Hey, I’m Laura. The first anxiety attack I remember was in June 2012. I was on vacation and I couldn’t fall asleep. My heart was racing, my chest pounding. I tried to close my eyes to fall asleep, it felt like moments later I woke up gasping for air, over and over again, like I was having recurring nightmares.

By the time I started my master’s degree that fall, I was having anxiety attacks regularly. I decided to see a psychologist on campus. She taught me mindfulness exercises to help calm my nervous system, and shift my focus when I felt anxious. I also started practicing hot yoga regularly 3-4 times a week. For a while, the anxiety attacks happened less and less.

But then in June 2013, the flood happened. When we were evacuated from our neighborhood, we were advised to pack for a few days as a precaution, so that’s what I did. I wasn’t in a panic at all. While people ran down the street with suitcases, I made a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and pondered what else to bring. The next day our home was under water.

Nothing can prepare you for the posttraumatic stress from a natural disaster. I remember the meltdown I had in front of the pile that was our home. I went rouge and I was alone. But I didn’t want to break down in front of anyone, I wanted to show others I was strong and could handle it.

I started going to a new psychologist. I kept practicing yoga regularly, started adding in more cardio to relieve stress, focused on my nutrition. But I was hiding under all my actions of self-care; I didn’t have the tools to express myself, to even describe how I felt. I struggled for months to acknowledge the anger and pain I felt. I remember clearly when my therapist said; you need to treat this experience like the loss of someone close to you.

I lived in a constant state of flight or flight for the year following the flood while we were displaced, living out of suitcases; couch surfing between hotels and apartments. I had adrenal fatigue, I was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s Disease; my body was in a state of chronic inflammation and developed more food allergies. My immune system was weak, to say the least. I was depressed and anxious; I used the term a lot that I felt “stuck.”

During my first yoga teacher training, through self-inquiry, meditation, practice, and conversations with my mentors, I realized I had a lot of anger and resentment toward myself, blaming myself for being in my situation. Once I realized how toxic my thoughts and feelings were, I broke down. I finally let go and sobbed multiple times. I was playing a blame game in my head, trying to deflect and avoid, and I was also manifesting physical pain, especially in my right hip (probably not a coincidence that hips are where we hold our emotions). I was so angry inside, no wonder I was exhausted, anxious and sick all the time.

I decided to get psychological assessments, where I was diagnosed with GAD (Generalized Anxiety Disorder), remission of MDD (Major Depressive Disorder) and ADHD. I went over 25 years of my life without being diagnosed with ADHD, which can often go hand in hand with anxiety, they can feed each other. The insight I received about my mental and emotional health helped put my mind at ease, especially once I stopped beating up on myself for so many things that had been out of my control.

My life appeared to be back in a flow until I was laid off from my full-time job last summer.  I thought I was finally figuring everything out, I was turning 30, I had a plan, and it went to hell.  And then, about 8 months ago, I started losing my hair, and quickly. Before I knew it I had 5 large bald spots spread throughout my skull. It messed with my mind, my self-confidence and fed my anxiety. I was embarrassed and cried almost every day. I asked my partner would he still love me if I were bald. There was a flood of anger and sadness. I’d let stress and anxiety get the best of me, again.

I found myself in another period where I needed let go, surrender and practice self-inquiry and self-love. My body was trying to communicate with me for months, but I had lost connection with myself, even before I got laid off. There were multiple things in my life that were not serving or aligning with me, ultimately distracting me. I am not perfect; I will never claim to be. These difficult experiences teach me, and I must make the choice whether or not I am going to pause, listen, and be open, or crumble in the vicious cycle that is anxiety.

The older I am, the more honest and open I am about discussing mental and emotional health. It’s taken years to come to peace with my health diagnoses and to embrace the truth that they don’t define me. On the contrary, they empower me, to care for myself, not just to cope, but also to thrive, to choose myself first, and to live from a place of more compassion and less judgment.

I am extremely fortunate to have a loving family, friends, and partner, but not everyone feels this way or has had the space to feel as safe as I have to talk openly about mental and emotional health. We all need to talk about mental health more because everyone has struggled, mentally, emotionally, however you want to refer to it, and there is still so much stigma attached to very human things like mental health conditions and addictions.

I’ve made the conscious choice several times in my adult like to ask for and seek help and it has never been easy. My ego always resists, and sometimes gets the upper hand. But I feel empowered to say no, to speak my truth, and also speak up.

I also combined some of my struggles and passions into my career, which meant I needed to be at peace with the affects of the flood. My company Nourish Sweat Soul is directly related to my experience of loss from a natural disaster. That experience made me more environmentally aware, I want to live more mindfully and consume more consciously. Ultimately that horrible experiences lead to me starting something that now brings me so much joy and fulfillment, and that it a beautiful thing that I never expected.

I am creating a life of purpose that is authentic to me, and that includes talking to you right now. I care less and less about what other people think and is not second nature, it’s a practice. We need more real, and less bullshit in our world. More love, and less judgment. We need more real connection face to face, more openness, and more compassion.  And we need to surround ourselves with people, places, and experiences that align with us, not things that enable unhealthy habits and make us think ill of ourselves. Something I find helps move me from procrastination to action, is to have at least one person close to me to keep me accountable, it is unrealistic to think that we can overcome everything alone.

You may not know what your passions are yet; you may not know what exactly you need for your mental and emotional health. Answers may come with time, trial and error, or ups and downs. Personally, I just try to stay open, I practice letting go of control, I try to do things that are out of my comfort zone, and I always, always try to be kind to myself, that means the dialogue in my head and nourishing myself inside and out. We are all a beautiful work in progress. J

With love,