“You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.” – Buddha
Julie is an incredible woman whose story is extremely important to share. This story is about an exceptionally inspiring individual, who truly emulates the powerful effects that self-love and self-care have on your mental health and recovery. This story also sheds light on various self-therapeutic techniques such as yoga and meditation and how these techniques can help you in your journey to recovery.
Julie worked very hard in the insurance industry for 20 years and as she climbed the corporate ladder, she was putting in more hours and also placed enormous pressure on herself to prove that she was capable of surpassing her roles and responsibilities and was able to continue to excel in her career. “A typical day for me was waking up at 4:30 am, and before getting out of bed, checking my phone for emails, and then be into the office by 7:00 am to avoid any interruptions. I would then work through my lunch or eat at my desk while I worked and then work all day until 6:00 pm, to miss the traffic. After getting home, I would have something to eat and go to bed, the last thing I would do before closing my eyes is check my messages. I would take work on vacation or at the very least I would check my messages. I would go into work sick or, if I couldn’t make it into the office, I would work from home. It did not matter what the situation was … I was never ‘off’ work. And if I did not consistently devote all of my time and energy into my work, I would feel guilty because I felt as if I was letting someone down at work … I felt like people needed me and so I wanted to make sure I was always there.”
On April 9th, 2014, Julie experienced the unimaginable. She had had a fever for 3 days and was still going into the office because of a deadline she was hoping to meet but once she realized that it wasn’t going to work, she decided she needed to look after herself. That night she was having a conversation with her mother, where she expressed her frustrations about what was going on at work, and the more she spoke about it, the more frustrated she felt. “I began to speak louder and louder, when all of a sudden I started screaming at the top of my lungs … with absolutely no control.” Julie began to feel dissociated from her body, feeling like she was standing outside of her body screaming louder and louder. And it was not until she saw how scared her mom looked that she stopped screaming and her behaviour transformed into feeling completely mentally and physically exhausted, and numb. “It felt like my mind and body had been battling against one another and they both decided to give up in that moment.” The following couple of days were extremely difficult for Julie, as it took immense effort to move from her bed to the bathroom alone. She could barely walk and she was not talking to anyone after she had screamed out her frustrations the night before. But Julie still kept working. “I could type out the various tasks I needed to complete and completely ignoring the fact that I didn’t have the energy to talk or walk, I was physically weak, and felt emotionless.” Julie had a telephone conference the next week, where she told her colleague that she could take notes but if she needed to say anything it would be very slow, so she didn’t catch her colleague by surprise, but she was able to attend the meeting. Clearly, it is evident that her work and living up to the expectations of others and expectations she had set up for herself were taking over her life.
“I didn’t want a lot of people to know about what happened at first because I didn’t want people feeling sorry for me or asking what they could do to help, because there really wasn’t anything anyone could do. I didn’t want to be around anyone, I just wanted to be normal again so the few who did know kept in touch periodically throughout my recovery with the exception of one that would normally send me a note daily which was nice to look forward to.”
“10 days after my meltdown I decided I needed a man and signed up for match.com. I had gone on a few dates earlier in the year that didn’t work out. Until the day I got winked at by this one guy, he was amazing, so nice, and we shared the same values. His family was very important to him as is mine, and we started talking every day online, it was nice to talk to someone who didn’t know what I had been going through and was treating me normal and it was much easier to talk online than in person at this point.”
Once Julie was able to walk from the house to the car, she was driven to visit a doctor, who told her that she had experienced a nervous breakdown. She didn’t know what this meant and really couldn’t comprehend that anything was really wrong with her at all she still thought that she had the flu or a really bad cold and that everything would be back to normal in a couple weeks. And even though she was unable to walk and talk normally, she was still able to work … this was her normal. In a sense, work became an addiction for Julie, as she felt the constant need to do more and more and more.
Julie was diagnosed with General Anxiety Disorder. “I felt numb, shaky, and emotionless. I would get tingling in my fingers, sometimes through my whole body, and be able to feel my heartbeat throughout my entire body, and I would see stars in my peripheral vision. I also felt a great deal of irritation as my senses were heightened and the smallest sounds or feelings of vibrations would annoy me. For example, in June when I started getting out more and walking a bit further, I needed a cart to walk from my car to Wal-Mart and the vibrations of the cart against the concrete ground was too much to handle so I had to have my mom push the cart while I held her. Having the TV on too loud, repetitive noises, and even the sound of a fork touching a plate drove me crazy.”
“One of my doctors recommended I call a counselling service and once I finally got up the courage to call, I had to leave a message on a voicemail. When I went back to see my doctor they recommended another counsellor that I went to see but it seemed like she was just there to listen and tell me some things I should be doing but I felt a lot of pressure and decided I didn’t need it”
After telling her boss that she had a nervous breakdown and how she would just continue to work from home until she could drive into the office, she received a call from the HR department saying that she needed time off work until she was better. “They told me that it would be best to take some time off, that I had several sick days built up over the course of my employment which would give me quite a bit of time to take off. But this was very hard for me to hear because work was my life and it was the only normal thing that was happening in my life. I remember bawling my eyes out on the phone, asking them what I should do with my time. They recommended that I read a book or spend time with my nieces and nephews but I couldn’t read because the words were too blurry and I couldn’t spend time with my nieces and nephews because I was afraid I would start crying and scare them or yell at them if I got annoyed. I felt like I had no control over what I was going to do and was afraid of what I would do.” Regardless of how she felt, HR told her that they would remove her access to the company’s online databases by the end of the week. “They also suggested that I call the employee assistant program and talk to someone about what was happening to me. It was hard to talk to someone about what I didn’t even know was a problem. And when I did call them and started telling them about how I was taking time for myself now and that I was only working 8:30 – 4:30, taking my full hour lunch and taking breaks so I should be able to continue working, I remember them saying ‘listen to yourself Julie, this is what normal people do when they work. This isn’t taking a break’ but it was for me”. So for the next 2 weeks, Julie spent her time sleeping and watching movies because these were the only things she could do without needing someone to be there with her. If she was by herself, Julie would cry and ponder on her negative thoughts, it was like a constant cycle.
As reality started to set in she realized that continuing with the relationship she had started online may not be the best idea, even though she truly appreciated him being there and they were getting along so well. It was so great being able to talk to him, but it wasn’t fair to him, she needed to tell him before it got even harder than it already was. She said “how can I be looking for a guy right now when I couldn’t function normally myself? I need to love myself first before I can love someone else, so I was honest with him and told him I needed to look after myself before getting involved with anyone and he was very understanding of my decision, and told me that he was there if I needed to talk because sometimes it is easier to talk to someone independent from family and friends, so we decided to continue to speak to one another as friends. We talked almost every day, it helped keep my mind from racing and he was always there for me when I needed someone to listen to me, when I was crying or just to chat.”
Julie began to see a psychologist who was recommended by her physician and this recommendation was the best thing for Julie because she felt that having someone independent, who did not judge her situation and gave some structure to her recovery without any pressure, was exactly what she needed. “My psychologist provided me with numerous tools to help throughout my recovery that I practiced while I was with him and then took home to implement. I felt very comfortable speaking to him and he helped me to see things from a different perspective. Some examples of ways that my psychologist played a role in my recovery include encouraging me to apply some different techniques like breathing exercises to manage my body temperature in order to help with stress; he helped me process a number of things from the past that I had no idea I was still hanging onto; I started a gratitude journal where I would write three things that I was grateful for each day without repeating the same thing; he helped me to identify my feelings and effectively cope with my feelings and gave me exercises to practice at home.”
Before deciding on focusing on her psychologist, Julie had felt disappointed and discouraged due to a lack of response from other clinics she had contacted for help and did not respond until a week later saying it would be another week later before a counsellor could be assigned. “I felt disappointed because I had finally built up the courage to reach out for help and speak to a professional. And for me that meant that I wanted to speak to someone right away, before I lost courage in myself to obtain the help I knew I needed.” The frustration in finding help can be difficult; however it is important to continue to be proactive in finding someone to help with your mental health, as Julie did with her psychologist, even if it may take some time to do so. And the reason for this is because self-care is the most critical factor in mental health recovery and being proactive in obtaining appropriate and effective help to get better is the first step. Julie also learned through this process that it is very important to make a connection with the person helping you and it is ok to try out a few until you find one that you feel comfortable with. “Looking back I wish I had had a psychologist to build a relationship with much earlier to help me to process some of the situations and experiences I had gone through in the past before it came to this”.
Julie began to implement various techniques that encompass the ideology of self-care into her everyday life that began her journey to recovery, such as journaling, practicing gratitude, receiving holistic treatments like cranial sacral therapy, Therapeutic Touch, body talk, working on her energetic body to help her physical body; massage therapy was also a big help, taking a bath in lavender oil, reading fiction books with happy endings, and spending a lot of time in nature. She would also journal on how she feels rather than what she is doing because this activity allowed her to tap into her feelings and internalize her thoughts and emotions. “Of all the techniques I practiced, self-love, gratitude and practicing the ability to bring myself back to the present moment were the most powerful factors in my recovery.”
When she started building up some strength and moving around more she started back to yoga and learning meditation which were also big factors in my recovery and helped me to practice being in the present moment. “Yoga helped me to build strength and the studio was a safe place to go and let my emotions out in a healthy way, without judgement.” Julie worked closely with her psychologist, naturopath, and yoga teacher throughout her entire journey to recovery.
As time went on she learned that a lot of people she would talk to had had similar experiences both in her family and outside of her family. “I was so surprised to learn that so many people around me had had these types of experiences but I had never heard about them before. It definitely helped to talk to my family and friends who had been through something similar to help me know I wasn’t alone. But I wondered ‘Why? Why didn’t anyone talk about it?’ I want people to know how I felt and I want people to know that they are not alone.”
“I have learned so much through this experience and how important mental health is; it has been the best thing that could have happened to me.” Julie learned to be patient with herself and she began to implement more methods of self-care into her daily life. “Gratitude is huge. It is such a big deal to be able to say something that you are grateful for everyday because it allows you to become more aware of the good things in your life. By writing different things I was grateful for each day it allowed me to dig deeper.” Taking time for herself and spending time on her, by pampering herself, or by just going for a walk, time with no electronics, taking breaks, taking time to eat away from doing anything else are all things she has implemented into her life on a daily basis.
Sometimes having a significant other in your life, whether through a romantic relationship or a friendly relationship, really helps in coping with the process of recovery. Julie actually met the individual she met online in person in July and they have been together ever since. “He is truly my soulmate”.
“I knew I wanted to share my experience with others so they know it can happen to anyone and that there is hope. I want to make sure people know how they can look after themselves and their mental health because the world is getting faster and faster every day and the demand we place on ourselves and others place on us are increasing day by day. I just wasn’t sure how I was going to do this right yet.”
In May 2015, Julie had been invited by her sister-in-law to attend the Women & Wellness Oxford County event, where Christine Hillis was the guest speaker. “I could relate to a lot of what Christine spoke about at the event and she gave me the inspiration I needed to talk to others about my mental health experience.” Julie began to learn more about the CMHA Oxford County and the support they provided the community.
When Julie went back to work, after being off for almost 8 months, about 6 months after returning to work, a restructuring in the company had occurred and she was one of the 100 people who were let go. “This gave me time to re-centre and re-think about what I wanted to do with my life. So after completing a life coaching course, finishing my practicum for Therapeutic Touch that I had been practicing for 10 years before that and doing some volunteering at the hospital, a retirement home, the Therapeutic Touch Network of Ontario, a crystal and stone shop, and a few other places, I decided to travel and further my yoga and meditation training. When I came back, I decided to start my own business called “Journey 2 Balance” where I blog about my travels and experiences, teach yoga and meditation in offices and in the community, I help people set and meet goals through life coaching, I provide therapeutic touch treatments in people’s homes and offices and I talk to different groups about what I went through and the different techniques I used in my recovery. I also started volunteering at the Canadian Mental Health Association Oxford. Julie began to learn more about CMHA Oxford and the support they provided the community and she began to develop motivation to become a volunteer with them. Through her time volunteering with CMHA Oxford, Julie was able to help many individuals through providing them with information on the various resources and services offered, such as walk-in counselling.
Julie wants to continue to share her lived experience with mental health because what she learned through her experience has changed her life. “I want to help prevent others from undergoing similar experiences and provide hope to those who may be going through something similar. I want to help others by teaching them what I have learned and how important work-life balance has been for me and genuinely taking time for yourself.”