This blog is not FDA approved
THE BACK STORY
My family has a colourful history of issues; but I will spare those details. This blog is about my journey out of those issues and into a life I love.
My childhood memories are foggy. I know I spent a lot of time with my cousins, neighborhood friends, and enjoyed being around people. However, I also preferred to sit on the sidelines of most activities and just watch. Or daydream. Or withdraw.
I didn’t know it at the time, but I really hated school. I suffered from migraines daily, would ‘fake sick’ as much as possible to go home until the teacher clued in. I would spend recess by myself, leaning against the brick wall with a racing heart hoping no one would ask me to play their aggressive games. My report cards say things like “Jenni asks for directions three times on every assignment before she will even attempt to begin.” I was a late reader. The things I thrived in were art, music, hula-hooping, long-jump and running. Comments on report cards say “Jenni has a hard time following directions on art projects, she constantly wants to do it her own way.”
In grade six I was saved from my anxiety of recesses when I was asked to help in the kindergarten room. I became so attached to this new-found helping role that I continued to cling to it as I moved onto a new school for grade seven and eight: I would return to my elementary school daily to help the teacher with anything I could. She must have thought I was nuts- but ages 12 and 13 were two of the hardest years of my life and somehow the security of that role got me through. I was appreciated there. Also I clearly remember the solitude of being left in that room after school, trusted to be left alone to staple booklets or tidy play-centers. I felt safe, and I was at peace.
As I write that I am realizing that was what I was searching for my whole existence, a place I felt safe and peaceful. Yoga has given me that.
Grade seven and eight were hell. I think they are for everyone, but for me this was where I consciously remember my struggle with depression beginning. On the outside I am sure everything appeared fine. On the inside I was struggling, daily. I hated being at home. I hated being at school. I could not relate to the other kids my age, or understand their obsessions with fashion, dating, or smoking cigarettes. In some ways I was a bit of a chameleon, I could fit in with just about any group… but on the other hand, I just wanted to be alone. I spent a lot of time locked in my bedroom, reading, writing or sketching.
It wasn’t until grade nine that I started to enjoy life again. I lived across the street from my high school, so it was bliss to be able to roll out of bed and into class. Suddenly I had passion for life, I made lots of friends, was encouraged by teachers to be creative, my marks in junior high were so terrible, and yet it seemed effortless to get an A or B in high school. I started hanging out with old friends and I realized I wasn’t alone in my struggles. High school involved a lot of ‘hanging out with the wrong crowds’ because those were the people that I could relate to. Where other kids seemed held back by social boundaries, I somehow had an ability to be oblivious to them and enjoyed the company of almost anyone I came in contact with regardless of their clique.
Grade eleven brought another dark time though. I started withdrawing from people again, not trusting anyone, and feeling that people were superficial and shallow. I delved into my art and writing again. I became more secluded to hanging out with the punks. My grades dropped. In my final year of high school I got my license and a car, and I was skipping every Friday and high on life. I wonder how I even graduated. I was no party animal, and yet I was pulling all-nighters, longing for weekends, and feeling euphoric surges of undying creative energy. I was never home.
I went to a school counselor one day plagued by the overwhelming emotions and turmoil of humanity and my small role in the universe, and she looked at me blankly. ”You’re having a mid-life crisis, but much too soon. You’re only 16?”
TIME TO GROW UP
When I was 17 a few fateful things happened that put me on a new path in life. I applied for university at the Ontario College of Art and Design, and I found yoga. I started a home practice of yoga, twice daily, that severely altered my experience of living. I discovered true peace and clarity after living in mental and emotional chaos my whole life.
The memories sort of over-lap… but I chose to try yoga as one of my final school projects, and for two weeks straight I did yoga every morning and every night. By the end of the two weeks I felt like a different person. I felt taller, stronger, emotionally calm, unusually clear headed and focused… oh yes, and I was building a portfolio for my interview at the art college.
When it was time for the interview a few dramatic things occurred at home, and I decided to hitch the train to Toronto with some friends the night before my interview at OCAD. That night I met a group of people who were living life against the grain of our society; and in a strange way very much in tune with the philosophy of yoga I had been studying. Fearless street punks. After a life-altering night with them, adjusting to the conformity of an art interview was very challenging the next day.
That experience made me delve deeper into my yoga studies (especially the philosophy), which in turn created a different way of thinking and living from then on. I guess in a way, I was empowered for the first time in my life.
It took me 15 years before I returned to college to get my Child and Youth Worker diploma. However, I did become a certified yoga instructor, and suffered through much emotional turmoil as I waged through the trauma of my childhood. Yet when dark times hit, the yoga made it tolerable. I had tools I could use: I didn’t have to fight this pain anymore, I could face it, feel it and let it go. Every time this occurred I felt lighter and stronger.
When I opened my yoga studio, it was a dream come true. We used the studio for both yoga and art. We held shows, classes and workshops. I was helping others heal as I believed I had been healed with yoga.
And then the darkest time of my entire life hit. A dear friend committed suicide. Same as my father, and leaving behind his little girl. It ripped my world apart. I went through times of such grief for all of us, and literally thought I was losing my mind. I needed to do something. So I applied for college, to become a Child and Youth Worker, with the goal of helping children through trauma and in the hope of teaching children tools to cope with life’s challenges as a suicide prevention theory.
First year went well. Second year dark times came again. I was barely making it to classes. Was opting to skip many of them to work from home. When I did go I was rolling out of bed and into my car without eating or getting dressed. I can only imagine what my professors thought. I couldn’t focus in class. Everything irritated me. People, lights, noise, everything. I was losing my empathy for humanity. I wanted to quit. One day I went to school, and cracked. I was sent to the school doctor, gave him my family history and my current situation and he blatantly stated “Well, obviously you’re depressed.”
That was the first time I ever heard those words uttered from someone else’s mouth in relation to me. It was terrifying, and yet somehow empowering.
He handed me a little box of pills and told me to come back in two weeks to see how things were going. And OH MY GOD. Those pills… I can see why people get hooked. I felt GREAT. At first. It only took a few days for them to start numbing the little voice in my head. The tension in my body as a result of that constant inner chatter started to dissolve. I felt peaceful. But not ‘yoga’ peaceful. It was a ‘numb’ kind of peaceful. By the time the two weeks passed I was heading into a downward spiral. The doctor told me to up the dose, and ignore any side effects because ‘they pass.’
I was already getting headaches, and then I was getting dizzy, and then one eye started twitching uncontrollably. Then I couldn’t think clear anymore, and I started to feel crazier then I did before the meds. I quit them cold-turkey because it scared me. I decided then that I preferred to feel crazy off meds, then on them. At least then I knew it was just me, and not the side-effects…
This forced me to once again reassess my life, and start making changes. Back to daily yoga, art and writing. No relationships.
I survived my second year of college.
AND THEN I HAD A BABY
This final piece of my story is the most liberating and powerful for me. Everything has come together as it needed to, and I finally live with that deep sense of inner peace I have searched my whole life to find. I know it’s the yoga that saved me.
I met a man I was sure was my soul-mate, and an early pregnancy was a simple confirmation in my crazy mind. I took a year off school, closed my yoga studio and moved to B.C. It didn’t take me long to figure out things were not going well. I was suffering daily with bouts of anxiety and extreme anger. I felt like I was living in ‘fight or flight’ mode 100% of the time. We moved back to Ontario and our relationship did a huge nose-dive.
My entire pregnancy was a disaster. I went to the hospital two weeks before I was due and told I was toxic. Emergency C-section would solve it, no worries, right? Usually. But not for me. My vitals continued to drop to dangerous levels and it took three days for my organs to start functioning normally again. I was hooked up to I.V.s and machines, strapped to my bed for three days straight. When it was time to get up I could barely walk.
I was in shock. I would go through waves of numbness, then through waves of uncontrollable crying. The nurse red-flagged me and a counselor was sent in to talk to me. Her conclusion was I seemed more frustrated about my circumstances, than postpartum-depressed. I agreed, happily. I just wanted to go home and start a new life.
Truth was they never let me out of their site. I had doctors and nurses checking on me consistently for months. I was sent to counselling, told I was fine, and discharged. I had to hold it together for my baby.
At home I was dealing with more extreme anger and conflict in my relationship. I wasn’t sleeping, barely eating, and would clean obsessively. I dropped below the weight I was before pregnancy, in only three weeks. I started teaching yoga again after two months, and had already decided I was returning to college to finish my final year and get my diploma.
I had to get my life back on track. My partner took a job in B.C. two months before I returned to college, and it was a blessing in disguise because many of my personal issues disappeared when he did. I was starting to realize how important it was that I find balance again. Without him there I had time and space to breathe again. I did yoga daily, enjoyed my time with my precious son, started eating again, relaxing again and reconnecting with friends.
This last year has held many challenges, and darkness hung over my head; but I moved beyond it. I graduated in June 2012. I left my unhealthy relationship and started a new life with my son, and I found my peace.
When darkness comes now it just is what it is. It passes. I am aware of it, but no longer consumed by it. I recognize it as the pattern it is, and let it move through me. At my core I feel strong and unwavering in peace, no matter what the f*ck life challenge is thrown at me (and there have been many).
I live every day in gratitude for this life, it has made me who I am, and I would not change a thing.