If you’re anything like me, you sometimes get these grand ideas of what you want to be doing with your life. Whether it’s passion related, purpose, a hobby or interest, or a way you can use your unique gifts and experiences to contribute to the world and help others in whatever way you can. I’ve always loved to write – songs, poems, short stories, journaling, blogs, etc. I’ve also been taking photos since I was a wee little thing, snapping awkward photos at the zoo of all the creatures, including the ambitious squirrel that bravely approached me, hoping for some of my lunch. I was never very good at processing the photos, editing, and posting them in a timely manner, granted there wasn’t much of that back in the days of myspace and cameras you had to manually crank to get to the next picture to take and then get it developed at your local CVS. I just enjoyed taking photos, I never imagined had I continued to pursue photography, I could make a career out of it. It’s hard to fathom how much social conditioning we undergo starting at a very young age – the biggest lie being: you have to graduate high school with good grades so you can get into a good college, then work your butt off, so you can graduate with a good GPA, and don’t forget those extra curricular activities , especially the ones you show off your leadership skills. Then you land THE JOB, the big kahuna permanent career position. One of those good paying, permanent, full-time with benefits and paid holidays and vacation positions. That’s the goal. That’s how you become successful and happy.
That’s the biggest crock of shit ever.
I did all of this. I landed a great job as a Project Ecologist working at a successful firm in Georgia. I started by renting a 2 bedroom townhouse and lived all by myself and felt good and successful, like I had made it.
Then all the demons I had been running from my whole life caught up to me – and I fell HARD.
A depression that had been a part of me the majority of my life finally made itself very real and very apparent. I just always thought those darker sides of myself were just who I was and it was normal. It wasn’t.
After running away after a horrid relationship then an equally bad and traumatizing breakup, I started experiencing symptoms that made me feel like I was going crazy: intrusive, brief flashes of awful memories and emotions, crippling anxiety (I didn’t even know it was anxiety at the time), nightmares, inability to focus, paranoia, extreme hypervigilance and exagerated startle reaction to name a few symptoms.
I ended up losing my job because of all this, and because I didn’t know what was happening to me, so I didn’t communicate with my employers about my struggles. I started doing group therapy shortly before this happened, but after I lost my job I knew I needed a lot more help, so I self committed. By doing this, I had the option to do an intensive outpatient program rather than be an inpatient. Maybe staying there would’ve been more beneficial.. I’ll never know.
It helped to know I wasn’t alone, and that other rather normal people also struggled and suffered. However, since it was a young adult program, and we weren’t allowed to talk about the traumas that needed some light shed on them for fear of triggering other patients, so it only helped so much. They loaded me up on all kinds of drugs to control the symptoms, the problem is, they never tried to address the root of the problem.
I stopped going after week 5 of 6 weeks, so I could go to my first music festival, and I’m glad I did. A whole new world revealed itself to me. I danced alongside many others in the forest at my first silent disco. I felt joy and happiness in my soul like never before. I discovered a more natural method of healing. I decided I needed a big change in my life, so I moved to Colorado for a much needed change. Probably not the best idea given the state of my mental health. But I soon learned that Colorado had really good programs and help for what I needed, which my previous states of residence did not. I was able to start seeing a therapist, I did EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) therapy, got a doctor that actually made sure I was on the proper medication for what I needed, I volunteered for causes I felt passionate about, made some friends, and slowly started improving.
EMDR set me back because it opened those trauma doors that had been completely blocked out that I didn’t remember them at all until the memories came flooding back. I started having very public extreme panic attacks. Often, the fear of having a panic attack would keep me from doing things I enjoyed. EMDR is a very effective form of therapy, but I don’t believe the therapist who I saw for it was qualified or prepared for what she got. I scared the shit out of her. And she did not want to see me anymore. As someone who struggles with rejection, getting dumped by your therapist, a mental health professional who should be equipped to handle the demons they dig up whom you grow to trust and let in, well that seriously sucks. I urge anyone seeking professional help to do your homework and make sure they are extremely qualified and well versed and experienced in what they claim to be, especially for the specific type of trauma you seek help for. However, I do not regret doing it, because it awakened me to the origin of my deep depression and fear, and it was not from that relationship; you guessed it, it was from my childhood. >Insert eye-roll emoji< Shocker.
Needless to say, I had a lot of work to do on myself. I was determined to get better, to overcome the symptoms that ran my life, and to be able to be normal and live a normal life. I knew there had to be more to life than this. I was determined to prove the first doctor wrong that said I would be on 3 medications for life. I did not accept that. There was no way I was going to let some random psychiatrist I had but a 15 minute talk with tell me how my life would be. I was on a mission to grow. Western medicine, doctors, and techniques only did so much for me. I knew I needed more, and some different techniques.
I tried equine therapy, and loved it. I didn’t make much money then, and often only found seasonal work in my field of study, so I got resourceful and found a nonprofit in Colorado Springs called the Colorado Springs Therapeutic Riding Center (https://www.cstrc.org). I was hesitant to reach out because I wasn’t exactly their typical client; many were young kids with developmental or physical disabilities, but I called and visited anyways, desperate for anything that could help. And it did. It helped me learn awareness, trust in other beings as well as myself and my body, it improved my confidence, it helped my posture and the pain and misalignment as a result of a lifetime of unaddressed trauma and stress in the body. Mostly, it gave me hope and something positive that I enjoyed to look forward to. Horses are magical creatures. They are incredibly in tune, they sense your emotional state, and can be really caring, sensitive and healing. At the time, I was really struggling at work with my mental state and the work environment and people deeply triggered and made it much worse. Equine therapy was a safe haven I got to go to away from it all where I finally felt happy and peaceful. I really enjoyed this time, and got a lot from it.
After this time, I landed a good position in my career field as a land manager at a Buddhist retreat center in Northern Colorado called Shambhala Mountain Center (SMC). It was complete with an elaborate Buddhist temple and even an onsite resident monk. I finally was stable enough and had enough tools in my belt to manage my symptoms on my own, so I went off all my medications, and haven’t gone back.
The pay and housing was absolutely terrible, but the location was beautiful, pristine and far away from the daily distractions and stressors of modern or city life. It was exactly what I needed at the time. It was challenging in way I had never experienced – in my work, community, and personally. So much healing, growing and self awareness happened there. Healing isn’t exactly pretty. It’s hard, otherwise everyone would be doing it instead of checking out, but it’s so worth it to take control back of your life. *Check out my other post to hear more about my experience living and working at a Buddhist retreat center and everything I learned while I was there.*
For the last few months there, I was really struggling with not feeling like the work I was doing was very meaningful or fulfilling. I always had a feeling I was meant for big things, but just wasn’t sure what. The desire to figure out what I was meant to be doing with my life, who I really was, and what I loved became my highest priority. I read books, watched tons of ted talks and youtube videos, listened to podcasts, talked with others and everything else I could do. *I recently did a blog post about figuring out your passion, so if you’re stuck there, take a read to discover all of the information I devoured and everything I discovered on my own about the subject.*
I was applying to other jobs, and trying to make a change in my life. I wanted to be happier, and for that, I need a purpose to my existence. Then – BAM – COVID-19 hits. The center freaks out. We are on a strict lockdown with many new intense sanitation changes to everything. This happened right at my one year mark, and before I knew it, I no longer had a job and would soon have to find somewhere else to live. So much was changing and I started feeling out of control. I had slowly been working towards stepping into my creative interests (writing, photography and music) but it was slow going and I was hesitant to really start. I decided to move back home and I’m so glad I did. What I had really been missing and needing was a community, or tribe if you will, that I fit in and belonged in. I didn’t have that at Shambhala. I had been hearing the term, tribe, all throughout the spiritual and self help world and really wanted to find mine. The thing is, I had it all along, I had just fallen (and moved) away from them. My tribe were my old friends I had grown up with, people that were more like family, people I reconnected with that it just happened so randomly. Coming home and reconnecting with all of these wonderful people was exactly what I was missing and desperately needing in my life. Colorado was amazing, but it wasn’t home. I didn’t have any super close friends; it was lonely. Home is where the heart is, and where your people are.
Since being back home, I’ve come out of the funk I was in, I no longer feel stuck, I’m more active, have more energy, working out again, eating better, and I’m finally motivated again after many years of being in a funk. I’ve given myself permission to finally be me, and give no fucks about what anyone else thinks. And that feels so good. It’s kinda terrifying to step into yourself and live your life for you. To be you, completely and fully allow yourself to be seen and heard as who you are. I wasn’t living my life in my truth of who I am before, and now I finally am. I’m finally writing again (as you can tell), I’m singing in front of people (made me super anxious), I’m pursuing photography and have been doing photoshoots with my friends, I’m spending quality time with my friends and family, and I’m constantly out adventuring and exploring new areas (with my camera of course). I feel like a whole new person; that extinguished fire that use to exist within me has returned. So, if you saw yourself in any part of my story, I want you to know it will get better. There is hope. You can be free from suffering and live a happy, healthy life. Reconnect with your soul and the essence of who you are and start living your life for you. You deserve a life of happiness and bliss. ❤