Yoga (and Sertraline) Saved My life
Updated: Oct 28, 2020
I recently had the privilege and honour of speaking on a panel of women for an International Womens Day event in my home town.
I was taken aback at just how many people my story resonated with, and a lot of women came to me asking for the notes from my speech. I’ve been blown away with requests, feedback and inquiries, so below is my transcript from my speech that I hold very dear to me. I share it hoping that it may resonate with a few more people who struggle with mental health. If you or someone you know is struggling please reach out.
Good morning to all of you beautiful women. So wonderful to see you all. Before I begin, I’d like you all to join me in a few deep breaths. So if you will, please join me by closing the eyes, bring a smile to your face. Big inhale…….. To be honest that was more for me and my nerves but doesn’t it feel great!? According to my research, 75% of people suffer from speech anxiety…so fear of public speaking….So what a wonderful theme for todays event! Fear; On The Frontline.
For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Claire Beath. I’m a Boorowa local, and I teach Yoga here in town. When the wonderful Janene Hurley contacted me and asked if I would like to be one of the speakers at today’s event, I’ll be honest, I was in shock. Of course I was absolutely honored and flattered and said yes. But I was honestly very surprised to be asked. I had known about these woman’s days and the caliber of women that spoke on the panels. So I feared (the theme of today! In so many ways) that I had nothing to offer. Janene said “Just tell us a story! We just love to hear peoples stories”. I thought about as a woman what is it that I struggle with, what is it that I fear and what is it I would want to hear. So here’s a few defining chapters from my story.
My name is Claire. I’m 25. I’m an artist, a musician, a lover, a fighter, a feminist, a vegan, a Yogi, a wanderer, an against the grain goer, a gypsy, an environmentalist, and I struggle, or rather now cope with, Anxiety and Depression.
I guess I should begin with the previous 24 years that lead up to this exact moment in my life to put everything in context for you. I was officially diagnosed with Anxiety and Depression in January 2017. Although I suspect, now that I know what I’m dealing with, that I have had it my entire life. Be it nature or nurtured, who knows. Many a sleepless night has been spent trying to figure that one out.
An uncle and a hero of mine who struggles and copes with the same mental health disorders, calls Anxiety and Depression “The Two Ugly Sisters” and they usually walk hand in hand together. For those of you who don’t have anxiety and depression, you probably won’t know what it actually feels like. So let me try and paint a picture for you. Anxiety is the constant dread and worry that overrides every single thought, every situation, every encounter and every moment of the day. It’s being woken up at 4am in the morning and thinking about something stupid you said or did 8 years ago and not being able to fall back asleep. Anxiety is worrying that you’ve left the oven on, even if you didn’t even use it. It’s walking down the street and thinking everyone is looking at you. It’s hearing someone laugh and thinking they’re laughing at you. It’s the constant feeling of being judged. It’s being hyper aware and sensitive of other peoples emotions and thoughts. Anxiety is worrying about worrying, and then worrying some more that your worrying will give you worry warts, or worry cancer or worry ulcers. Although it is far more complicated than just “worrying”. If you struggle with anxiety and people tell you “don’t stress” you’ll know that that within itself is the most frustrating paradox. Anxiety is the pandemonium of irrational thoughts that consume you; they own you and they avalanche from your brain and land heavy on your chest, suffocating you, making it hard to breath, hard to speak, hard to move. It’s exhausting mentally, emotionally and physically. It’s controlling and quite frankly it’s shit.
Depression is complete exhaustion for no reason at all. It’s not wanting to get out of bed and face the world. It’s feeling like you’re dying although the Dr says there’s nothing physically wrong with you. It’s wishing that there was something physically wrong with you so you could explain it to yourself or to others. It’s the constant wonder of “what’s the point?!” it’s the constant feeling of being a burden to your friends and family who don’t understand why you can’t “Just get over it. Be happy!”. It’s the profound guilt you feel for not being able to do just that. It’s the devastation and disappointment you feel for your self, wishing that you could be someone else, or worse, wishing that you didn’t have to “be” at all. It’s knowing that there is in fact people out there who have it far worse than you and that are far happier than you, which in turn makes you feel like an ungrateful, worthless, waste of space. Depression is much more than just feeling sad or your monthly PMS. Depression is dark, it’s lonely, and it’s incredibly scary. I had a very fortunate, stable and loving upbringing, but there are moments in my childhood that I can first pin point my anxiety. Other than the standard tantrum I’m sure I was very capable of throwing, I do recall a few times as a kid that feeling of being completely overwhelmed and not being able to express it. So unfortunately it came out in hysteria. Which now as an adult, I can identify it as a panic attack. I remember the other ugly sister, depression, approaching me at a young age also. Having bizarrely heavy and profound thoughts. I can remember the feeling of sadness, heavy stress and dread. That’s not really something a five year old should be aware of, let alone feel. Highschool sucks for everyone. It’s an incredibly tough time for kids. You’re trying to figure out “who” you are, you’re trying so hard to fit in. You’re constantly stressed, you’re hormonal, you’ve always got assessments due, you feel judged by all your peers all the time, you’re trying to meet your teachers and parents expectations, you’re growing boobs (or in my case not growing boobs). I personally had terrible haircuts and went through a bit of an “emo” phase. Tough times indeed.
But on top of all of that chuck in bullying, deep insecurities, losing a close family member too young to cancer, an eating disorder and constant, self-hate, you’ve got yourself a very unhappy and lost teenage girl. And it’s becoming more and more frequent with our teenage girls today. I stopped excelling at things that I loved and that I was good at like music and art, and instead allowed toxic people to treat me poorly. The pressure I felt at school across all areas was overwhelming, and my anxiety was in charge for most of it. I got through highschool and was so excited to get the hell out of there. Two days after I turned 18 I moved to England. It was the only thing I was sure of at this time in my life. Whilst everyone was going to uni or staying in their hometown, I wanted out. I wanted to meet new people, see new things, to get lost in the world.
I pretended like I was tough, and that I wouldn’t miss my family, like it wasn’t a big deal! When I arrived at Heathrow Airport my anxiety crept in to inform me “IT IS A BIG DEAL!” I was so scared. I even remember calling my mum from a pay phone having what I now know was a panic attack because I couldn’t do the simple adult task of setting up my own bank account in another country! Not really a big deal at all! I was just learning how to do life! But in my mind I had failed. I was supposed to be grown up and independent and able to do things like that! I soon settled in and calmed down and this year abroad turned into one of the best, most definitive years of my young adult life. I learnt so much from it. I learnt to be responsible, independent and organised. I learnt to live off not very much money at all, still travel and have a good time. I learnt that life indeed is defined by experiences, not things. I travelled for a year and made amazing friends, I saw and did amazing things, and regained my lust for life. I loved the feeling of being in awe of the world. Experiencing different cultures, different traditions, and different foods. Travel became and still is my one of my greatest loves.
Maybe my need to see more and do more comes from growing up in a tiny rural town, but I’ve always been an against-the-grain-goer. I’ve always been infatuated with the big wide, world. Unfortunately in this environment, and to a lot of people, the gypsy lifestyle is considered completely nuts!
Family functions have never been my forte… For a very long time I dreaded and feared them. People closest to you questioning you about what you’re doing with you’re life? Are you going to University? How much money you’re making? I’m sure it comes from a good place, but to a young adult it feels like pressure and expectation. I remember I had returned from a stint of travel and was home for Christmas. A particularly dull family member asked me if now that I was home was I going to get my life together? Well she actually asked me if I was going to get my “shit” together
I didn’t realize it WASN’T together! As far as I was concerned, I was living MY life the exact way that made me happy and that’s all I wanted. I wasn’t harming anyone in my process of figuring it out. But as a young adult you’re swayed and shoved into thinking you’re doing it wrong, when really you’re just living your truth and figuring it out! Like everyone has done before you. Just figuring it out on your own terms! I’ve always been a gypsy. I don’t want ties. I just want to see it all. I will happily live out of a backpack, wake up somewhere different frequently, I will sleep on the floor and be comfortable if it means my lust for travel is fulfilled. And I know that that’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but IT’S MINE. My cup of tea is adventure, it’s meeting complete polar opposite souls and still finding something in common with them. It’s hearing their accents, learning their culture, eating their food, seeing their wonders, walking in their shoes. That’s life to me. People tell me that it’s not sustainable, but I’m not worried. I don’t want things and stuff and status. I want life experiences, stories and adventures. I don’t want to be on my deathbed wishing I had of! I want to be saying, “Geez I’m glad I did that when I could!”
So I’ve travelled- that’s my consistent. I get itchy feet. I have to see things and do things ALWAYS. When I came home, from living in England, all of my friends whom I had travelled with were going to university, but that never felt like the right fit for me. I didn’t want to commit to something for 4 years for the sake of it and just because everyone else was. So I did what my family told me to do at family functions, which was get a good public service or “career” job. I had always worried “am I doing life right?” Which is a very frequent anxious thought pattern of mine.
I got so caught up in what I thought I should of being doing, what people were telling me I should be doing, that I forgot to just appreciate what felt right for ME!
I got a job as a flight attendant for a rural airline. My anxiety was terrible around this time. I was so scared of something going wrong on a flight and not being able to handle it. I was also 19 at this point and this was my first proper job. This job was NOT for me. I hated the rules and the hair spray and the stockings. I hated the fake giggling at sexist jokes men would make, and once I was on a flight, as we were coming in for landing, the left engine caught alight. It wasn’t brought to the pilot’s attention or mine, until passengers were safely in the terminal. The baggage handler had noticed it. The engineers had known about this issue for WEEKS! So this completely scared me off the job. So I transferred, and worked in flight operations for a few months, hated it even more, and I then quit before the airline eventually went into receivership. I then got a job in a VERY corporate office as an admin assistant for two consultant teams. I hated every second. It was soul crushing every time I walked into that beige, high-rise building. Consultants would work 10hr days every day and never get ahead. They were never content. The office culture was malicious, as they’d throw each other under the bus to get promotions. There was a competitive, money hungry culture where enough was never enough. I didn’t fit. The last straw was when my boss once told me that I needed to wear more grey and more beige to work. I applied for my visa to Canada and booked my flight two weeks later. When I was 21 I moved to Canada. I initially went for 6 months and ended up being there two and a half years. I had an amazing first summer in Jasper, Alberta working at the most incredible place, Maligne Lake. The second summer season I worked there, I became a boat driver and tour guide. Something that was real challenge with anxiety.
In the winters I lived in Canmore, Alberta. A beautiful little mountain town enclosed by the most magnificent mountains I had ever seen. Living in Canada was amazing, even in the winters, and it still has a special place in my heart. I lived in the heart of the Candian Rockies. I woke up to sunrises and snow covered peaks and walked home with glorious mountain sunsets over fresh lakes. I loved the abundance of wildlife; I loved the fresh, nature and outdoor activity orientated lifestyle. There was no corporate competition, there was no one there asking me “what are you doing with your life?” we just lived. It was enough. In nature, in happiness. I climbed high peaks, paddled long lakes, swam in glacially fed waters, made life long friends from all over the world. It was a really beautiful time.
But I suppose you’re wondering where the yoga and sertraline saving my life comes in?
While living In Canada I did a fair bit of drinking and partying (as a young adult does!) And I forgot how to take care of myself. And not knowing what mental health issues I actually had, I wasn’t taking care of myself in that sense at all. Within the space of about 8 months my dad was diagnosed with cancer, a very good friend of mine committed suicide, and I went through a really rough break up. It was tough but I thought I was fine. I thought I was coping just fine but I was away from my support network. I thought my need to drink was normal, just to numb what was going on in my head, and I thought that it was just how normal young adults coped with things. I thought I was fine. I wasn’t fine. Not at all, and mums can pick these things up, even if they’re on the opposite side of the globe. I had practiced yoga off and on though out my high school years and later in life but I had never really had a consistent practice. I always thought it was just a trendy thing that only skinny, flexible people did and posted on instagram. When things were really bad, and my mental health started to slip, my mum organized for me a 10 class pass to a wonderful yoga studio in the town where I was living. This is where my true passion sparked. Once a week I’d go to a class of an evening and it was like I was saved. I was able to stop the pit of anxiety in my stomach; I was able to still the crazy, anxious thoughts even just for an hour. I started to take care of myself physically. I became incredibly body-aware and fell in love with how my body is actually capable of so much if I allow it to function the way it should. Such a big milestone for any woman. My Thursday nights were soon dedicated to this class instead of the bar. I found another love; Yoga.
That being said, after I discovered Yoga I still wasn’t doing that well mentally. I still wasn’t really sure what I was dealing with or why I felt the way I did all the time. I started to lose sight of what feeling “normal” was like. I made the decision to return home, even just for a little bit to reset and get well. When I returned home to Australia late 2016 I was a mess. A truly anxious and depressed mess. I was hanging on by a thread. I felt like I was in the middle of a vast ocean in a rapidly sinking boat. I was suffering a complete emotional breakdown and had no Idea what it was at the time. I just knew I couldn’t go on like this. I went to the deepest darkest corners of my mind and the result was scary. I couldn’t see any light at the end of a tunnel. It was so dark that I even had a planned an escape route. This is still tough for me to talk about but it has a happy ending I swear.
I went to the doctors for just an overall health check, and my doctor immediately could tell there was something going on in my head far more serious than just “stress” or “feeling sad” She told me I needed to get help and maybe consider medication. I said to her “but if I get help, or acknowledge whatever this is, then it becomes real. Then it becomes an actual problem” My doctor looked at me as I was sobbing and shaking and said “I think it might already be a problem. But it doesn’t have to be this hard”
I honestly thought that I could beat a lifetime of anxiety and depression without help. I thought that I SHOULD! And HAD to handle it. I felt the enormous stigma around mental health, I felt like a burden to my family and friends for being this way. I felt like I couldn’t talk to ANYONE!
But I was defiant I was going to fix it, and do it Naturally. I turned my nose up at the idea of medication, following the stigma around it. With nothing left to lose I tried everything else. I became completely sober. Eating completely vegetarian and clean, reading self help books, I had tried even going off all hormonal adjusting contraception, I was exercising 4 hours a day. I felt better to an extent, but every evening around bedtime, my anxiety and depression crept back in.
I felt like the ultimate failure that I couldn’t “fix” myself. I was devastated that I might have to go on medication. I feared that I would be judged as crazy. Now I realize that the only judgment I needed to fear was from myself. On one particularly dark day, I gave my self two options; Take the escape route, or reach out. I reached out to an amazing woman in my life, My Aunty Jude who is also a mental health nurse. She convinced me to at least try the medication. Now with really nothing left to lose, but at the same time EVERYTHING to lose, I got myself on the lowest dose of Sertraline, an anti depressant and mood stabilizer used to treat anxiety and depression.
I still 100% firmly believe that you cannot just take a pill to magically solve all your problems. I strongly believe that western and eastern medication needs to harmonize and balance. So I continued my clean eating, sober living, regular exercise, daily meditation and yoga practice. But what the medication did was stabilize what ever goes on in my head. It balances things out. It silenced the consistent, overbearing, whirlwind of thoughts. It got rid of that pit of anxiety that has sat on my chest for far too long. It allowed me to breathe and gave me some clarity to start working on myself, to start making decisions with out second guessing myself over and over again. I’ll be honest; the first month on sertraline was rough and took some getting used to as I adjusted to the medication. I was dizzy; tired all the time, and forgetful. I wondered if it was really worth being on at all. But then I remembered how bad things got and how distressed I had felt. I didn’t want to go back to that. I then got the best, but perhaps most challenging job for someone with anxiety and depression. I landed a recruiting job with a Volunteer Organization. My role was to go around to various universities here in Australia, selling our amazing volunteer programs conducted in South-East Asia, South America and South Africa. My role was to run into as many lectures full of hundreds of students and essentially preach, in 60 seconds or less, about our amazing programs. I had to be loud; I had to be engaging, exciting and memorable. I had to leave people wondering about the organization and wanting to know more so that they’d come to our information sessions the next day and then perhaps go on a volunteer program.
Two weeks into my recruiting run I was really starting to miss my consistent yoga practice. One weekend; my recruiting partner and myself were driving through Sydney preparing our flyers for our next university, when he made the error of turning into on coming traffic. The last thing I remember was seeing a bus coming towards me, I thought, “This is going to hurt, I’m going to die, my poor mother, and God I want to practice yoga right now and forever” Honestly….These are the things I thought of before impact. An epiphany almost.
I was knocked out and woke up covered in glass and my own blood from a fairly superficial wound in the back of my head. Because I was t boned by the bus on the passenger side, they couldn’t open the door, so a stranger held my hand until the services came. I went into panic and shock, I couldn’t breathe and couldn’t feel my hands and feet. It was honestly the scariest things I’ve been through.
I was taken to emergency; they stitched me up, gave me some pain meds and sent me on my way. I was expected to work the day after. Holy moly my anxiety peaked. Just ask my poor mother. There was a couple of very stressful phone calls that weekend. I was disappointed and angry at the organization for treating the situation fairly flippantly and expecting me to run around campuses with injuries. The only thing driving me was the potential to actually land the gig of conducting the volunteer programs overseas, as what they call a Team Leader.
After my recruiting contract ended, I applied for the role of Team Leader. I got it and flew to Cambodia to work for the next three months. This was hands-down the hardest job I’ve ever had. And maybe ever will have. It was 24/7 for three months. I had groups of up to 25 volunteers all around the ages of 18-20, and a lot of them had never travelled before. I had to pick them up from the airport, organize their food, their accommodation, make sure they were having fun, and conduct the programs like building a schoolhouse or a library or a water catchment. I had never built anything in my life! We worked on wildlife sanctuaries working with rescued elephants; we worked on building one of the largest artificial reefs in the world contributing to marine conservation. And most importantly we helped beautiful, amazing communities in Cambodia that need all the aid they can get. I was like a mother to over 100 volunteers over the course of the three months. It was tiresome, it was challenging on every level, it was hard on my mental health, volunteers got sick, I got sick, and I got stung by a scorpion in the jungle. It was tough. But I loved every single second of it. Some of my volunteers found out that I was really into yoga and asked me if I’d do a class for them. I had NEVER taught a class before and really didn’t have any idea what I was doing…but said yes, mainly to get a good review from my volunteers. I fell in love instantly with teaching yoga.
After working in Cambodia I came home for a few days to see my family, and then after a very last minute decision, flew to Rishikesh, India for my Yoga Teacher Training. I was so nervous that I wouldn’t be as good as everyone else, or that I would find out that I really DIDN’T enjoy teaching, and that I had just wasted all of this money on this course. But I decided to hush the anxious thoughts and at least give it a go. India after all was always on my travel list.
This intense month in India, practicing Yoga every single day, meditating, eating well, learning the fundamentals and history surrounding the beautiful practice, was one of the most enriching times in my life. I was surrounded by like-minded world-wanderers, gypsy souls who a lot of struggled with the same things I did! We had all come together to continue our personal practice and learn how we can share it with many others. There’s something really beautiful about that.
The peace that I have found within my personal practice is something that I will always cherish and work hard to keep. I love the peaceful way of life which yoga preaches. Eating well, being kind to one another and the planet, practicing discipline, control as well as the sensation of letting go. I love the ancient tradition and culture that surrounds yoga. Yoga has been around for thousands of years…so that must give it some credibility.
After my month in India, I passed as a Registered Yoga instructor. But I had challenged myself on so many levels in the past year, I had proven to myself that I could do it! I had proven to myself that with all my mental health hurdles, I was capable. I could literally get hit by a bus and keep on keeping on! So I had one last challenge in mind; A two-week trek through the Nepal Himalayas on the Anna Purna Circuit. I thought I had seen mountains in Canada…but this was the real deal. Nepal had always been my mecca. It was number one on my travel list for so very many years and I was finally ticking it off.
I did the trek with my guide Bim. I carried my pack the entire way, walked every step of the way- this was something that I really wanted to do for myself, I wanted to do the hard work for myself. Was I scared? Oh my god, Yes. It was the most physically challenging tasks I’ve ever done. It was also incredibly mentally challenging. Being alone with your thoughts for about 8hrs every day as we walked. But such a rewarding trek.
Each day was a new challenge with new terrain to trek. We stayed in beautiful tea houses along the way, immersed in the Nepalese culture as we climbed higher and higher, meeting the locals, eating my weight in Dhal Bhat. I loved the high altitudes and the weird way it made me feel. I felt that my yoga course had given me the ability to keep a fluid, conscious breath, even in incredibly thin air. We made our way through the Anna Purna Nature park and reached the pinnacle of the trek; Thorong La.
At 5,416 meters high, Thorong La is the highest pass in the world. And my god is it beautiful, worth every single step. This was the highest I had ever gotten myself and it was such an incredible feeling.
After Nepal I returned home to Boorowa NSW at the end of 2017. I began my next adventure and challenge; teaching Yoga here under my business baby Ramble OM. It has been such an incredible experience beginning my teaching here, almost a full circle experience! My aim is to bring Yoga and all its benefits to as many people as possible. Particularly those who struggle with mental health, and women. I want women to feel peaceful and beautiful. Strong in their mental, emotional and physical bodies. Most of us have no idea how wonderful our bodies are and how wonderful they’re meant to feel. I want to bring that self-love and body awareness to women and I want to bring that same peace it brought me so many years ago, and that it still brings me every time I come to my mat. So what’s next? Next month I’m travelling back to India to train for my next certification in the Yoga Teaching World. I hope that it will give me better insight into the human body, adjustment and alignment as well as a stronger personal practice. Am I nervous? Of course! But I’ve learnt to harness that energy and turn it into peace and excitement. This is what I love. This is what makes me feel good. This is what helps me get out of bed in the morning good days and bad days. And (with the help of sertraline) I think it saved me!
I don’t say any of this for self-appraisal, or to give the false impression that I’ve got it all figured it out. Not at all. I still have really bad days and panic attacks. I still have days where I can’t get out of bed or have total melt downs. But now they’re fewer and a little easier to recover from. I’m just taking one day at a time, good or bad. I’m just figuring it out as it comes, I’m focusing on the present moment, peace and happiness, my body and my breath, and helping others.
I say all of this to let others who may find themselves in that same sinking boat all alone in the middle of a mental health ocean- You will be ok. Show yourself some love, some kindness, and give yourself the right tools, be it medication or therapy or whatever! Own it, and never be ashamed of it. Learn your triggers and learn to cope accordingly. Give yourself a chance! You’ll discover that you’re capable of accomplishing incredible things. And remember, when things get stressful or scary, close your eyes, bring a smile to your face, and take a few deep breaths.