In my early 30s, I had two seemingly unrelated but very painful experiences that changed the course of my life.
In the first downfall that spanned about a year, I entered into a depressive state with suicidal ideation. It felt sudden and unwarranted. I was six years into my dream career living in a beautiful coastal town where ocean meets forest. I was highly educated and had received recognition for my hard work and innovation in my job.
But I was overcome with a profound sense of worthlessness. My depression ebbed and flowed that year but ultimately ended in severe burnout. My body was chronically armored and rigid as I carried the stress of my job through muscle tension.
I sought out body workers to help alleviate the tension from my body, but it felt like treading water. I failed to uncover the root problem of my episodes of worthlessness and burn out. Ready to quit, I was desperate to find an exit strategy and reinvent myself.
The next year was a blur, but once the first COVID vaccine was released, I started feeling enthusiastic about coming online again. Precisely as I began to prepare for a career change, an issue crept into my body and left me with a permanent, partial disability. I was still carrying tension in my body, approaching my work with a do-or-die mentality that perpetuated workaholic tendencies. So I developed a repetitive motion injury in my right arm due to the nature of the desk job, forcing me to start a Worker’s Compensation disability claim.
Per doctor’s orders, my work hours dropped to one hour a day, and for the next eight months, I worked less than half time as I battled with incredible pain that affected my day-to-day life. It was difficult to take care of myself. I could not wash dishes or do laundry. Even brushing my hair and taking a shower sent sharp pain through my arm. Unable to work or take care of myself in any sense of the meaning, I slipped into another depressive state.
Two years after the initial injury, the doctors and specialist informed me that I will most likely be managing this pain for the rest of my life.
Depression, suicidal ideation, physical injury, chronic pain, worthlessness. How was it all related?
The episode of worthlessness that took me by surprise, pointed directly at the source of the issue. Conditioned to believe that my self-worth is contingent upon my accomplishments—personal self-improvement, career achievements, and creating order in my environment—I had been fixated on controlling myself and the world around me to avoid the intense feeling of deficiency and uselessness.
My internal world was in disarray, because I lost touch with my inherent, non-negotiable, worthiness.
It kept me in a cycle of overworking and overextending myself to the point of physical injury. The physical pain continued even after the tissue healed because my tendency to be conscientious, perfectionist, and anxious (anxious about being conscientious and perfectionist) are all associated with a type of chronic pain where your brain is stuck in a pain loop because it’s misreading signals of danger. I am now learning how to use somatic practices to retrain my brain to feel safe again.
My psychological healing journey began when divine intervention introduced me to Jungian depth psychology and an embodied dance practice.
In Jungian depth psychology, I learned to uncover the beliefs and emotions that I secretly harbored in a part of my unconscious mind known as the shadow. Everyone develops a shadow in the process of building an ego and personality. The shadow and ego are part of a normal and a fully functioning life. However, what hides in the shadow is the secret to understanding how you show up and what limits you in the identification of your personality.
I managed to avoid the worthlessness that lingered just beneath the surface until my 30s, because I filled every moment with busy activity—I made no time for feeling worthless. Idleness was misconstrued in my body as lazy, immoral, emptiness. It literally felt unsafe to be idle. I needed to feel purposeful, even if it was just dusting my house plants (which yes, I like to do).
Lurking in my shadow was a disgust for passivity, idleness, and imperfection—to name a few. But, insight on my patterns wasn’t the key to changing my perfectionism and workaholism. I had to integrate the shadow qualities into my consciousness by working with the emotional patterns that kept me stuck for my whole life.
At the same time I stumbled into the Jungian world, I discovered embodied pole dancing and feminine movement, which taught me how to drop in to my body and hush the incessant mental activity. The practice became an outlet for me to explore pleasure through movement and tune in to my senses and perceptions. I found inner divine creatures that wanted to express their anger, grief, radiant joy, and mischievous rebellion through dance. I was empowered to take full ownership of my body and feel into every emotion that would otherwise be judged and demonized in the outside world.
“When the body is fully open, we can trust our own feelings and actions; they anchor us in an inner home. The body protects and guides us—its symptoms are the signposts that reconnect us to our own lost soul.”Marion Woodman
Safe to be Me
These practices have shown me how to drop into the depths of my soul. I can experience the timeless present moment that is home to my inherent worthiness—without the relentless activity. I’ve experienced clarity and true mind-body-soul alignment for the first time in my life.
I feel like I’ve stumbled across a gold mine. I honor my body’s wisdom. I listen to myself. I sit in my deep stillness. When I feel anxiety, depression, or other unpleasant emotions, I don’t feel bad about it–everything is becoming my superpower. I love my shadow. I’ve learned to accept ALL of me.
My true Self–my essential beingness at my core–is so fucking lovely. I’m getting to know her more and more every day, and I can’t wait to be in the presence of myself for the rest of my life.