I hope that by sharing my story, I can help others get back on their boogie boards and start finding joy again.

Image courtesy of author

Image courtesy of the author

It’s easy to document physical progress in yoga, but anyone who practices regularly will tell you that conquering advanced poses is not a compelling enough reason to keep coming back to the mat. I love learning to do new “yoga tricks”, but what I love even more than that is not feeling crazy. For me, it’s the development of resiliency, patience, and self-acceptance that is the real reward of yoga.

I’ve been wanting to create a visual representation of how yoga has changed me mentally and emotionally, but no images presented themselves until recently. What you are looking at is how life felt before I established a yoga practice and how it feels now that I have been practicing regularly for about five years.

A few years ago, my anxiety could run my life, at times. I had an irrational fear that my husband would get in a car accident if I forgot to wear the promise ring he gave me. I was  once so nervous about presenting at a meeting that I thought I would really honestly truly implode on the spot and cease to exist. I avoided social gatherings if I didn’t have one person to cling to as my home base. I replayed conversations in my head again and again, trying to determine if I had said the right things or if I should be embarrassed by my performance. I had nightmares that rivaled horror movies. Nothing was simple. Every decision I made or event that occurred had to be dissected and critiqued relentlessly. I was exhausted. I was the stick figure drowning under the waves and my life was a constant self-made storm.

It wasn’t until I became a mother that this way of living became unsustainable. In order to take on the new role of care-taker for a tiny helpless human, I had to learn to put on my own oxygen mask first, as they say. At first, yoga was just a way to get out of the house alone and get some exercise. Eventually, I found balance as a mother of one. I was the stick figure on a boogie board, riding the waves. Unfortunately, the storm returned as I prepared to become a mother of two. I battled Postpartum Anxiety Disorder for nearly a year after my second son was born. I was once again the stick figure drowning under the waves, and this time the storm was not easing up on its own. It was the most intense and painful period of my life. The more I hurt on the inside, the more I put into my yoga practice. This explains why I worked up to so many advanced postures during that time. I remember the feelings of pent-up anger, frustration, and helplessness that I tried to wring out of myself as I cried through sun salutations. I repeatedly attempted arm balances and inversions until I found success. By focusing on developing these poses, I could temporarily forget about the things I could not control.

With the help of yoga, running, talk therapy, a new SSRI, and a strengthened commitment to self-care, I found my way above water and I’ve been riding the waves again. I even managed to ditch my anxiety medication completely for the first time in eight years. I now consider myself a survivor of Postpartum Anxiety Disorder. I am still a person with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, but my anxiety does not run my life anymore.

Two years ago, I would have been ashamed to admit this publicly. One year ago, I felt comfortable sharing this with some people, but I remained afraid that others would think I SHOULD be ashamed and that I should keep it to myself. Today, I’m willing to share it fully because I’ve learned that my story is not as uncommon as I once thought. I know that when people judge me, it is more of a reflection of their own experiences and beliefs than a reflection of my truth. I hope that by sharing my story, I can help others get back on their boogie boards and start finding joy again.
Katie Collins is a special education teacher and mother of two young children. She has been practicing yoga for over ten years and credits yoga with her ability to ride the waves of life as a woman and mother, including conquering postpartum anxiety.