May is Mental Health Awareness Month, so I wanted to take this time to focus on the benefits of yoga, breathwork, meditation, and the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) for supporting mental health and wellbeing.
This post will focus on my own personal journey from the beginning. I didn’t discover EFT until more recently, so that will be a separate post later. If you’re interested in learning more about EFT and would like a quick practice to do now, you can check out this post. Now, on to my story…
Disclaimer: This story includes descriptions of suicidal attempts, self-harm, disordered eating, and my experience in the mental healthcare system. If you are sensitive to these topics, please don’t read any further, or find a trusted friend or loved one to share this experience with you.
Please note that I am not a therapist, psychiatrist, or medical professional & this is not professional medical or psychiatric advice. This information is shared with you for educational purposes only. I am not liable for any damages that result from the use of this information. Please consult with a licensed professional for any medical or psychiatric concerns.
While I talk about my journey towards living medication-free, please know that I support the use of medications as one method to supporting health of all kinds, and strongly urge you to consult with your physician or psychiatrist before stopping any medication yourself.
For my full disclaimer, click here.
I was 15 years old when I experienced my first severe mental breakdown.
Looking back now, I realize that it had been building for a while. I can’t pinpoint exactly when it started, or what it looked like, but I’d been feeling “off” for years.
It all culminated one day when my mom found a note I had written to a friend about some private stuff that I really didn’t want my parents to know about. The combination of guilt about my actions, anger at the invasion of privacy I felt, and the inability to really understand why I was feeling things so strongly overwhelmed me. That evening, I attempted to commit suicide by attempting to overdose on herbal sleeping pills (which wasn’t really possible with what I took, but I didn’t know that at the time).
Fortunately, I was so scared of the outcome of what I had done, I almost immediately went to my dad and told him what happened. The paramedics were called, I was rushed to the emergency room, and was then admitted into a psychiatric care facility for the first time.
Little did I know that this was just the first step in a very long journey towards mental health & wellbeing.
Over the next several years, I would face multiple stints in the hospital nearly monthly – sometimes for a whole month at a time. At this time I started to self-harm and began disordered eating as a way to try to gain some control over my thoughts and emotions. I was also beginning to feel pretty numb, and harming myself was a way to feel only what I wanted to feel in the way I wanted to feel it.
I would also be given various diagnoses such as Bi-Polar, Social Anxiety Disorder, General Anxiety Disorder, Schizophrenia, Schizo-Affective, and Anorexia Nervosa. Looking back, I don’t believe any of these diagnoses were 100% accurate, but they provided a starting point in my journey to wellness and a framework for me to begin to understand myself.
I was also prescribed various medications to help stabilize my mind, help me sleep, keep me from harming myself, and calm my nerves. While I am grateful for the intervention these medications provided me with initially (they literally saved my life), I began to lose a lot of my creativity and ability to really access my true emotions. Everything became fuzzy and while I was no longer so severely depressed, angered as easily, and my mind was no longer playing tricks on me in the form of hallucinations, I still felt disconnected from the world around me. Not only did I lose the ability to feel strong negative emotions, but I also couldn’t feel as excited, happy, or enthusiastic as I once did.
But I always knew that somewhere deep inside me, there was still a spark that was not affected by any of this. I just had to figure out how to access it and help it shine brighter.
When I was around 21 years old (the time between age 15-22 is a big blur to me thanks to the various medications I was on and the general trauma of being mentally ill), I found a psychiatrist I trusted. He listened to me, believed in me, and helped me take charge of my healing. I finally felt that I had a partner who was helping empower me, and not just medicate me to numb me or “fix” me. He didn’t see me as broken, just someone who was struggling.
At this time, I began to practice yoga as a way to stay flexible and active without putting too much pressure on my joints. I’d had knee surgery and hurt my back badly when I was a teenager, so finding ways to exercise that didn’t aggravate this was important to me. I practiced to a videotape I found at a used bookstore, and my love affair with yoga began.
In Yoga Sutra 1.2, we’re taught that by committed practice to and mastery of yoga, we’re able to calm the thought-waves of our minds.
To me, this means that the goal of yoga and meditation isn’t to clear the mind of all thoughts or emotions but to get them to a place where they’re no longer overwhelming and running the show.
Because of my experience with mental illness, I was in a position to really see how true this is. When I stopped seeking to change how I felt and just learned to be with whatever was showing up, I was able to be more fully myself. I honored and made space for the myriad of emotions that made up my experience, and through that, I created space for that inner spark to shine.
At the time when I started practicing yoga and breathwork, their benefits for mental health were still pretty new. Now, there is research that uses science to back up what yogis have known for centuries. Regular practice helps reduce anxiety and depression, improves the ability to focus and the quality of sleep, and can also assist in treating PTSD.
It was through my experience with improving and supporting my mental health with yoga that I felt called to become a yoga teacher.
I always knew that I survived the trauma of those years for a reason, and I felt that yoga was a special gift I was given and that it’s now my job to share this gift with others. While I’ve expanded my areas of expertise over the years to include coaching and EFT, none of that would have been possible if I hadn’t first found yoga. I want to help empower others to take an active part in their mental health, and to learn to build the resilience they need to live more joyfully – no matter what challenges they are facing.
As we celebrate Mental Health Awareness Month, I hope that by reading a bit about my own personal experiences, you know that no matter what your mental health journey looks like, you are not alone.
I also hope that you’ll give some thought to using yoga and other holistic techniques to support your mental health. I’d love to chat with you about how the techniques I use in my coaching can help you build a personalized practice to guide you towards healing.
Until next time,