Next up on the blog topic list, “My Story”. Well, that’s a lot, and really could amount to a cross between a sci-fi novel and Hallmark movie so let’s narrow that down a bit. My intention as a yoga therapist is to help people live their best life, be present and authentic. My niche has developed into working predominantly with those who are dealing with stress and anxiety, so here I can connect with you and share my experiences. I’m quite certain that we have all experienced our share of stress and anxiety, and it looks and feels differently for everyone. When we are willing to view our story with an open mind, compassion, and honesty…we grow. We understand some of the “why”, how we got here, and how to heal and move forward with new perspective and purpose. Easier said than done, I realize, but that’s why personal growth and transformation is an ongoing process and challenge that we can choose.
In 2002, I was a single mom, working full time and pretty stressed out. The previous year was a tough one, and I remember feeling lost and rudderless but plugging through day by day. At some point, and I can’t recall exactly when it started, I began to constantly feel as though I was going to die. Not that second, but maybe that day. I wasn’t suicidal, it was, I guess an irrational fear that something was going to happen to me. I frequently had a tight chest, rapid heart rate, and I often felt like I was chocking but I wasn’t. I would get up each day, get my son ready for day care, get my self ready for work and out the door by 7:45 AM. Pulling out of my driveway, I would think, “OK, just make it to day care alive and everything will be fine”. I’d arrive at day care, drop off my son and repeat the same thing only “just make it to work”. While I was home or at work and busy caring for others, these feelings would dissipate and I forgot to be afraid, but alone in the car it would creep back. I felt like I couldn’t swallow, I’d get dizzy, was I having a heart attack? A stroke? Finally, I scheduled a doctor’s appointment and asked my bestie to come with, up until then she had had no idea what was happening…I was very closed off and “vulnerable” was not in my vocabulary.
Full exam and an EKG later, the doctor told me I was fine, nothing wrong, have a nice day. In retrospect, WTF?!?! No mention of anxiety, no mention of a follow up or seeing a therapist, no suggestions for coping skills…How far we have come with mental health awareness! So, what did I do next? I basically shamed myself better, super healthy method, right? Honestly, these symptoms did wane somewhat after I found out I was physically OK, but not completely. When they popped up, I fought back by remembering the time I felt the most strong and capable…birthing my son. I had completely natural childbirth, not even a Tylenol, and felt like a freaking superhero! I would tell myself to “stop being ridiculous, I was fine and if I could do THAT, I could deal with anything.” So, I invalidated my own feeling, ridiculed myself, and literally did shame myself into “handling” it. Looking back, what a bitch I was to myself! How hurtful and mean! I never once showed myself compassion or considered there might be a reason for these symptoms. Never acknowledged that maybe I had experienced trauma and I was trying to cope.
FUN FACTS: If you have 3 (yes, 3) restraining orders awarded to you against 3 different individuals in a 10-year span, you
A) Have terrible taste in men.
B) Have indeed experienced trauma.
Frighteningly enough, my method worked well enough that I blundered along, hanging out in survival mode (the bottom of Maslow’s pyramid) for another marriage, another awesome son, another divorce, financial insecurity, and no clue what I wanted to be when I grew up, for another decade. (2012 started to turn it all around, hence the hallmark reference, but that’s a story for another time).
Although it would be a great career move to say that yoga solved it all and here I am, that wouldn’t be 100% true. What started to solve it though was finding ways to get out of survival mode even for short windows of time to allow myself space to breathe, let go, and start fresh. I didn’t even know I was doing it…something so small as the realization that when I was lying in bed falling asleep, I had my hands fists, not tight, but fists. I opened them up and felt a little wave of quasi relaxation. From that moment on, I have ALWAYS made a point to go to sleep my hands open and relaxed, one palm down to ground me and one up to receive from the universe. I know, I know, woo woo girl…but I did that before I ever stepped on a yoga mat and it wasn’t long afterwards that I took my first class that changed my life. The next steps can be made clear when we are open and listening!
Alright, so if you read this far, you may now be wondering what my point might be. As I said earlier, my intention as a yoga therapist is to help people live their best life, be present and authentic. AND my intention as a yoga therapist is to help MYSELF live my best life, be present and authentic. Living my best life means digging into this stuff and working through it to heal and be a better version of myself on the other side. It took some time to decide what chapter of my story to write based on what might reonate, or help someone. Writing this was HARD. It put me in a grouchy mood (temporarily), made me tear up a few times, and pissed me off! It was important though, for me and maybe for you…If one person reads this and considers being a little more compassionate with themselves or unclenches their fists, just for a moment, fully worth a few hours of pissed off grouchy tears!
And PLEASE, if you are dealing with stress and anxiety, get help!! Yoga therapy is great but is not a replacement for medical and mental health care from a doctor! We work together, not alone!