Welcome back to the anxiety hackin’ blog! I just completed my very last weekend and module of yoga therapy training. I graduated today and feel like I am on cloud nine. It is so surreal to be finishing this journey and continuing on my true path of becoming a successful yoga therapist!

In honor of graduating from my three-year yoga therapy program, I figured I would share my journey, as I have never publicly shared it before. I have shared bits and pieces of my own life about coping and living with a mood & anxiety disorder, but I have never really done a “tell all.” I am so excited to do so, because I have been reflecting so much on how yoga has transformed my entire life.

I found yoga as a tool for healing in 2014. I was suicidally depressed the summer after graduating college. Yoga was the only thing that made me feel better after seeing seven medical specialists, three psychiatrists, and countless therapists. But let’s rewind just a decade or so. The pain started when I was eight years old. I was suicidally depressed then, too. I spent two weeks in the psych ward at the Children’s Hospital when I was in third grade. I was riddled with worry, rituals, frustration, and anxiety. I was diagnosed by a psychologist with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. I started taking medications and things were managed.

In the fourth grade, I started pulling out my hair in class and was diagnosed with trichotillomania. Again, more medications were prescribed, and time went on. For the most part I have memories of a very full and happy childhood. I played with the neighborhood kids until the sun went down and had such a loving home. Mental illness is hard on everyone in the household, and I remember the tension it created, but my memories are mostly happy!

Once I hit middle school, my diagnosis would change to bipolar disorder (which was a poor diagnosis since I did not have all of the diagnostic criteria, but they have to label it). I was in in-school suspension nearly every week, if not that, it was detention. I was moody, and rightly so, going through puberty. I was put on a cocktail of drugs that really seemed to work well until I graduated college. My memories from high school through college are very happy. I think the combination of medications worked for a certain amount of time, but at the end of the day, I was not connected to my higher self, my truest self, and so I was destined to keep suffering.

Flash forward to senior year of college. I was drinking a lot, eating crappier than usual, and writing a twenty page thesis in Spanish. I was plagued with the task of finding a job and in 2014 it was so tough. I ended up settling for a job with the federal government. A great opportunity, but something I had zero interest in (again, not listening to the higher self or connected to my intuition).

The summer after college was when everything started to go south. I would take klonopin to get through a waitressing shift, and spent loads of time having meltdowns to my mom. I frequently thought of different ways I could kill myself. I vividly remember being out shopping with my mom one day and seeing some rope and just hoping to die. I would cycle through periods of extreme anxiety and periods of extreme depression. This was my reality. Again, not connected to my inner self, totally attached to other’s opinions and social acceptance with getting a job and pleasing my family. My belief systems needed some work (which I got to later in therapy and continue to work on). Attachment leads to suffering and suffering leads to pain. Pain in inevitable, suffering is optional. I was choosing to suffer by being so disconnected from myself.

I started my new job in the fall and moved in with girlfriends. Looking back, I was so ungrounded in my living situation, which perpetuated the disconnect and the stress. I was going to a job every day that I had no purpose in and no passion for and I just started to decline.

When your mind runs perpetually and your nervous system is constantly in sympathetic fight- or -flight on and off for 20 years, the body starts to shut down. My body shut down. I became extremely fatigued. Walking down the metro escalator was painful and uncomfortable. It took effort to get up from my office chair and walk to the printer. My whole body ached. My right foot went numb for two weeks and my finger joints all started to ache like crazy. I would get home from work and nap for an hour and then drag myself through a treadmill workout. I could barely make it through the day and this made my mind crazy. My anxiety worsened and so did my physical condition.

I saw seven medical specialists. The rheumatologist said maybe it was lupus and the neurologist said maybe is was narcolepsy. They were all wrong, The neurologist actually suggested that I take the narcolepsy medication (which is essentially like the date rape drug and you have to take it at 3 am) because I fell asleep for all six naps under 3 minutes during my sleep study. He said that I didn’t have narcolepsy but I could take this strong, dangerous drug to cope (thanks, medical field). I declined. I bought a Groupon to a yoga studio instead.

After a few months at an amazing, well rounded studio in D.C, I started to feel better. I was attending an anxiety group weekly and doing the yoga. I started meditating for just five minutes every day. One morning, I was riding the metro to work and I started crying. I realized I didn’t feel fatigued. I couldn’t believe it.

I started sharing different techniques with my anxiety group. I felt SO passionate about sharing healing through yoga. I knew I needed to find a way to make a career out of it. Thank god my intuition was still working.

One day I was visiting my then boyfriend, now husband, in Philly. I went to a yoga class down the street from his house. I was chatting with the instructor and told her about my dream to do therapeutic yoga with people. She told me about the school she trained at and said they offered an extensive yoga therapy program. This was YogaLife. I called the owner that week and signed up the following week.

After 250-hours of teacher training, I had learned so much about my inner workings and my mind-body connection, the natural next step was yoga therapy training. I had moved up to Philly to live with the boyfriend and was studying for the personal training exam and nannying. Other than worries about money, it was one of the happiest times of my life. Learning all things yoga and exploring a new city. I felt great! I was finally connecting within and learning what really mattered.

I decided if I wanted to make a real career out of yoga therapy, I needed to move to where I had more of a network. My then boyfriend, now hubby, didn’t want to stay in Philly forever, so we moved back to Northern Virginia. I started personal training and teaching yoga and slowly building my business, EMpower Yoga Therapy & Wellness Services.

So, you expect me to say it is all sunshine and butterflies since then…well sort of! About a year and a half ago I started feeling horrible again. I saw a functional medicine doctor and learned that I had: a cyst in my sinuses, mold poisoning, tick coinfection, and neutropenia. My blood work indicated my body was attacking itself from the infections and my anxiety kicked up big time. I found all of this out three months before my wedding and went into surgery the week after my wedding (God forbid they screw my face up before the wedding). BUT here’s the difference: I had yoga. I realized if I attached to the health conditions, then I would suffer. I started upping my meditation and visualizing a healthy body. Over time, I healed and learned quite a bit about myself and the fear that I have around not being well.

My point in this whole story is that we can’t control everything and we certainly can’t avoid certain illnesses or ailments. But we can choose how much we suffer. Pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional. If we can breathe into the pain and find some acceptance, the pain can be reduced. This past July I had a bone marrow biopsy to rule out leukemia for the low neutrophil. As the doc drilled into my SI joint I breathed my deep, diaphragmatic breaths and when he was done, he said, “how did you do so well through that?” I told him I treated it like a really hard yoga pose.

Life throws a lot of really hard yoga poses at us constantly. It doesn’t matter what happens, it matters how you deal with it, how you process it, and how you react to it. Yoga saved my life because it put me in touch with my higher self, the part of me that is not my body and is not my thoughts, but is the eternal unchaining part of me. It is so easy in our fast-paced society to be disconnected from our truth, but when you start to slowly tune in and listen, to get still and quiet, you can befriend and learn about that inner, higher self. That part of you is always there, always waiting for you to come and be still.

For those of you who are on the fence, yoga is being studied more than ever all over the world. It is shown to be more effective than medication in treating depression, rewire and change the brain, reset the nervous system, balance the immune, endocrine, cardiovascular, and autonomic nervous systems. If those stats aren’t enough, take my personal story. Since 2014 I have weaned myself off of seven medications. I have lost over twenty pounds and learned to become more in tune with what my body needs. Most importantly, I have rewired my brain by creating new habits and turning off the mind each day. One of my biggest takeaways is that yoga is a LIFELONG practice. Practice makes practice. Someone like me will consistently have to work very hard and be very disciplined to stay medication and pain free. I embrace this. I love working on myself and studying my own behavior. I have examined my belief systems rooted in childhood in therapy. I have challenged my fears and put my worries on trial. I have written down every anxious thought and then re-written it as a neutral thought (thought records, baby!) Yoga is a lifestyle. I use the teachings throughout my day, my week, my life. I am always focusing on an intention each week so that I can easily re-route back when I get off track. I make a point to meditate every day. It is like brushing my teeth now. I sit in meditative seat in the morning and my dog lays in front of my legs. He obviously loves the energy.

I am now taking this out into the world. My mission statement is to share yoga with others to help them heal and connect with their truest selves. This is a powerful healing modality. Yoga has been shown to significantly help patients suffering from all kinds of conditions and ailments. There is tons of working being done with yoga and; cancer, depression, PTSD, addiction, heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, Muscular Sclerosis, the list goes on….

It is a weird thing to say, but I am grateful for my ENTIRE journey. I truly believe that I was meant to go through all of these lessons to make me a better yoga therapist. The more I study myself, the better I am as a healer. Yoga saved my life and I am forever grateful. I am a warrior and the power has always been within me, I just had to learn how to access it.

If any of you are struggling and want to give yoga a try, there are so many things you can try! That is why I love this field/realm, it so vast and personal. I invite you to try a meditation challenge. You can download an app, like Headspace or Calm, and just start with 5-minutes a day. Joining a local studio can be a great idea, just make sure you find one that is the right fit! If you try a yoga place, and feel like you do not jive with their energy, try another! Don’t get discouraged, it’s like picking out a doctor’s office or a hairdresser, you have to find the right fit.

If you are local to the Aldie, VA area, I will be offering yoga classes at the Wellness Connection, as well as therapeutic one-on-one sessions and anxiety workshops. Please visit the following link for more info! If you are interested in private yoga therapy via video chat, that is also an option. Feel free to contact me or visit my website, also pasted below:

“What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.” –Ralph Waldo Emerson

Love and healing light,

Maddie Tuohy