I've experienced anxiety ever since I could remember. I have memories as young as 6 years old about certain obsessions, compulsions and completely irrational fears. My anxiety went unchecked and got much worse. As a young teen, I started experiencing panic attacks. I remember my first panic attack like it was yesterday. I felt like I was dying. I remember from that very day I didn’t want to go to school anymore, I didn’t want to play sports anymore, I didn’t want to go to birthday parties anymore. I was so afraid that this would happen and worse - someone would see. I became withdrawn from everything I loved and tried to pretend I didn’t care. I had no understanding of what was happening. My panic attacks got much worse and more frequent. I wanted to be normal. I wanted my anxiety to stop. But I didn’t know how. The more I thought about it, the more frustrated and anxious I became. Fear consumed, crippled and paralysed me. I felt helpless and trapped. I couldn’t talk to my parents, my teachers or my friends about it because I didn’t think they would understand. I was worried they would think I was different or a freak. I felt completely alone. Amongst all this personal turmoil, I felt a profound sense of shame which was the weight of stigma.
By the time I was 18 anxiety took its toll on my health, my relationships, my self-perceptions and my quality of life. The following years were a vicious cycle of numbing, addiction, depression, self-harm, suicide attempts, mental health care plans and psychologists. I was living in so much burden, fear and pain. I was so exhausted. I didn’t want to be sad anymore. I didn’t want to live in fear.
I found myself at a crossroad and I decided to embark on a wellness journey that not only saved my life but changed it forever. When I was recommended yoga to treat my anxiety and depression, I was not a believer. If psychologists and medications couldn't help me, I didn't see how lycra and stretching could. I started off with a simple beginner yoga class and I just found love. It's hard to put into words, but it was like a therapy in a way. I didn't know it at the time but something about these twists and folds with the breath soothed me when nothing else could. Coming to my mat became the most effective way to interrupt anxious thought patterns, calm my mind and just come back into my body. Yoga became my anchor on the days I felt like I was being swept away. My life was never the same. My anxiety was never the same. I found that the more awareness and mindfulness I created on the mat the more it showed up in my life every day. It inspired me to quit my corporate job, smoking, alcohol, drugs, I completely changed my diet, ceased toxic relationship and anything else that didn't serve my wellbeing. There was a time when my anxiety crippled me and kept me from all the beautiful things this world has to offer, and now I know that no matter how bad things get there is always a place to come home to.
Today at 28 anxiety no longer controls me. Despite my anxiety, I freedive to 30m on one breath of air, I skydive by myself out of an airplane, I swim with sharks and teach yoga all over the world. Over time I used yoga to handle my triggers, to cultivate balance and create a variety of effective strategies to combat Anxiety. I'm not perfectly balanced and I'm still very much a work in progress. Anxiety comes to visit from time to time. I still get anxious for every single yoga class I teach. Answering a phone call is a huge trigger. I still experience panic attacks. Instead of them being 3 times a day, they’re 3 times a year. And it blows me away how intuitive these breathing techniques have become. Just like muscle memory over the years I’ve trained my body to know exactly what to do. Like anyone, I still get scared. I still fall down. I still get sad. I just don’t camp out and stay there you know. Every day I'm afraid in one way or another, but I’ve learned to show up anyway, ask for support, and choose love over fear.
Through yoga I create awareness of anxiety, provide others tools to manage it within yourself and loved ones, to encourage you to not only speak up but also hold space when needed. You guys... you can create your own beautiful life, no matter the cards you're dealt, no matter how helpless you feel at times. Yoga saved my life and I wouldn’t be here without it. It became this beautiful tool to make peace with wherever I’m moving through and create a shift. My hope is that you find this too. Whether it be yoga, or running, or ocean, or a person, or a place, or whatever. No matter how helpless you feel at times, something that makes you feel grounded, cared for, worthy and enough. It’s your birthright to be happy and get everything you want in life.
PS. For anyone who is suffering from anxiety, check out The Anxiety Effect. Here you'll find an online community for social support, to raise awareness and create an understanding of anxiety and mental illness.