stopped asking how we are doing.  They just assume we are back into the routine and must be fine. This is the hardest most challenging thing that I have had to endure.  Somedays it seems hard to breath and that there is an elephant sitting on my chest.  One of the hardest things for me is knowing that there are so many experiences that he is going to not experience and in turn me too.  When you express the joys and excitement of your children’s accomplishments it hits us differently, we are excited for you and your child, it may just be hard to show that at certain times.  Please don’t let this stop you from sharing, as we want to know.

I ask that you don’t avoid the subject or me.  I see some people look and when they see me, look away.  It is difficult to know what to say.  Saying nothing and just being with me is perfect.  There are no words to ease the pain or acknowledge what a long, tough road we have ahead.  Just be kind and caring. Tell me your memories, or how he impacted you, let’s laugh about those good times.

Just remember there is no one plan that fits all when it comes to loss and grief.  I can tell you from my family’s experience that everyone handles it differently and it’s okay to ask and not be offended if they don’t want to talk today about it.  It’s us not you.  Keep trying.  They say it takes a village to raise a child, we feel like it takes a village to lean on and carry us when we think we can’t move forward.  We have been blessed to have a large extended family and community that showed us an outpouring of love and support.  

For all the love and support, we have been given, I would like to try to pay it forward.  I am not a trained therapist, but I am someone who can understand the depths of pain and can offer an ear or a hug.  I am at the point, where I have to turn this into something positive and rewarding by listening and offering support as best I can to help me heal.  Bottom-line, you will never be wrong with reaching out and talking or just offering a hug.  Kindness is something that there can never be enough of.  You never know what someone is going through, but you can try to make their day better with a smile.  Life is short.  

#15, October 27th, 2019

My big ideas


I have been meaning to write this blog post for a while but the days just seem to get away from me. APTH has become such an important source of information to so many that means a lot of time and attention ion my part.

Never have I had such a dedication and drive for a particular project like I do for the mission and success of APTH. Like I have said many times before, our family was given the gift of our son’s brave request for help (in his own way) and our ability to eventually provide that for him. This gift drives my energy to push forward the mission of APTH.  

Having been nurse for 26 years, I know the healthcare system well and I know how to navigate it. Now, I also know how broken the system of mental healthcare is ,and I feel a responsibility to at least try to make some changes. My ideas:

Problem: Very few therapists accept health insurance

Idea: Draft legislation demanding the the insurance industry and the providers of mental health therapy come together to agree upon a mutually acceptable reimbursement schedule with clearcut guidelines for diagnosis ( using standard scales for anxiety, depression, bipolar disorders, etc as acceptable diagnostic tools).  

-Encourage providers to participate with insurance providers with government incentives

Problem:  There are not enough psychiatrists to meet the demand for service in many areas

Idea: Tap into the Nurse Practitioner market, offering student loan forgiveness to new practitioners in exchange for a 2-3 year commitment in outpatient psychiatry. Many states allow NP’s to practice independently and have prescriptive privileges. These providers would undergo additional training in the field of psychiatric diagnosis and treatment modalities and be certified. They could take on the mild to moderate cases , freeing up appointment slots for psychiatrists to handle the more severe cases. I would like to see a mental health NP in every primary care and pediatric practice to do the initial screening and care plan.

Problem: Pressure on our students has gotten out of control and the expectation to attend college is a given.

Idea: Bring apprenticeship and gap year options to students as a viable option following high school. Teach them the skills they need to function such as money management, social skills, laundry, time management, etc. Allow students to explore career options in a non threatening and non stress fun experience. (My friend, Tara Elinsky has a great idea for this concept that she is working on and I will be sure to let you know what her plans are….Go Tara!!)

Problem: Not every child with mild anxiety or depression needs intensive or even traditional therapy, and therapy is expensive!

Idea:  Expand programs like Locust Lane Riding Center’s model, ( to teach kids how to form connected relationships which may help to stave off the mental health issues that come from the isolation our children experience due to the prevalence of social media ( don’t get me started on that )

Thats all I have for now, but the ideas keep coming and I will keep sharing until they’re heard and implemented. Please feel free to share this website or this post to get my ideas out there. I appreciate your time.




Blog #14 (I DONT LIKE #13) 9/11/19

What 9/11 means to us

911 for me….

The meaning and significance of September 11th changed dramatically for our family in 2018. That is the day we received a text that will forever be etched in my memory. “I am tired of life”

Those five words sparked a 2 year long journey of self discovery, survival, determination; and thank goodness, healing for not only our son, but for our entire family. I never realized the inner strength or capability our family had to endure this challenge. Failure was not an option and “good enough” was in no way acceptable. Those first few months were filled with chaos, uncertainty, mistakes, and many many tears. Looking back, I have to laugh and take pride in the boldness and ingenuity we had in the the way we fought for our son. Oh the stories I could tell!

On this 911 anniversary, I know for the first time, in a very long time, that “things are good” and I have hope that our hard word has paved the way for a successful future for our son and our family. Our definition of success has changed . Success for us is; happiness, self confidence, independence, and a love and appreciation for life. Plain and simple.  

So on this national day of remembrance, I will be looking forward, and remembering how thankful I am for the gift I have been given, the gift of my family.



Blog #12. Parenting 2.o

I have not posted a blog in a while but it was time. As the summer winds down and school is about to start, I pray that this year that the decisions we have made with our children are the right ones. Let me explain. Since starting A Path To Hope, our approach to parenting has changed. The small things we used to worry about no longer seem important, in fact, the only thing that seems important is their happiness.

I admit, I was once caught up in the “race” where I worried about classes and SAT’s, and spots on teams, etc. No More. Our youngest is in high school and incredibly smart ,(bragging, yup, deal with it). I purposely steered her away from taking on too many “AP” classes because I personally do not see the benefit of them. She is sufficiently challenged by the rigor of her schedule as it is, and is able to participate in extra curricular activities and clubs for a well rounded high school experience. If a college wonders why she didn’t over load herself as a freshman and sophomore with every AP imaginable, well then, they do not deserve to have my daughter attend their school.  

I did not graduate from a top tier university and I certainly have had a successful nursing career nonetheless. I have realized it is what you put IN to your education that matters, not the sticker on your SUV. My children are amazing, kind, thoughtful individuals and those qualities will serve them far better in their lives as far as their happiness goes than any report card full of AP credit.

While, I hope she is able to attend her “dream school”, I hope that dream is of a school where she will meet her lifelong best friends, find and explore a new area of the country, learn to live independently , and become the best version of herself. THAT my friends, is a sticker I want on the back of my SUV.

Holly O’Connell


Blog #11

Exton Fit Body Boot Camp

I am so honored that Exton Fit Body Boot Camp chose A Path To Hope to be the month's charity of choice.  Check out the link for more information.  I joined myself because I need to take ownership of my health and well being.  To be able to help our community, I need to help myself and I am committed to doing just that.  Look out people, my inner warrior is about to be unleashed!


Blog #10


Summer is usually my favorite time of year. When the kids were little, we used to have lazy days filled with trips to the Exton library where we would load up on books and spend afternoons on blankets under our front trees reading. I miss those days more than you know and now cherish even a few minutes of uninterrupted time with each of them. Those days flew by.

I cherish small things more than I did before and try my best ( although very very hard) to be patient with the eye rolls, messy rooms, and un-emptied dishwasher. I know many would love to have those problems, and I am respectful of that.

I am taking some time this summer to reflect on the past nine months, re-evaluate my priorities for the organization, and re-focus my efforts to maximize the impact on our community. I started this organization with one simple goal…to make someone’s process of finding help easier than ours was. It has grown into so much more. The friendships I have made, and the people I have connected with bring an incredible fullness to my life. While some friendships have faded since I started this, for whatever reason, I know there is a purpose to what I am doing, a reason I was given this opportunity.  

I am fueled to continue by your feedback, and any suggestions are always welcome so please email me at



blog # 9 3/11/19


It is funny how things can change, and your life takes on a new direction. For me, it has been this organization. I honestly feel like I am a vehicle through which these ideas and information are funneled through to get out there to people like you, who actually read this!

I get asked quite a bit, “how did you do that” referring to the website, and my honest answer is “I have no idea”. I am amazed myself and often laugh because to those who really know me, my tech skills are pathetic at best! I think that is one of the greatest things that has come out of creating A Path To Hope….my confidence in myself. I had no idea I was capable of doing something like this and, frankly, it has come easily to me (again, I am only the vehicle). I had spent many many years insecure, self conscious, trying to discover who I was and often trying to be something I was not. I still have those insecurities ( like why the —did I color my hair again ????? Because I felt the pressure of people telling me I should…..that won’t happen again! ) I finally feel empowered, I feel I have a purpose and I feel so blessed that my children are heading in the direction of finding their own identity.

The feedback that I have gotten is worth everything to me. Obviously, being a nurse, I have a desire to care for the wellbeing of others, but being able to assist during a (pardon my language) a really shi—y situation, is a feeling like no other. I literally had NO ONE to turn to during our most difficult time and would have given anything for guidance and information I could trust. I pray that the information I provide is reaching the people it needs to and that their own path to hope can start

I have big plans for the spring and will just continue to “wing it” and see how they turn out! Seems to be working for me so far!

Thank you for your support, simply having you read this makes me happy and your comments on face book are treasured ( even the bad ones!)



Blog Post #8 2/2/19

thank you

I can not believe how much this idea has gown into something that is reaching so many people.  I am so excited about be able to bring this information to so many in a way that works in this day and age.   

The STEPS Resource Fair, an idea that literally came to me at 3 am one morning, is now coming to life and I am THRILLED that a tangible connection  to these area services will be made by people of our community.  

I contacted many area agencies and individual providers and in all cases but ONE the answer was an immediate yes...  Yes to hosting a table , yes to educating our community about the services they offer, yes to supporting my cause to spread the word.  

I can not begin to tell you the level of personal satisfaction it gives me to match people with these services and hear that it has helped.  I do not get much feedback from my site as it is a very private matter but when I do, it warms my heart.  Thank you so very much for your kind words, your "likes" and your comments.  Please stop by on March 2nd at LMS at say hello.  I'll be the very tired looking one !



Blog Post #7 12/31/18

New Year's Resolution

What a year this has been!  It is funny how life has a plan, and it may take many many years for that plan to evolve, and it may be something you never expected, but when it finally unfolds - it just feels right.

Being a mother was the greatest gift I ever recieved, it came naturally to me, I embraced the role and all it's responsibility.  Being a nurse helped with the expected bumps and bruises but even that could not prepare me for some of the obstacles that came to my children.

My oldest daughter was born with a cleft lip and palate.  We discovered it at 20 weeks gestation so we were able to plan.  I went into detective mode researching every craniofacial surgeon I could find, asking for their stats, getting recommendations from their patients, etc.  Luckily, we live where we do and I found an amazing surgeon at C.H.O.P who cared for Grace through her first 3 surgeries.  He was gentle and kind and Grace adored him telling him when she was just 2 yrs old "thank you for fixing my lip".  He retired before Grace was finished her repairs and we switched to a surgeon at DuPont who was equally amazing.   Grace had a 9 hour surgery the summer before last wth a complete upper jaw reconstruction.  She never once complained and in true to her fashion, had a sense of humor through it all. 

Why am I droning on about my children? Well first of all, I can, it's my blog (!) , but because after everything that has come our way my perspective as a parent, a friend, a daughter, a wife, and a mother has changed.  I finally feel myself "growing up" and realizing that the things I used to worry about no longer matter to me.   I am much less self conscious  (as evidenced by my au natural hair color) and I say what is  on my mind now instead of letting it fester....sometimes that gets me in trouble, but I don't mind! 

More importantly,  the confidence I have in what I am doing, combined with  the skills I have developed over the years to find quality care have now helped me create a platform to help others. What a gift!

So for 2019, my resolution is to stay true to myself, take care of myself physically, emotionally and spiritually, and to continue to share what I know to ease the process for someone else.  Not a bad way to start a new year!

Thank you for all of your support and well wishes, this is going to be a great year for my family and for "A Path To Hope".



Blog Post #6

"How does your family feel about what you are doing?"


Many people have asked me how my immediate family feels about what I am doing. Some say it with a bit of disgust, like how in the world could I put our family struggle in the spotlight, others say it with an air of pity, and some just say it with pure inquisitiveness. 

To be absolutely honest, I did ask my family and they, without hesitation, said “that’s a great idea”, helped pick out the name and then quickly lost interest and went back to their pressing Instagram accounts. 

I initially had a few people at my house to share our story and explain what the facebook page was all about, (I did not have a website yet).  I realized after that day the immediate need for people to be able to access information easily and in a non-intimidating way. It was a no brainer, just simply share what I have learned, bring up topics of conversation and share some stories along the way. 

What would it say about what we have gone through if I was not willing to use it as a way to help others? How could I allow myself NOT to share what I have learned so that another parent didn’t have to spend needless amounts of time trying to figure out how to get help for their child? 

I hope my family feels proud of the fact that we are helping many people just by opening up the dialogue on diseases of the mind, and by making finding care that much easier. I hope they see my dedication to a cause that I never wanted to be passionate about. I hope they see the joy it brings me when I get positive feedback or a simple “thank you”. Nothing else like it. I hope they see my pride in how far we have come and how well things are progressing.

There have been other things I have done over the years that brought me personal satisfaction and pride. Helping out at fundraising events, getting new playground equipment for our neighborhood park and getting the old rusted equipment out, chasing after the mailman on foot while 8 months pregnant in a snowstorm because he muttered that I didn’t shovel my walkway and crumpled up my mail and threw it in the door.  (EIGHT and ½ MONTHs Pregnant with a 20-month-old and a traveling husband), that was personally exhilarating, But nothing compares to watching a simple command from a friend ( "Holly, Just DO something, you have been talking about this for months”) take flight into an organization with real purpose.

So, the take away from all this is family is Ok with me doing this, I am OK with me doing this, and if anyone is NOT ok with me doing this, well then,  I feel extremely sorry for them!

Blog Post #5

December 4, 2018

I  have definitely gotten cynical in my middle age years... I have zero tolerance anymore for any type of BS and will obviously fight tooth and nail for what I believe in.   But even the minute day to day irritants are beginning to annoy me.... take the impending explosion of Christmas cards that will make their way into my mailbox and into my psyche.

 I get it, I was the same, dress the kids up in the best, perfect lighting, perfect smiles ( only took an hour, bribery, 85 pictures to get "the one", you get the all I want is to find the one pic that in some small way captures a fleeting moment of combined happiness.  No more perfect shot, I don't have the strength to fight for that anymore. No matching outfits on the beach,  I am lucky they remembered to pack ANY clothes.  No yuletide greetings at the Christmas tree farm, well be lucky if there is a tree left when everyone gets home from college and has time to go get the tree.  No,  our card will be just a picture that makes ME happy.  

I will try my best not to be jaded by the perfect family pictures I have yet to take by professional photographers, or the pic from the fabulous vacation that we did not take because we were focused on much more important health issues, or the new house pic with the perfectly decorated mantle, unlike the one I threw together from HomeGoods. 

 I admit, those bother me and I am not sure why, but only for a little while.  When I sit and look at my beautiful, yet not well-coiffed crew, I am so incredibly grateful that we are who we are, that we are not caught up in the BS, that we live as we live and that we love as we love. Intensely, completely, and unconditionally.  


Blog post #4

Novemeber 22, 2018


I have to write this story because it is a cautionary tale. One that explores the reality of mental health services at most colleges and universities. As with many small to large size institutions, the college my son attends is so backlogged with students seeking mental health services, that when he went for his intake appt, he was put on a waiting list for therapy.  A waiting list….. for a student with severe anxiety. A waiting list…. after it took him everything he had to walk into that health center and ask for help.  A wait list …..because he was told, “we don’t have any slots left”. Well then, I suggest adding more slots!

Waiting for therapy not being an option, I began my search to find a therapist near the school. A therapist he will agree to see, that hopefully takes insurance, and that has availability around his school schedule, a piece of cake.  I do my usual search and I see one that may be promising, close to school, 5-star rating (no comments, just rating). I feel urgency to find help so I call without doing my due diligence. “Hello, …sure I can help, you have called the right place, I am running out, can you call this number at 2:30 today?” “Umm, Ok I said” Bought me some time, a blessing as it turned out. I start doing my REAL search, digging to get the real picture on this” therapist”, boy am I glad I did…. 

In one description it said under education, “…attended a college” a college, of mechanical bull-riding? Of hard knocks? Who knows, didn’t say. No information on his education except “graduated in 1981”, from where? Middle School?   So I google earth the practice address…… it is a house with overgrown weeds, a broken down car in the driveway and bars on the windows. Umm, no thank you....NEXT!!!

I continue my research and after calling a few (One sounded like she just woke up, one sighed heavily and said “I’m busy, probably can’t fit him in” and then the one who dove right into her fee schedule before I even told her why I needed to have my son seen. But then... I made a call that will hopefully be the turning point we have been looking for. The next therapist I called, answered the phone, ( which she said she never usually does, she had forgotten her keys, went back into the office and answered a number she did not recognize) She spoke to me for a good 20 minutes as I explained my son’s story and she gave me a time to see her and said, “let’s see if he likes working with me and go from there.” Well he did, and she has done more for him in the few weeks we have seen her then in the past 15 months combined. Cautious optimism. But like I have said before,  I bought and returned 12, yes 12, prom dresses before we found the right fit for my daughter, I am certainly going to shop around until I find the right fit for a therapist for my son!


Blog post #3

Blog#3 October 30, 2018

Know what is funny about being a mom of a 19,18, and  14 yr old? The things I used to do to make things all better just don't cut it anymore.  All it took was a matchbox car for Jack, A Polly Pocket for Grace, and some Legos for Elizabeth and all was right with the world.   A kiss on the cheek for a scraped knee, a hug, and snuggle for a "sad heart".  Oh, how I miss those days.

I have had to learn a new parenting style that,  I quite frankly, do not like.  I don't want to ask my kids if they are anxious if they know the dangers of drinking and driving if they understand what date rape drugs are.  No,  I don't like it one bit.  I don't want to lay awake wondering if they are safe walking across campus or if their anxiety is back, or wonder what they meant by that last, not a fan. 

But then one day, out of the blue, your 20 yr old texts you "Thank you Mom for everything, just wanted to say that" and your worries fade away and you realize that you raised an amazing young adult who appreciated all that worry, the hugs, the kisses, the "prizes" and a new relationship of mutual respect and admiration is forming,,,, and that my friends, does not suck one bit!!!


Blog post #2

October 4, 2018

Prepare yourself, I have things to say...

I am so surprised by the stigma that still exists in light of all the attention that has recently come to the issue of mental health.  I have said before that I refuse to use the term "Mental Illness", (I cringe as I type that)  because it is an inaccurate representation.  We do not generalize cardiac issues as "cardiac illness" or "pulmonary illness". Someone who suffered a stroke is not "neurologically ill" why is that term used to generalize chemical imbalances in the brain or altered realities or any of the numerous variations of this particular medical disorder?  Why are they lumped into one term that has come to be feared and misunderstood?  

Just imagine if the stigma was gone and we had open conversations about anxiety, depression, racing thoughts, lack of sleep, fear, loneliness, isolation.  Maybe, just maybe more treatment would be available, that whole supply and demand thing. Maybe just maybe, insurance companies would see the health benefits of regularly scheduled mental health visits just like routine mammograms, yearly physicals, dental checkups, etc. 

While I am not foolish enough to think anything will change anytime soon, I am optimistic enough to see that change is possible, that starting the conversation may make a difference.  And I do not know about you, but for me, reaching someone, anyone and helping them see another day would be more than enough reward for me.

So I will continue to post info, have meetings, tell our story, and do whatever I can to make whatever difference I can make.  

Thank you for your time and support.....this truly is a gift to me to be able to do this and I pray that it is making a difference.


PS : 

My hope is to get this "tell someone" slogan circulating among children and young adults as a conversation starter.  So spread the word!!!


Blog post #1

September 29, 2018

  I  truly have no idea what a "blog" is but I do have stories to tell, so sit back, grab that DD coffee and enjoy my version of a blog post......

Let me tell you about what I call "God winks" and one such wink shortly after my son came home, we entered him into an eating disorder "partial hospitalization" program ( which simply means an extended day 8am-2 pm program Mon through Fri).   We realized about 3 weeks in that this was not the right fit and got a second opinion to confirm that ( that is another great blog post I will get to at some point).  When he exited the program a few weeks later, we needed to come up with something for him to fill his days and give him a purpose. I  had the brilliant ( yup) idea and surprisingly, my husband agreed...remodel the kids' bathroom and have my son help with the construction! ( Thank you ladies, I am still amazed that I pulled that one off).  So I set off to find a contractor.  I got the name of one and called him for an estimate.  Here's the God wink part, prepare your self!    In enters Mark, incredibly friendly, polite, and very (very) talkative.  I show him the project and add,  "my son recently came home from college for a health issue and whoever I hire will need to allow him to help with demo and anything else he can do".  Without hesitation, Mark says, "Help?  I'll hire him full time, my guy literally just quit this morning!" Then he adds, "I am a believer and we only listen to Christian music, I don't tolerate swearing, I don't drink or smoke, does that bother you?"  I then hugged him and said, " you are hired, there is a reason you were sent to me today!" My son worked for Mark full time for the next several months and they spent their days talking about the bible, redemption and overcoming obstacles.  I will never be able to thank Mark enough for his patience and guidance towards my son.  Valuable life lessons were learned and now my son can help my husband with household projects.