I’ll never forget the day I saw—really saw—myself in the bathroom mirror. I’m in the partially gutted bathroom of the bungalow I’d purchased in a neglected but hopefully up and coming neighborhood. I’d been staying up till all hours learning home improvement the hard way. It’s late afternoon, I’m dirty and exhausted and have hours of work ahead of me. After looking around and wondering what the hell I’d gotten myself into, I turned to look at the mirror. The eyes staring back at me were so lost and every last hair from my eyelashes and eyebrows was gone.
On the surface, I was ok. I’d been working as a freelance graphic designer and, with a small load from my dad, had bought a little bungalow and was fixing it up. But I’d been struggling with the pendulum swing of stress-induced anxiety and depression for a decade at that point and in that time I had failed out of college, lost several good jobs, avoided my problems with anything that would distract or numb me, and was completely overwhelmed and miserable.
I had tried so many times to get myself together and change myself but nothing ever really worked. My stress and self-loathing had initiated this repetitive behavior of tugging on my eyebrows and eyelashes. There was something oddly soothing about it, but it became something I did non-consciously. And eventually, I pulled them all out.
That day, seeing my own despondent face was a low point for me. I had no eyebrows or eyelashes yet whenever my mind was racing, I would find myself frantically picking at the places my eyebrows and eyelashes were suppose to be.
That day, after more than a decade of shoving my feelings down, because I didn’t have the coping skills to manage the normal highs and lows of life. That day, probably because I was so physically drained and mentally raw, when I looked in the mirror, I really saw myself for the first time in a long while and knew I had a choice:
Stay stuck and miserable or take charge of my chaotic mind and change my life.
Even though some things in my life were going right, inside, I was on a downward spiral and could see rock bottom. It scared me and I felt sure at that moment that if I didn’t change something, I’d probably end up committing suicide under the weight of mounting despair.
And at the same time, I was showing up for multiple clients and had just made a smart real estate investment. Why couldn’t I just feel content instead of so out of control? Why was I worried all the time and go through the day with a faint sense of dread? Why did I feel like I was barely keeping it all together? What was it going to take to not feel like there was the outside version of me that was normal and the inside version of me that was a basket case?
There I was staring at my own strange-looking face and feeling almost out of hope when I heard a whisper. It said, “Just stop pulling out your eyebrows and eyelashes.”
I’ll admit, there may have been a bit of vanity motivating me, but I decided then and there that even if I was going to continue to plunge into the scary world of my inner chaos, I at least didn’t want to look like a total freak.
I was determined to stop, so when I caught myself pulling on eyebrows or eyelashes that weren’t even there, I’d bend over and take a few deep breaths. And I’d say to myself, “You don’t have to pull out your eyebrows and eyelashes. You can stop yourself.”
I felt better immediately.
At first, I only felt better for a few minutes, but I knew I was onto something because the experience showed me that I really could take charge of myself in a moment of struggling.
This empowering revelation didn’t change everything right away, obviously, but during the next year, I kept forward bending when I felt stressed, overwhelmed, frustrated, (sometimes pulling the car over and putting my head down on the steering wheel!), taking slow, deep breaths, and focusing my attention what I actually wanted for myself at that moment.
The dialog I was having with myself shifted from “Stop pulling out your eyebrows and eyelashes.” to “You’re ok. You’re ok.” My eyebrows and eyelashes started growing back. Slowly. And as I used moments of struggling to clarify what I wanted, my sense of being able to take charge of myself and face challenges strengthened.
My life started shifting too. Within a year after seeing myself in the mirror that day, I got offered a good job where I met a great guy. At some point, I discovered that what I was doing, bending and breathing and focusing, was yoga-like so I started going to a weekly class at the YMCA. And the same process was showing up there: bend, breathe, and focus. This class became the way I would check in with myself, an opportunity to listen to and direct my inner voice, and I had another revelation about my revelation. I recognized that the same choice was always present:
Stay stuck or take charge.
And the more I chose to take charge of myself in little ways, like breathing and focusing in the shower when I knew it was going to be a busy day and felt a vague sense of panic, helped me take charge of harder moments like one day at work when a bunch of deadlines were looming and I was learning how to use new software that was intimidating, and I felt full of self-doubt. People kept coming into my office asking questions, I was trying to concentrate and started feeling like a pile of file folders on my desk was looming large, teetering and about to collapse and bury me. I went to the bathroom and, with my butt on the wall bent over, breathed, and said to myself, “You can do this. You can do this.” And even though it was still an intense day, I did it.
A couple of years later, after that great guy and I had gotten married, we decided to move to a different city and make some big changes in our lives. Since I’d been going to the Y for yoga on Sundays and hooked on this practice that was obviously helping me become a more stable person, I knew I wanted to use this fresh start to pursue a deeper understanding of yoga.
After researching a bit I discovered a yoga teacher training in Integrative Yoga Therapy. This resonated immediately as an exact description of my experience of making bending and breathing and focusing part of my life to relieve the stress I’d been struggling with for so long. I signed up for the training during which I learned about 3 tools from yoga theory: self-study, surrender, and intention. The more I learned, the more it became clear that I’d been using these 3 tools to initiate + fuel massive personal growth.
And I’m still using them 20 years later.