Today’s gratitude goes to Joanna from Canada for #emergingproud with us. Here Joanna tells us her wonderful awakening story;
“I am an empath. For some, this is something that exists only in science fiction – but for me – it is reality. I am deeply affected by other people’s energy and have the innate ability to perceive the moods, desires, ideas and sometimes thoughts of others. As a result of this, throughout my entire life, I have felt the need to escape my own body, which is what ultimately led to my diagnosis. Being present can be completely overwhelming and exhausting for me, but, with the appropriate guidance, I learned a way to welcome, surrender to and channel the energy so that it does not incapacitate me.
About 8 years ago, after what some might describe as a complete nervous breakdown, I was diagnosed with “general anxiety disorder”. It presented with panic attacks, agoraphobia, obsessive thoughts, compulsive behaviours and extreme physical tension. After a course of antidepressants and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, I was in what I guess would be called “remission”. I enjoyed a relatively symptom free several years until I uprooted my entire life and family and moved across the country to a rural town in the middle of nowhere, away from all my supports and extended family and friends.
The first year was an absolute culture shock. People in the area that I was living in seemed to actually ooze misery and despair. My husband, son and I were having a hard time adjusting to, what seemed to be, the complete backward way of life in our new province. Without even thinking about it, I assumed the best way to deal with my anxiety would be to focus on “getting out of here” (and fortunately for me, my husband’s occupation allows us to move every 3-5 years).
Life became about fantasizing about our next destination and doing everything I could to avoid the present “miserable” situation in which I found myself. Until one day, I couldn’t do it anymore. I literally stopped being able to function. And despite being medicated, I was right back where I was 8 years earlier – having panic attacks – and anxious to the point that I couldn’t leave the house. My mind and body was in a constant state of tension. Being present in my own body actually felt hostile to me, and it wouldn’t be off the mark to say that I felt suicidal.
Having previously gone through CBT and some various forms of talk-therapy I knew I needed something different, something more. Intuition led me to contact a therapist that specialized in experiential body and mindfulness-based therapy.
Up to this point in my life, being present in my body and accepting “what is”, without judgement or resistance was a concept that proved to be extremely difficult for me – but also proved to have the most profound response when I just let it happen.
At my very first session, the therapist explained to me that her role was to bring my attention to my experience. So we sat. And as soon as I sat, with ‘nothing’ to do but ‘sit’, I was overwhelmed with emotion. At first I thought it was because I felt “guilty” for sitting and doing nothing. She asked me explore that. Guilt wasn’t it. I started to notice a sense of absolute DREAD of what might come out if I let it. I had spent my entire lifetime trying to escape my present, and my brain was on high alert, telling me a whole world of hell would be released if I sat there any longer. My therapist told me to look there. To examine that. To be curious. To basically surrender to my fear. It was absolutely terrifying. But then something miraculous happened: my “Self” spoke to me.
Instead of being overwhelmed with fear and panic, I suddenly became aware of the sense that I was going to be “ok”. “Pay attention”, my therapist reminded me – and the more I looked at this feeling of ‘ok’ the closer I got to my Self. Suddenly, I felt a literal sense of absolute and utter peace and love. I have never experienced anything this powerful before in my life. It wasn’t a “thought” (like “I love myself”, or “I’m just so peaceful right now”) the Love and Peace was actually happening to me in that moment. It was inside me and radiating outwards. I felt all at once like a loved child and a wise sage. I literally felt ‘perfect’ (not like “wow – I’ve done so many wonderful things and I’m good just the way I am”) but I KNEW, in that moment that I AM perfect. I was everything, and I was nothing at all. There was no doubt, no fear, no sadness, nothing but pure Love.
I remember the experience of the office – it seemed almost surreal. It was so vibrant and beautiful, but at the same time, nothing special at all. I remember starting to laugh. For no reason, except that I felt pure Joy and Bliss. I wondered why every single person on the planet didn’t know what I knew in that very moment. What I sensed – my Self – was so extremely complex, but so extremely simple. It was everywhere and it was nowhere – – all at once. The world and all its problems, my life, everything, literally meant nothing…but at the very same time…meant EVERYTHING. And for about 1/2 an hour, I sat, in that state. And I knew the secret of life itself.
I recall saying little else but “wow” the entire time. But I remember thinking I knew exactly why the Dalai Lama smiles all the time. He’s enlightened. And so was I.
Soon after this experience, a referral to a local psychiatrist came through. The plan was that this psychiatrist was going to monitor my “mental health” and medication. When I told the psychiatrist I had been participating in experiential mind/body therapy the look on his face pretty much said it all. The icing on the cake, however, was when he asked if I wanted to triple the dose of my antidepressant! But since becoming well acquainted with my true Self, I had the insight to lightly chuckle, smile and politely and decline.
This experience has led me to realize that all the symptoms I have been experiencing since as far back as I can remember, have actually been my True Self begging me to pay attention – screaming at me to open up to reality – the truth – and all the gifts I have to offer. I am, and have always been, a seeker. I consider my so-called “illness” to be my salvation.
So it is for this reason that I believe we need to focus on the concept of “spiritual crisis” in the field of mental health. I was experiencing exactly that, and once I found the right kind of help, I was able to start healing and connecting with my true Self. We need more people who understand that there is more to mental “health” than science or medicine can offer. What is missing from the mental health care system is spirituality, connectedness and love. ”