My Story

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Everyone has a story.  Your story is unique, and it is capable of reaching others in some capacity that will be received as a gift.  If you have an empowering story, I encourage you to share it.  Not only can this be healing and freeing for you, but it is healing and freeing for others.  It is your story that heals.

Most of my life, I was a private person.  I was overly cautious in friendships and relationships, and hesitant to let anyone into my world.  I flew under the radar, and preferred to be alone.  There is nothing necessarily wrong with that, with being an introvert who prefers books over social activities.  But by hiding, well into adulthood, and keeping my story locked away, I was missing out on a great opportunity.  The opportunity to build connections with people, especially those who have a similar story.  I realized I was withholding a major gift that can lead to my great work being done in the world.

I have struggled with depression and anxiety my whole life.  As far back as my memory will allow, and as soon as I became self-aware as a child, there was a strange sense of pervasive melancholy and isolation.  I lived two blocks away from my elementary school, and would walk to and from school each day.  I’ll never forget walking to school, backpack in tow, feeling this bizarre disconnection from my body.  It was as if I was viewing myself from the sky while sleepwalking.  Later in life, I was able to label this feeling with a legitimate psychological term, which is a phenomenon known as “dissociation”.

I’ve experienced dissociation many times in my life, and still do on occasion.  For those who fortunately have not felt this, the best way I can describe it is an extreme and frightening version of déjà vu.

Anxiety has been with me just as long as depression, at least 20 years now.  For those reading this who have chronic anxiety or have had panic attacks, or both, you know what kind of hell this can be.  I get it.  I’ve been there.  Most importantly, you are not alone.  You are not the story you tell yourself.  You are not what others think of you.  You are not the pithy and insensitive remarks that are directed toward you.  You are not taboo as a byproduct of your depression or anxiety or eating disorder.  You do not need to hide.  Please keep reading.  This story has a happy “ending” (I put this word in quotations because it’s really a lifelong journey).  I will tell you what coping mechanisms have worked for me, and how I’ve found relief from states of mental distress.

Anxiety and depression are often close cousins with eating disorders.  It’s often a “which came first, the chicken or the egg?” scenario.  Either anxiety and depression somehow contribute to an eating disorder, an eating disorder worsens anxiety and depression, or some combination of all three exists (which was the case for me).  It’s like back in the day, when finger-painting, and I mixed all the colors together to create this sort of non-specific brown.  My thoughts were all blurred together into that brown.  I felt out of control when it came to the canvas of my life.

Enter eating disorder, or ED.  At age 14, the battle began.  Controlling my food and exercise gave me a false sense of control in my life.  I could not yet accept that there were things that were outside of my control.  I had to reign everything in and use my puppet strings to create idealized, unrealistic outcomes.   Everything became black or white.  I didn’t allow myself to consume ANY foods that contained fat.  I HAD to exercise excessively every day.  At the time, it felt like it wasn’t a choice.  ED had me in shackles.  It was a dire demand.  It was the difference between failing and succeeding.  It was an ABSOLUTE requirement that I kept my calorie intake below 500 a day, no exceptions.  This was meticulously recorded and poured over every night.  If something was out of balance, if I ate one too many apples or rice cakes, I panicked.  I would then need to sneak out of the house at night to go for a run.  I took ephedrine (which of course is now illegal because of its harmful effects on the body), wrapped food in napkins and threw them away or hid them underneath a sweatshirt until I could be excused from the table, made excuses for missing dinner because I had “homework”, told my parents I had a stomach ache, became vegetarian so I could cut out entire food groups, avoided like the plague social or family events where large amounts of food would be present, and the diversions go on and on.

My anorexia, from a clinical perspective, did not continue long, probably two years.  But for me it was a lifetime of living in my own prison.  And it was about to get worse.  My body couldn’t sustain itself, especially since I was involved with physical activities such as dance team in high school.  We’d have 3-hour practices after school in the cafeteria; following that, I walked 2 miles home.  For all that exercise, I’d have the smallest possible bite of a Power Bar.  You don’t have to be a dietician to understand that’s not enough food.  After a summer of extreme restricting and over-the-top workouts, entering into my freshman year of high school, I stepped on the scale and felt an electric current of fear rush through me.  I was 97 pounds.  Oh and by the way, I’m 5’9”.  I was emaciated, dangerously underweight.

That number on the scale, and the emotions associated with it, will stay with me for the rest of my life.  (Only now, 14 years later, can I be weighed at the doctor’s office without losing my shit).  I looked in the mirror and was unrecognizable, miserable, and desperate.  I often had heart palpitations, hadn’t had a menstrual cycle in months, and couldn’t sleep at night because my bones jutted out to the point where I couldn’t find a comfortable position, even on a soft mattress.  I suddenly understood the magnitude of the hole I was in.  That was the first day I ever binged.

I raced downstairs and all but unloaded the kitchen’s contents.  I gorged on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, cereal, cookies, ice cream, whatever I could get my hands on.  My parents were more than puzzled at the mysterious disappearance of vast amounts of food from the cabinets and fridge.  They had to start labeling Tupperware containers with a note that said “Do Not Eat”.  I was embarrassed, humiliated.  I only binged while I was alone, and barely ate in the presence of others.  For obvious reasons, I gained weight rapidly, and ED didn’t like that one bit.  So it took on a different form.  A seamless transition.  Bulimia.

In many aspects, this was without question the worst period of my life.  Everything I did was dictated by my eating disorder.  I would skip school to walk home, binge, and purge.  I made choices that would change the course of my life.  I’m still working on mending those mistakes.  I experimented with a number of harmful substances.  I’ll never forget my rock bottom; most people don’t.  They may block it out temporarily, but a traumatic experience is usually committed to long-term memory.  There are often triggers (a sound, a smell, an image, a word) that bring the experience back to the surface, the forefront of the mind.

Like any other ordinary day, I skipped class.  I walked to Dunkin Donuts, and bought myself a bag of donuts.  Yes, they were all for me.  Knowing what would come next, I had a new idea.  I had heard of people using ipecac.  For those who don’t know, Ipecac is an over-the-counter medicine intended to induce vomiting following ingestion of a poisonous substance.  With my bag of donuts, I walked to the grocery store.  Heart racing, mind reeling, I stole a bottle of ipecac.  I was too paranoid about being questioned at the counter to purchase it.  Back at home, I binged, gulped back a couple teaspoons of the disgusting liquid, and waited.  I’ll spare you the details of the events that followed.  I collapsed on the floor and blacked out.  I came back to consciousness an undeterminable time later, on the cold tile of the bathroom floor, my head throbbing.  I was overwrought with anxiety and despair.  In that moment, I wanted to die.  I wanted to be released from the grips of my eating disorder.   I had hit the very bottom of my well.  I would have more lows to come in my life, but I believe this was one of my all-time lows.  As I write this, my hands are shaking and my chest is tight.  This is a painful memory to share.

My parents soon caught on to my behaviors.  I was pulled out of school to receive outpatient treatment for my eating disorder at the Institute of Living in Hartford, CT.  It was there that I met some of the most authentically beautiful souls I’ll ever encounter.  These women and men ranged in age from 12 to 60.  Each was at a different stage in their recovery.  Even in the depths of my own need for healing, I recognized how sad it was that we were there.  How fundamentally fucked up it was to be caught in the crossfire of self-deprecation.  That society’s messages had, in any way, a role in causing this dis-ease.  It was there that the seed was planted.  It was there that a flame was sparked inside me to challenge and to combat the way we, as a society, reward or deny people based on their appearance.  It was there that I had my first brush with meditation and yoga.  I experienced firsthand the transformative, healing power of meditation, coupled with the intuitive wisdom of yoga.  I observed how my friends with eating disorders responded to guided meditation.  They were calmer, they were breathing deeper, the light returned to their eyes.  Those shifts alone were huge triumphs.  In a nutshell, meditation and yoga became my healer, my relief from anxiety and damaging thoughts about myself.

Fast forward to today.  Since my last treatment at IOL ended, I’ve healed and transformed in a big way.  I’ve continued therapy on and off with different people.  I’ve learned to listen to my body.  I feed myself with what truly fuels me, from a literal perspective of nutrition, to a visceral level of intuitive life choices.  I’ve continued to meditate often.  I became a certified Kripalu Yoga Teacher.  I went back to school.  I landed a job I thought I was unqualified for.  I got married, bought a house, and am starting my own business.  I’ve been called “a leader”.  Never would I have imagined myself emerging as a leader.  That is truly astounding to me.  I am slowly learning how to stand in that truth with confidence, and firmly, unapologetically, take my seat as a teacher and leader.  That is the happy ending, or better, happy beginning.  Each day, I begin again.  I show up differently each day, but I show up.  And that’s what matters.  From my life cred even more than my formal training, I am qualified to lead and to teach.  I now seek progress instead of perfection, and try to my best ability to delight in simple joys.  I want to help others heal, grow, and bloom fully.

If your story has yet to be told, tell it.  Talk about it, share about it, stand in your truth.  Reach out to others.  Reinforce to yourself that you and everyone else deserves to be happy, to be healthy, to be free from danger.  Be in support of yourself first and foremost.  Become your own best friend.  Tell yourself a new story, and discard the old one that says “you can’t”.  Because you can.  And you will. 

I hope that sharing my story will serve someone in some capacity.  If you have questions, comments, or want to share your story with me, please do.  I’ll do my best to respond and support you in any way that I can.

Leaning into Acceptance 

   
Before I discovered Kripalu yoga, I had a deeply rooted discomfort with my body. I constantly tried to force myself to go on diets, limit my calories, write down every single morsel of food that passed my lips, run until my knees hurt and my head throbbed, and on and on. None of these practices made me more satisfied. If anything, my anxiety about my body grew worse. I couldn’t relate to my physical self in any way other than with mean thoughts and criticism. I was always looking for the ultimate rule book, something to keep me contained, as if, left to my own devices, my body and my life would go horribly awry. I thought if I had control over my body and my weight, somehow I’d have control over what was going wrong in my life (even if it had nothing to do with me). When my mom told me she had breast cancer, I felt helpless. I almost instantly reverted back to my old ways. Somehow, controlling my food intake and exercise in a drastic way (aka disordered eating) deluded me into believing I had things “handled”, and life would go exactly the way I wanted it to. Gripping onto idealized outcomes in this way only adds to suffering. If such is true, then the only other path to take would be that of acceptance.

 

Accepting painful circumstances is challenging. Allowing ourselves to feel emotions fully is something we tend to writhe away from, especially when these emotions make us feel vulnerable, or angry, or sad. But when we ride these waves of emotion and senses that arise, especially in the safe space of yoga practice, we can eventually release them. We can learn to trust our inner compass, the brilliance of our physical body, that is constantly trying to keep us in a place of homeostasis, or balance. 

 

When did I learn such mistrust for myself? I stopped listening to the innate wisdom of my body, which tells me when I am hungry, when I am full, when I need a nap, when I need to go for a walk, when I need to retreat to nature. I’ve gripped on to perfectionism for so long. I’ve thought on some subconscious level that the more I achieve, the more I push for results that seem to indicate success, the happier will be, or the more I will like myself. That, also, is not true. We all deserve happiness regardless of achievement. 

 

I encourage you to remind yourself of the below affirmations. You may choose one to focus on, or attempt to incorporate all of them in your day:

 

“Today, I am redirecting my energy away from perfectionism. I will commit myself to quieting the inner critic, who tells me I am not “enough”. I will reframe those thoughts into ones of worthiness. I will extend warmth and sweetness toward myself and others.”

 

Namaste,

 

Xo Steph

So it Begins

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I did it. I followed my dreams, and now I’m a certified yoga teacher. I learned invaluable tools that stretch beyond teaching yoga…they’re gifts to help me navigate life in a way that helps me squeeze all the delicious juice from it.

Bit by bit, I’d love to share with you readers, some of the most helpful ideas and strategies I took away from my training at the Kripalu School of Yoga. Some of these things will help you, and some won’t. The best I can do is offer thoughts/ideas and invite you to use them in your own life.

One of my favorite lectures was with the brilliant yogi and author Aruni Nan Futuronsky. She said, “reality is relentless, and it always wins.” In other words, there’s only so much that we have control over. Life is going to unfold before us, with or without our permission. Yoga isn’t necessarily about downward dogs and postures, but more so about becoming skillful and mindful in being with what is, so we can struggle less and savor more.

Aruni had a beautiful and eloquent way of explaining how yoga practice helps us heal and get the most out of life. From a young age, cultural norms and ideas about emotions and what is acceptable begins to permeate our awareness. We learn it’s not okay to cry, or be angry, and so it’s common to push these feelings down deep inside ourselves. So what happens? We can be left with a dull ache of suppressed emotions. Aruni said, “the way out of the feelings is through the feelings. Defenses separate us from full living.” Being with feelings, riding the waves of emotions, and witnessing them without judgement, is the way to healing and really being alive.

Allowing ourselves full permission to be where we are is a huge component of Living yoga. It’s not the feelings themselves that hinder us, it’s what we do to try to control the feelings. If we treat ourselves with compassion and kindness, and give gentle reminders that it’s safe to feel, we can befriend the moment and be there for the beauty and the grace of life in each moment.

One of the single most important things I learned from my experience at Kripalu is how to show myself kindness, and be present for every moment, knowing that all will be well and I don’t have to try so hard to control every aspect of my life.

More to come.

Jai Bhagwan
Namaste

Steph xoxo

Being vs. Doing

I’ve been told that I’m a ghost lately on my blog and Instagram. Which is entirely true. Sometimes, or oftentimes in my opinion, a post that is born out of a spontaneous, organic thought is more sincere than a contrived one. I’d rather have my writing be authentic than forced. So if I don’t feel an urge to write, I don’t. Hence the gaps in posts. But, I did write something the other night (on paper in a notebook…old school; the way I used to exclusively write) that I think is worth sharing:

It’s become imperative that I figure out how to cultivate a kindness toward myself. For the health of myself and my relationships with others. When I become irritated with my boyfriend John, I believe this to be a direct reflection of the way I’m feeling about myself, or treating/responding to myself..which is often with irritation and impatience.

Impatience with my body especially. When or where this inclination toward perfectionism reared it’s ugly head and became so ingrained in my mind, I may never know. But I’m establishing the work of “undoing” the need to be perfect. It’s begun unraveling, in the best possible sense. We as a culture are under constant pressure to produce, produce, produce, to the point where 24 hours in a day just isn’t enough, and we’re left cutting into our time to rest and sleep, which I truly believe are essential to health and well-being. A lot of people say, “you can sleep when you’re dead.” I don’t necessarily agree with that philosophy. It may work for some people, but personally, my body needs sleep in order to function properly and to be able to enjoy life fully and with ease.

I recently watched an interview with Rodney Yee and his wife, Colleen Saidman Yee. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the name, Rodney Yee is sometimes referred to as “the godfather of yoga.” He said:

There’s a certain anxiety that comes with the impermanence of our existence. So naturally, it becomes an impulse we have to do as much as we can…cramming activities in what little time we have that seems to pass so quickly.

Produce. Perform. Achieve. What about just being? Is this something we’ve completely forgotten to do? In yoga, we sit with ourselves, and see what’s there. It’s amazing what emotions and sensations bubble up when we turn our awareness inward.

Personally, it’s become rather harshly evident that somehow, to my core, I have not learned to accept myself completely. I notice it especially when I’m practicing yoga. I push my body, silently scolding it for not deepening into a posture the way I think it should. I become frustrated with injuries that hinder my progress, and actually end up blaming my body, rather than being patient with it. I insult it when I focus in on flaws – for example, my muscular arms that I secretly wish were long and sinewy like a ballerina’s. If beating myself up were a major in college, I would have a PhD by now. Then of course, I become mad at myself for not being confident. So you see how easily the critic can swoop in and just take over.

I think that the expectation to produce and push often sets us up for our own critical review – which can end up being a roast on ourselves, spelling disaster for our self-esteem and emotional well-being. Sometimes we need to opt to push the pause button on production. Stop the assembly line. Be deliberately gentle with ourselves. For example – tonight I had a to-do list. I put this internal pressure on myself to accomplish these tasks in a certain period of time. After creating this list, and returning to it for my next task, I felt a sense of anxiety swarm and settle in my chest. Because if I don’t complete this list, suddenly I’ve fallen short.

So what did I do? I deliberately dismissed the list. I gave myself a break. I watched an inspirational documentary on Netflix (First Position; about a select group of young ballet dancers pursuing their dreams. Brought me to tears. I highly recommend it).

Why should we always measure our worth in achievements and accomplished goals? How about measuring in moments, in seasons, in our capacity to love, in our simply being human? How easy it is to forget that who we are, right now, in this very moment, is enough. More than enough. And on that note, I’m going to go have some popcorn. 🙂

Om Shanti,

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Be You

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There’s a curiousness inside many of us, that seeks the answers to the questions: What is my purpose? What should I do with my life? Will it matter? How can I be successful and also make a difference?

These questions have come to me almost daily, and for years.

Last night as I sat on my mat in yoga class, something wonderful happened. I had a moment of complete clarity. In my witnessing awareness, I received the answer I’ve been searching for. I felt this all-encompassing confidence, that empowering and comforting voice that told me, “this is what you’re supposed to do.” I now know, with conviction and unwavering belief, that I am supposed to share the peace that yoga practice offers with others (in future blog posts, I’ll discuss this in more detail).

It’s funny how the universe has a way of bringing us what we need at exactly the right time…if we choose to be open to it and see it. The message in yoga last night was about being YOU. It’s easy to compare ourselves to others, to forget about the qualities that are uniquely ours and no one else’s, to take those strengths and beautiful traits for granted. Sometimes we can be so hard on ourselves, and push ourselves to the limit.

When we overlook our own blessings and individual uniqueness, we’re doing ourselves a disservice. Don’t forget, other people may be comparing themselves to you, the same way you are to them. In their mind’s eye, maybe it’s your grass that looks greener.

So be kind to yourself today and everyday. Be as kind to you as you are to others; you are just as important. Find beauty in those little eccentricities that make you unlike any other person on this planet. Celebrate them. Be silly, weird, nerdy, shy, bold. Whoever you are, be you.

Namaste.

xo Steph