Case

Nancy Bryan Irwin & Dr. Nancy B. Irwin
Psychotherapist/Therapeutic Hypnotist/Speaker/Author of YOU-TURN: CHANGING DIRECTION IN MIDLIFE

One of four daughters of a brigadier general, I was bred for breeding. Straight out of college with a bachelor of music in opera performance, I got engaged to a fine Southern gentleman. Six months before the wedding, I knew I had to break it of…he was a wonderful man and really wanted the traditional Southern lifestyle of marriage, family, country club, etc. I just "knew" that this was not "me." I was somehow, at the tender age of 21, able to project into the future and see that I would not only be miserable (probably fat and alcoholic), but would ruin his dreams, too. I always felt I was following a program that "they" decreed, and something inside me begged to find my own voice and express myself in my own unique way, though I didn't have a clue what that was. I just always knew I had another purpose, and eschewed the upper middle class proper Southern lifestyle of marriage and motherhood. While that is a dream life for some, I knew it was not for me. Like John A. Shedd says: "A ship in harbor is safe. But that is not what ships are for."

 

Originally from Atlanta, where I trained as an opera singer, I moved to New York City in 1985 to pursue a career as a stand-up comedian. I am a good singer, but not good enough for Big Time Opera, and I didn't really want to teach. I discovered there were other qualities that I liked about being on stage, and frankly was so used to getting laughs, that I simply changed my shingle from opera singer to comic. I worked all over the country and abroad, and moved to Los Angeles in 1994 when she heard that Hollywood needed more blondes… She quips: "The road from comedy to mental health is very short, indeed."

 

I enjoyed some success in L.A., playing the road and the local comedy clubs, did some television and even toured Korea twice, where I entertained the U.S. military troops. I became the staff emcee at the famous Improv, working alongside such acts as Jerry Seinfeld, Ray Romano and Damon Wayans. I had a lot of great times, but comics only work about 30 minutes a day, so I had a lot of time on my hands, most of which I spent obsessing over my lack of a sitcom deal…or my hair. So I started volunteering in the community at a local shelter, Children of the Night, where I worked with sexually abused teenagers. It absolutely changed my life. For one thing, it led me to truly begin healing from my own adolescent sexual abuse suffered at the hands of a clergyman. And it led to a career epiphany.

 

Ironically, it is through selfless giving that we learn who we are. At least that is how it occurred for me. Previously, my self-worth had been completely dependent on my last comedy set, last audition, or how good a hair day it was for me. Those kids reminded me what really mattered. What a surprise…there was a whole world outside Nancy Irwin the Narcissist's comedy and coiffure! Suddenly, I didn't feel like I had to prove anything to anyone anymore. That had always been the driving force behind my stand-up career, not the healthiest motivation for a career in entertainment.

 

I can be kind of slow sometimes, so God/Goddess/The Universe gave me a crystal clear sign it was time to move on. I like to say God knocked me in the head with a cocktail glass. I was emceeing at a comedy club one night, and in between acts, the club manager yelled at me about because I was hawking the club cocktail glasses in between the wrong acts. Cardinal Sin! Thinking back over the previous day where a teenager had attempted suicide, this cocktail glass debacle could not have been more trivial to me. In between laughs, I just looked up at God and said: "Got it." My "Aha" moment indeed. I retired from comedy and went back to school to earn a doctorate in psychology, specializing in the prevention and healing of child sexual abuse.

 

As much as those two vocations may seem like polar opposites, the transition from comedian to mental health professional was actually pretty seamless and natural. I use my humor, when appropriate, to heal rather than impress now. And my clientele includes many entertainers and celebrities. And, ironically, I have been on radio and TV now more as a therapist than I ever was as a performer!

 

As a pre-licensed psychologist and clinical therapeutic hypnotist, I am in private practice in Los Angeles, and still volunteer for Children of the Night, as well as the Rape and Incest National Network, and Planned Parenthood. I've been quoted extensively in Cosmopolitan, Redbook, Women's World, and others, and have appeared on numerous radio and TV shows, including The Greg Behrendt Show, My Fair Brady, The Eddie Griffin pilot, The Fashion Network, Blind Date to name a few. Dr. Irwin is a member of the American Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress, a member of the Southern California Society of Clinical Hypnosis, and sits on the Education Committee of the California Coalition on Sexual Offending. The most exciting part of my career is that I am training to work with sexual offenders, for it is my belief that the best way to help victims is to treat the perpetrators.

 

I share my story, and 43 others, in newly released nonfiction, You-Turn: Changing Direction in Midlife. You-Turn highlights a wide variety of "you-turners" - - some simple, some dramatic: a convicted crack dealer who became a real estate investor, a mother of nine who started a foundation for the leprosy-affected, a monk who became a motivational speaker, a recovering pedophile, a man who became a spouse and parent after 40, a woman who finally embraced her sexual identity after years of denial and abuse, and more. The stories are divided into two parts: change by default (injury, break-up, lay-off, etc.) and change by choice (boredom, lack of fulfillment, etc). This collection of "over 40 stories of people over 40" chronicles successful transitions in people's personal and/or professional lives, proving that it is never too late to live a life you love.

 

Like a Chicken Soup for the Soul for Baby Boomers, this book is for the fearful and frozen….anyone who feels stuck in struggle yet really wants to move forward. In addition to the stories, I've included some professional tips on navigating change at any age, but the emphasis of the book is on the stories told in first person. Everyone can identify with one or more of the stories in this book. I did not want to write an academic 'do-this-in-order-to-feel-that' book, because what has helped me reinvent myself so many times was seeing real-life people do amazing things. I figured if they could do it, why couldn't I? It is my hope that we all begin seeing you-turns everywhere, so they become the rule rather than the exception. Twenty- and thirty-something’s can benefit from these stories so they will feel free to explore, question choices, and change directions, to avert what used to be called a "middle age crisis." We now call it a middle age blaze!!!"