Process Over Perfection: The Imperfect Process of Being
So much has happened in this last year since launching Nelie G. Mae!
I moved from Colorado to New York and back to Minnesota again. I have been teaching yoga more frequently since being in the Twin Cities which has been a humbling and beautiful process. I suppose it always will be, just like being a student. I just watched the Netflix documentary "I Am Maris" which caused me to bawl my eyes out. The film highlights Maris' journey with her eating disorder recovery, and the role yoga has played (and plays) in her healing, both as a student and as a teacher. I feel such a sense of relation with her story, and she reminds me of the toughest realities one must embrace when in recovery from a mental illness. Although I never struggled with an eating disorder, I have struggled immensely with mental illness (read: anxiety, depression, mania, and panic attacks), so the heart of her story hits home. Themes such as striving for perfection, childhood anxiety, and the outlet art provides are all heart themes I know well. The theme of yoga being a saving grace may be the strongest of themes, and this element is one so profound I could never write justice to what it’s truly gifted me.
For anyone who is a yoga student, you know this. The process that occurs on our mat is something we release each and every time we transition out of savasana. We give it up to that which is beyond our egos, beyond our control. We give up the details from our perfection-seeking minds to the universal consciousness that some believe to be esoteric and some believe to be simply science. We let go. We trust the process. We allow ourselves to be, and we let ourselves find the best place to breathe. We find the edges of who we are, and we shed the layers of who we are not.
Since my chapter of hospitalizations, outpatient treatment, therapy, and medication, my healing journey has shifted into the realm of meditation, nutritious foods, yoga, beadwork, and community. All lovely practices in my life, and yet, there continues to be ways my perfectionistic ego sneaks her way into the picture. There is no box in life that is completely void of imperfection. Life is imperfect. I have had a hard time truly embracing this reality, no doubt.
My family moved around a lot while I grew up. I lived in both Australia and Sweden by the age of ten, and although I am deeply grateful for the experiences and perspectives this brought, I additionally realize this has played a fundamental role in my development, for better and worse. I remember blowing on dandelions seeds making wishes that our extended family could come visit us in Europe. I remember telling my teacher that I had butterflies in my stomach every day in Australia. I remember talking to my grandparents on the phone from across the ocean and getting packages of Nut Goodies. Overall, I remember the beauty over the sadness, but sadness was certainly present.
I've mostly been someone who very rarely feels comfortable expressing my emotions. This has evolved and changed as I've been on my healing journey, yet emotions seem to be something I more naturally shy away from (still learning). My personality seems to struggle with emotions I once deemed unfavorable such as anger, frustration, or sadness. The role I took on in our family was that of the peacemaker, which I prided myself in, and I didn't know how to peacefully be angry or sad, so I avoided it completely. Life was pretty wonderful for our family externally, yet again, life is imperfect. After I went off to college my sister went through a rough patch and I went through a rough breakup that included cheating and sexual assault. That's when I started consistently smoking cannabis, binge drank every weekend, and had a diet of pizza, beer, macaroni, and ice cream. Just like I did in high school, I continued to pursue volunteer and leadership opportunities, continued to maintain my 3.8 GPA, and led community-building trips around the country and world. I also continued to throw up weekly due to an unresolved food allergy that had began when we moved back to the United States (spoil alert: gluten). Internally, I had unaddressed emotions that were beginning to pile up. I remember once reaching out to a therapist while sitting in the grassy quad at University who worked with clients over the phone, but didn't feel a connection, so let it fall to the wayside, not really understanding my options, and feeling ashamed of the unknown concept of therapeutic support. Perfection is supposed to always know on its own, yet I had no idea what was happening inside of me. So I kept living a double life, externally engaged, productive, and put together, yet internally an absolute mess.
When graduation rolled around, I began to panic. School had been my comfort blanket, my tapestry to prove to the world that I was okay. The heart of my emotional pain and mental dysfunction had been present for some time, but was beginning to break through the surface with the stress of graduating. I began to be consumed by my fear of imperfection. What could I possibly do after school that would be enough?
Pain is pain. We all experience both sorrow and joy, and it is in our denial of one or the other that seem to lead to human disfunction. Emotional liberation is something I now feel so passionately about, and I will be a lifelong student in learning how to embrace this path. After years of denying my emotions, they began to spew unhindered from under the rug. Before graduation from University, I experienced a manic episode, which is another story for another day, but it was an experience unlike anything I have gone through in my entire life. My sense of reality was completely altered, and it wound me up in the psychiatric hospital for five days. When I reflect on the experience now with close friends/family I mostly joke about it because it was, well, crazy. The places my mind took me were absolutely ridiculous, like a waking/walking dream, and I am just glad I ended up in the hospital rather than somewhere explicitly dangerous.
Afterwards, I was in an outpatient treatment program for several weeks, and had to drop one of my classes (oh, the horror!). The period after the hospital was pretty awful. I felt like a sad quiet little cloud, ashamed to use my voice. I completely lost my faith in myself. I suppose I had to truly lose myself to find myself again. I remember my parents having to nurse me back to health; I had great difficulty completing simple tasks. It was all very confusing, very discombobulating. I was on medication, which I hated, and felt the saddest I had ever felt in my whole life. I guess my sadness finally had a crack to shine through.
The following few years included lots of therapy and a number of medications. Having been a sporadic practitioner of meditation and yoga since mid-college, I decided it was time for me to commit to my practice. I enrolled in a teacher training program with a local yoga studio, and soon after discovered my gluten allergy and stopped throwing up. I began teaching yoga, and met some of my most near and dear friends to date. I still wasn’t perfect though. There was that one visit to the E.R. for a panic attack, which led my family to seek out a therapist. The first session was with my whole family, and then I continued to see her as well as another therapist in the building; I had finally found therapists I genuinely connected with and felt a sense of trust towards. Later in the year, I participated in an all-night medicinal ceremony (peyote), and I lost track of my sleep schedule. I fell off the wagon so-to-speak. This time it was different though, I called my dad and told him I needed help. I admitted myself into the hospital, which was a big shift in my journey considering the resentment I once had towards the hospital for contributing to my trauma. I took another step in surrendering to the journey of healing.
After this particular hospitalization, something woke up in me. I realized I had learned tools to identify my symptoms and reach out when things went awry. Although a questionable decision from my family’s perspective, yet with the support of my therapists, I decided to move out to California for the winter. I knew that winters had been especially difficult for my mental health due to the lack of sunshine, and decided it was time to nurture my love for travel in a new and bold way. I had always wanted to move out of the state on my own, but had never felt like I had the authority to do so considering the unpredictable nature of my health thus far in adulthood. I dropped my lease, packed up my car, and drove out west.
The move was incredibly liberating, and continues to be one of the best decisions I have made in my life. It was a declaration of trust to myself. I continued to develop my home practice of yoga, and taught friends the practice along the way. The next few years included many moves, from ziplining and studying Yoga Nidra in New Zealand to taking care of a two-year-old in the middle of the Costa Rican jungle. I moved to a mountain town in Colorado, and launched my jewelry business while living in my cousin’s pool house in New York. Sometimes I taught yoga, sometimes I didn't. I keep refining my health in new ways: I took a year cleanse from drinking and smoking, and I started eating completely plant-based. I keep teasing out the new ways my perfectionist mind sneaks up on me. I keep listening when pain has something to say. This process is never perfect.
Having moved back to Minnesota, I feel like I am embarking on a completely new adventure, potentially with less sparkles than my nomadic chapter. Yet, it feels like it will be just as thrilling and lesson-rich. I sense this to be a chapter of grounding with my sense of home, rather than reaching for it. Of reconnecting to the why. Of listening to the truth of what my heart yearns for internally and aligning my external world with that. Of liberating my emotions again and again when they get stagnant.
Winter has been tricky for that last piece. Such stillness winter provides, and there’s a whole lot of darkness in Minnesota. When the light begins to shine from the sky again, we realize what our spirits and hearts have been through. We can now express, share, and grow from the depths of literal darkness we have sat with. I am excited and grateful to grow in completely new and unfamiliar ways. I am still terrified of not being enough, of not being perfect. But what shines stronger than the fear is the abundance of light and love I now feel in this life. The key is reconnecting with this trusting knowing moment to moment, which is why it is called a practice. Being both a student and a teacher of yoga continues to show me that. Life continues to bring our lessons forth in new forms that tempt the mind/ego and trigger the heart. Our lesson is identifying the love within it all, and for me, that is the real practice. We can see the haters or the lovers (by the way, we can also see the lover in the hater, but that's the real doozy).
Beneath the mental chatter, beneath the pain, beneath our insecurity lies something much greater: the knowing that we are and will always be enough. There is nothing else we have to do, there is no perfect way to live. What is most important is the way we love ourselves and allow our most true/best self to exist. And what’s even more brilliant is that the more we love ourselves in this way, the more we can show up for others again and again. It takes a village, but it starts with our own loving relationship towards ourselves, right here, right now. That is where the true magic happens. It isn’t found in obsessing over our past memories, or in the potential excellence of our future selves, but right where we are in this moment. One breath at a time. True magic is found in this miraculous and totally weird process of being.