You don’t need to know this. I’m not even sure I want to tell you. But I think it’s important.
For the past 4 years, I have been on a major self-discovery journey. It sounds nice, but truly it has been the hardest 4 years of my life. I did not purposefully start the journey. The drastic downward spiral of my mental health pushed me to it.
I have always experienced some level of depression and anxiety, but my symptoms fully erupted as an adult. I did not reach out for help, and, to be honest, I didn’t think I needed help. I moved through life with a mask on, hiding my troubles with a smile, but about 2 years ago, I lost control. I spiraled down quickly and could no longer cope with how I was feeling. I needed help, and I am lucky that a few people in my life were able to take over and literally save me.
I was diagnosed with myriad mental health issues, including bipolar disorder, and I stayed in the hospital for quite a while under constant care so I could learn the tools to take care of myself. After more recovery time at home, I was ready to slowly re-enter the outside world. I was equipped with a diagnosis, medications, awareness techniques and therapy sessions, but I was out of balance. My time away had taken a toll on everything, including my spirit and my body, which was dealing with the effects of new medications and lack of movement.
What was missing for me was Alkalign. My body was weak and tired, and I needed exercise. I also needed my Alkalign community.
I have been an avid Alkalign fan for years. I share my love by teaching the Alkalign principles multiple times a week, I exercise there daily, and sometimes I stop by just to hang out. Taking class every day was what kept me going through really hard times in my life. It was one hour to nourish my body and my soul. I took class to clear my mind and strengthen my body, and I didn’t realize at the time how much my 1 or 2 hours a day at the studio were keeping me together.
When I was finally ready to go back to Alkalign, I hesitated. I needed to come back to my community, but I was also embarrassed and worried. Had people noticed I was away? What did they know? What did they think of me? I didn’t want anyone to know what I had recently gone through or how truly sick I was. Mental illness still has a stigma attached to it even though most of us experience some version of it or know someone who does. It’s seen negatively, as a sign of weakness and failure. Social media doesn’t help, either, with its images of only smiling faces, happy families and exoctic vacations. I’m just as much to blame. I most definitely did not boomerang my medication 6 times a day or post any stories with my hospital location.
Luckily, my good friend and Alkalign founder, Erin Paruszewski, was there to help me every step of the way, even persuading me to stay on as an instructor. She knew everything I had gone through yet still wanted me on her team. I wasn’t alone, and I didn’t need to be embarrassed. Hiding who I am and my struggles along the way are not what Alkalign is about. When we say Alkalign embraces what is “real, raw and human,” we truly mean it. It takes real strength and the will to be raw and open with yourself to accept who you are even if it means learning you need help.
Together, Erin and I devised a plan to bring me back to life. She knew what I needed and helped me return in a way that was comfortable for both of us. I started out taking class and working at the front desk. Having an appointment to keep and just being in the Alkalign environment were enough to start, and I eventually went back to teaching. Then and now, my day basically revolves around when I will be at Alkalign. In the studio, I feel focused and a sense of normalcy, especially when taking class. You have to listen, do what the instructor says and feel what’s happening in your body. It’s kind of a break from your own brain. I think of Alkalign as my moving meditation.
I am proud for surviving everything I have to get to this point. I am not “cured”; there is no cure. I have gotten help, though. I take my medication consistently, and I am aware of the status of my health. I can say that I have a mental illness and that I am also a healthy functioning member of my family and community.
When I started writing this, I felt like I was admitting to doing something wrong. My anxiety rose with each draft as I worried about being judged, patronized or, worse, ostracized. I don’t have any expert advice, and I don’t understand the many levels of mental illness. What I do know is how I feel and what I have gone through. And that is why I want to start a conversation about mental health and hopefully lighten the darkness that surrounds it. I am not saying you need to shout your problems from the rooftop, but it is our responsibility to be real! That’s why I am allowing myself to be vulnerable and saying that I struggle every single day.
Don’t feel sorry for me. I am a strong woman, and my illness doesn’t define me. I have bipolar disorder, I live my life, and I thrive thanks to Alkalign.