“The soul is so often treated poorly in the larger culture, it is so often dishonored and pointed to as a pathetic, poor, strangled thing because so many individuals do not say aloud, and do not live out loud, their absolutely certain knowledge of the soul.”
--Elena Avila, Woman Who Glows in the Dark
This is the story of how I learned to Do Me...Always through facing my anxiety and staying true to my values in order to find my purpose, identity, and authentic voice...
My first panic attack was on April 20, 2011. I was 18 years old and a freshman in college. As I walked out of my coach’s office after telling him I no longer wanted to be on the team, my mind went blank. Minutes later, I found myself in the locker room trying to clean out my equipment. My body was shaking uncontrollably, my heart audibly pounding out of my chest. A now familiar pins-and-needles feeling began to move up from my fingertips. I had spent countless hours perfecting what I was going to say to my coach, feeling confident that quitting the team was the best decision for my happiness and future. I thought I would feel relief and a sense of freedom after months of going through the conversation over and over again in my head. So now that it was over, why did I suddenly feel the need to vomit and run away? It is only now, years later, that I can recognize this visceral reaction as a sign of my body urging me to listen to it’s wisdom. These bodily sensations weren’t an attack against my decision to quit, but rather an emotional release of a life that I was prepared to leave behind.
I had always held on tightly to the label of “student athlete.” Hockey was the reason I went to a private high school away from the comfort of friends who had known me since I was 5. It was the reason I went to a small liberal arts college in rural Vermont that I didn’t really know anything about other then that my uncle had gone there and that they had a “sick rink.” As most hockey players are proud to admit, the sport had pretty much dictated my life up until that point.
So in retrospect, I’m not at all surprised that, after quitting, I spent the rest of college feeling lost, confused, inadequate, and purposeless. My entire identity had been stripped from me in a matter of minutes, and it was my own doing. I had asked for this. I spent the rest of college slipping seamlessly in and out of varying degrees of anxiety and depression, unable to fully grasp the philosophy of which I now live by: how we use and abuse our mind, body, and soul directly impacts our state of happiness and wellbeing.
"I was ignoring my own needs in order to fulfill others."
By the end of sophomore year I felt completely out of balance with my body and mind. I was binge drinking whenever I got the chance because it dulled my body’s anxious pleas to stop. I stopped working out because I didn’t understand the point if I had nothing to train for. I was put on anti-depressants that made me sleep 14 hours a day. My weight fluctuated significantly every two or three months. Knowing that my inner body and mind were a complete mess, suddenly the most important thing in my life was how I appeared to others. If others were perceiving me as happy and on-top of it, it must be true. I was ignoring my own needs in order to fulfill others’. I would do anything it took to maintain the positive perceptions people had of me. I was on a constant pursuit of validating my self-worth through external contingencies, and I was winning. From the outside looking in, most people would deem my college career as top-notch. I had an amazing group of friends for whom I am still grateful to this day, was well-liked by most, and got decent grades while never missing a night out. Yet my internal struggle between the person who I wanted to be and the person I had become was far from pleasant. The external validation kept my anxiety at bay for a while until graduation rolled around and I still had no idea who I was. I had spent the past 3 years becoming the person who I thought others’ had wanted me to be, and now all of a sudden that audience was gone. I was left alone feeling the need to vomit once again. And this time, it was my body telling me that it was time to break down the emotional wall I had built around my true self, but my mind wasn’t quite ready to let go.
I had the opportunity to spend my first year out of college ski bumming in a small town in Utah, and I jumped all over it; anything to keep me from actually having to make life- defining decisions. However it was in that year where I finally came to terms with my anxiety. Being away from all of my friends, family, and former community who had only known my wild side, better known as “party Eliza,” made it easier for me to gain clarity around my other, more thoughtful side, “deep thinker Eliza.” It became clear that party Eliza had overshadowed deep thinker Eliza for years, causing an extreme imbalance in my whole being. It was time to nurture that part of me that I had ignored for so long.
Moving to San Francisco to pursue a master’s degree in Integrative Health was my deeper side urging my goofy, impulsive, wild side to invite her to the party. Over the past two years I have developed the lifelong habit of putting my self-care above all else because I know that’s what will make me the happiest, most productive version of myself. Sometimes, self-care means introspective thinking and reflection through journaling, meditating, and spiritual communication. Other times, it means going out dancing with friends and embracing the 24-year old who likes to get a little wild sometimes! It’s a lifelong process trying to find the balance between these two equal parts of my identity (more on “living with the paradox” in a later post), but instead of being afraid of that process, I now embrace it wholeheartedly and with excitement of the possibilities! This process is what led me to where I am today: ready to help and support others in their own journey of building a healthy, loving relationship with their whole being.
I’ve always been a person passionate about holistic health practices, exercise, spirituality, and the power held within each one of us to create the world we wish to live in. I lost sight of those values when the desire to find an identity that fit into the complex social landscapes of college (and more generally today’s society) overpowered my entire being. It wasn’t until I turned inward was I able to fully acknowledge the pain I had created for my mind, body, and spirit. That in fact, my true identity had been there all along, just waiting patiently to be set free from the cage of conformity.
Want to learn more about my philosophy on how to love yourself and stop worrying what everyone else is thinking about you so you can live exactly how you want to live? I’ll be posting a new blog every other week that goes deeper into each of the “Six practices to Live (and Love!) Where Your Feet Are.” Stay tuned!!