A few years ago, I was creamed by life. Stuck in a toxic romantic relationship, working in a career that it wasn’t for me, living in a city far away from my family and friends, having daily anxiety attacks that left me curled up in bed for hours, I felt paralyzed. Cornered. Trapped.
And then one day, I listened to a Headspace meditation and I felt calm and clear. I knew what I had to do. I left the relationship, quit my career, pursued my passions, moved closer to family and friends, and have since been living anxiety-free.
...Just kidding. Don’t we all wish that this was the way life worked. And maybe for some people, they truly do have an epiphany that kick starts a domino effect of positive changes. But that’s not what happened for me. Mine is more of a ‘trudging through chest deep mud until the mud becomes waist deep, then knee deep, then mid-calf deep, then ankle deep’ kind of story. Which, in my book, is beautiful too.
Everything I listed above is true. I was in a toxic relationship, living far away, riddled with panic attacks, becoming less and less engaged in my career. The career that I gave up so much for, worked so hard for, developed chronic stress for.
If you were to evaluate my state at that time on a scale of 1-10 (10 being optimal physical, emotional and mental health), I would have rated at a −8.
Yeah… it was bad.
And if one more person had suggested that I start a gratitude journal, I think I would have exploded. No, at that time and in that state, what I needed was a good therapist. One who could hold everything with me and safety plan with me. I was fortunate; I had access to such a therapist. And after a year of weekly therapy and a lot of hard work, I was finally at a −1 on that scale.
That was such a win, to go from −8 to −1.
I was mentally and emotionally strong enough to admit to myself how the toxic relationship was affecting me and my life. It took longer than I wish to admit, but I finally ended it. It was hard, to say the least, but I felt a deep sense of relief after it was over.
While that did help a lot, it didn’t automatically remove the trauma I experienced or the fact that I was living far away from home and working in a career that didn’t suit my personality. I was still at a −1 but it was at this point that I felt meditation and mindfulness could help me. So when I saw a flyer in the women’s bathroom of the university that I worked for looking for staff to join their meditation study, I signed up. And was placed in the control group, i.e. “the do not meditate” group. Womp womp.
I didn’t meditate during the study period and received a subscription to the Headspace app for participating at the end. I had tried meditation in graduate school and learned more about it while working at the SFVA Mental Health Department, but I never practiced it. I’d do a meditation here and there, usually with many months in between. The process of building a meditation practice was new to me and the story of how that went, I’ll save for another day.
The point here being that when I started to use the Headspace app on a consistent basis, I was able to cut the intensity of my anxiety, thus creating more breathing room for myself.
With more breathing room, came more clarity.
With more clarity, more ability to live in the present.
And with more ability to live in the present, it was easier to make better decisions for myself.
Eventually I left my job, moved across the country to be closer to my friends and family, and started to pursue a career in art and wellness.
And here I am today, over a year and half into my meditation practice, at a +4 and continuing to move up the scale. Slowly, with setbacks (regardless of how much I’ve learned about wellness, I’m still human :), and making real progress. That, combined with growing scientific evidence, is why I believe in both therapy and meditation.
Therapy helped me during a time when my mental state was reaching a true medical emergency. Once I got to a stable place, meditation helped me and continues to help me build resiliency and rise to my optimal level of wellbeing.
And now I strive to help others do the same. I can’t wait to share more of what I’ve learned along the way in this blog series.
In the meantime, let’s take a few deep breaths together. In through the nose, counting to four...1..2..3..4.. And out through the mouth, counting to six... 1..2..3..4..5..6.. Repeat a few more times.
Till next time.
Wishing you joy, safety and ease.
Anna is a blog contributor, meditation leader and teacher, and photographer. You can follow her on Instagram @skillsforwellness and find her blogging away at reset brain + body. reset brain + body is a mental wellness practice where traditional talk therapy is elevated through the integration of meditation, nutrition, yoga and mindfulness. Connect with reset brain + body on Instagram & Facebook, check out the class schedule, or contact us to book an appointment.