I’ve been travelling for a while now and sharing those stories. Now however, I feel I would like to share more about my other journey. The bigger one. My life, up to now.
How on earth did I end up here? And why would someone want to radically change a pretty comfortable life, with a good job, a nice house and surrounded by (mostly) wonderful people?
Honestly, I’m still not sure, even though I’ve been away for a while. I’ve been thinking about sharing my story for quite some time, although it also feels a bit vulnerable. On the other hand, maybe it will help or inspire you.
What was happening
I’ve been on an intense journey of getting to know the real me, or the me I can be or whatever you want to call it, for a few years now. Starting when I was 28, with therapy, because of anxiety/panic attacks in 2013.
They had started about 8 years before that, when I was 20 (I will tell more about that later). There was a little 3-year break while I was in a relationship, but they came back after that had ended.
For me, a panic attack means, being on edge and very uncomfortable in public places/crowds, feeling sick and not being able to eat properly. If I was triggered, my stomach would turn in no-time. Resulting in, that whenever I was in a public place or transport, I would check where the bathroom was. Making sure it wasn’t too far away and I could get there easily (I didn’t always make it though).
The added issue was, that I’ve always been quite skinny. Being sick or not being able to eat, meant I’d be losing weight, which made me more anxious about panic and that turned into a circle of fearing the fear.
People had always had a tendency of telling me to maybe eat more and gain some weight, which is not particularly helpful. I’ve been like this all my life. My metabolism is high and my body does not know how to store anything (when it comes to survival of the fittest, not so good to be me) but generally, I’m a pretty healthy person
The good change
My first therapy session was with a psychologist. We talked, or actually, I did most of the talking. But this wasn’t it. I knew my story and knew to not avoid the situations that caused me to panic, because it would then only get worse. I should keep on breathing (I had been practicing yoga for 7 years, so I knew the drill) and try to realise that there wasn’t really anything ‘bad’ happening in those moments. Mentally, I knew what was wrong, but I couldn’t feel it. I needed a different approach. Not one that confronts the mind, cause my mind can rationalise pretty much anything. My body was telling a different story. One I wasn’t sure I was ready to hear, because it scared the crap out of me. It also meant all my other ‘stuff’ would come up and I’d have to deal with that too. No fun at all!
I found a haptotherapist, who really helped me a lot. She helped me to really start feeling my body again and everything it was telling me. As she always said ‘the body never lies’. I had no idea how disconnected I was and got to meet myself in a way that was very unsettling. Never had I realised how much I of a people pleaser I was, at my own expense. I wasn’t able to feel my own boundaries, let alone make them clear and defend them. Being confronted with that, made me incredibly sad.
At the beginning of this path, I only felt worse about myself and felt disappointed at who I had become. Fortunately, after more talking, feeling and loads of tears, I started to be more ok with myself and learned to hear what my body was telling me. I didn’t or couldn’t listen yet, but I could hear some things. Babysteps, babysteps…
The time my body started to speak up
The panic attacks started in 2005, after I broke up with my first boyfriend and got to know someone else, let’s call him John, whom I would later be in a relationship with.
My first relationship had lasted too long. It took me a long time to find the guts to break it off. He was my first boyfriend and I always felt like that should be the one to spend the rest of your life with. I was totally in love and it took ages for us to get together, both of us feeling insecure. We actually weren’t very compatible or communicative for that matter. We played lots of videogames with friends and pool at a local poolcafe, but we had quite different ambitions and ideas about life. He was a smoker and more of a stay-at-home family type and I was studying and wanted to explore the world. He wasn’t too fond of my family, because he smoked and they didn’t like that. I wasn’t too fond of his family because they were all smokers. Celebrating Christmas with his or my family was a big task.
After the butterflies’ phase (the first year or so), which had been really nice, life slowly turned into a not so happy routine. I wasn’t the type to stand for what I wanted and was scared of and avoided confrontation, afraid to be alone and not liked anymore. Seeing each other and having sex turned into an obligation or if it didn’t happen, a complaint. I did what I thought was needed to stay together. Not a good thing at the age of 20 (or any age for that matter).
At that time, I was studying and had met someone I found really interesting during my internship. There was this attraction between us that was really exciting to me. Especially, since the relationship I was in, wasn’t working for me anymore. I had also planned to move to London for my final year of studies, half a year later. In the end, all this made me able to break it off. I found this really hard to do after having been together for 2.5 years (not very people pleasing…), but felt a big relief the next day. Like a weight that had been lifted off of my shoulders.
That then, opened the door to John. I found him to be a handsome mysterious man. Appearing very self-assured and with an interest in me (yay!). He could be really charming, helped me in becoming more open-minded, but also really push my buttons. He was the outgoing, intelligent man I hadn’t had before, showing me what I felt I had been missing while staying with my ex. But he would also confront/tease me with things I had told him about my previous relationship that I hadn’t been happy about. We would both laugh about it, even though, to me it actually hurt. But I had decided that I wanted this and could deal with it. Even though he lived far away (relatively, because it’s still Holland…) we met up several times during that summer. And that’s when the panic attacks began.
I had always been insecure, didn’t want to disappoint people and wanted to be liked. Not that unusual. The problem was, that I also wanted to be ok with the attention that felt hurtful. Or better said, I craved attention badly enough, that I told myself to be ok with whatever happened, even though my body literally felt and became sick. And since I can be a really stubborn person, whom could take care of herself and everyone else, I got myself in a bit of a challenge.
We spend several weekends together that summer, barely leaving his room. I got excited about having sex again. We never really talked about what we had, it was more lust than love. I wanted more, but he didn’t and I was afraid that if I said something he would leave. This insecurity and not talking about it made me anxious, sick and unable to eat properly. I couldn’t be myself, pretending to feel ok and be as desirable as possible, because I thought that that would make him happy. After the summer, I moved to London. I had hoped we’d be together, but pretty soon after I left, he met someone else with whom he wanted to be. That left me feeling alone and unwanted, I had tried so hard.
Spending time with him and moving to London were the beginning of me starting to live. Up to then I had lived at home, in a village where everyone knows each other. I had lived with my dad and for the past 4 years, my stepmom. My mother passed away after a long battle with cancer when I was 7. From then on it was my dad, my sister (who was 12 back then) and me. We managed pretty well with help from my grandma and others. I got good grades at school, had some friends, was allowed to go horse-riding, so didn’t really lack much.
My sister moved out when I was 12. During my high school time, I got really used to being on my own and independent. When I was 16, my dad got re-married and my stepmom moved in. She had been a friend of the family for a long time and they had been together for about 8 years. Her two sons had already moved out.
It was quite a challenge for everyone to get used to the new dynamics in the house, since she is a very talkative person and I was not. My dad had always said he didn’t want to end up alone and would choose her, since me and my sister would move out eventually. This lead to some confrontations where I would (have to) hold back my opinion to keep everyone (except myself) happy.
So, at age 20, it was time to leave. To London of all places. A city with millions of people, where I felt incredibly alone. It’s hard to move to a foreign country and start a new life. I think a lot of people underestimate how challenging it actually is. I know I had. Luckily the language, for me, wasn’t a problem. The social bit however, was a bit more of a challenge, especially because of my newly discovered panic attacks. Although looking back, I wouldn’t have want to miss it for the world. I made new friends, partied and learned so much about myself. It wasn’t always fun and easy, but definitely worth it.
After London, I moved to the north of Holland, living with a friend and continued studying. John came back into my life, or I came back into his, he had never left my mind. At university, I became friends with one of his best friends, living in the same city he was living in. He was now living together with his girlfriend, but there still was a lot of tension between us whenever we met. We occasionally bumped into each other (making me feel really uncomfortable), while I continued my life. Going out, meeting new people and managing my anxiety. That managing happened mainly by testing how far I could go with men (since they were my main trigger, and having a conversation without getting sick was already difficult), without freaking out. I liked to call it; therapeutically messing around. Luckily, I had a few great friends who were really supportive of me and my anxiety and never made a fuss about it whenever I got sick while we were going out. Not many people knew, since I felt really embarrassed about it. By the way, it’s not very helpful to try and hide anxiety, it kind of makes the issue bigger…
My second relationship
After less than a year, in 2007, I quit my studies and moved to Utrecht, where I had found a job in a really great laboratory at the university hospital. Because science works with funding and funds run out I had to find a new job a year later. The first 4 years I changed jobs every year. Either due to lack of funding, or because it just wasn’t the right place for me (poor management with a lot of pressure).
In the meantime, during my first job, me and John started talking again, through an online game he had recommended (yes, I was a (gaming) nerd). He had broken up with his girlfriend a few months before. Half a year later he invited himself to join me on my salsa dancing course and pretty soon we were together and he moved in. I was still quite anxious and insecure in the beginning, but it slowly got better.
The first time he met my parents and sister, was when they came over to talk. My dad had just heard he had a metastasised melanoma, he is one of the physically healthiest people I know. Fortunately, he had surgery and everything has been well ever since, but that was a weird time…
He and his family also had some issues, mainly because of (lack of) money. This led to tension between us. He always pretended that everything was ok towards his family, that he could help them out, while he couldn’t. He did find a good job with a decent salary, but also had a big study debt. I had been helping him financially and that didn’t work well. It was all very frustrating. People always say that money doesn’t make you happy, but having issues with it totally sucks and can make you pretty unhappy. We had also bought a car which turned out to be really shitty and spend too much money on repairs.
After 2 years, we had to move. I had been sub-renting a house from a man, who needed it back. We moved out of the city into the suburbs, surrounded by young families. He hated that. We almost bought a house that was going to be build (we both had a good salary so getting a mortgage wasn’t a problem). (Un)fortunately, very last minute, it didn’t feel right for him, so we cancelled it (I had been really excited about this, he never really had been). Not much later I found out that he had bought an apartment. It turned out that buying was cheaper than renting (he bought it from a corporation who would buy it back if he would move). He hadn’t told me because he was afraid I would leave and he really needed time for himself. Communication wasn’t our strong side (it hadn’t been when we met and nothing much had changed)…
A few months later I moved as well, because it was too expensive to stay. I moved to the city he had moved to. There was a decent train connection to work and I could afford to buy a house with a garden there, which I really wanted (my dad would say I wanted a garden for my cat, but it was also for me ;)). And I figured, if we are to get together again, I should not live in a different city. That’s how I ended up in Rotterdam. Something I had said I would never do. A city where I didn’t know anyone or anything. Where I felt like a little videogame character that has to explore his world, which in the beginning is all black, except for the little circle around him.
I wasn’t doing well, having walked on eggshells for far too long. The excitement of preparing to buy a house together, him buying a house and leaving, me, cleaning out our place and moving too and all the non-communication between us, had left me drained. I put the little energy I had left, in trying to be ok in Rotterdam. Getting to know my neighbours and seeing if my relationship would be ok again. About half a year later, I decided it was time to end it. We talked about once a month max, whenever I found the courage to call (yes, I needed courage for that…). We couldn’t make it work anymore. My sister had gotten married and his dad had passed away during that half year, we weren’t even there for each other then.
During that last year, my panic attacks started to come back, making me feel more anxious than before.
I then started travelling. I hadn’t had a decent holiday for several years. John and me had never really gone on a holiday. He didn’t have the money, or didn’t want to spend it on a bigger holiday and didn’t want me to pay for him. For me it didn’t feel right to go while he couldn’t, so I never did.
The rainforest was at the top of my list. In 2012 I went to Peru, alone, and spend a week on a riverboat with an international group of about 20 other people. Totally outside of my comfortzone. I felt anxious a lot, but it was truly amazing! The travelbug had been caught. So after Peru, I joined grouptrips to Uganda and Indonesia. Visiting the big apes and other beautiful wildlife and natural parks.
The trip through Uganda was also one with a lot of anxiety and not because of the beautiful gorilla’s we got to visit. My first day, which was the second day for the rest of the group (my passport wasn’t valid long enough, so I had to get an emergency one and reschedule my flight to the next day, great way to start a trip…), I immediately had a click with one of the men from the group. I didn’t intend on anything to happen but we kissed anyway. I got attention, which I liked, but I didn’t really want anything else. The remainder of the trip I tried to keep my distance a bit, which is not really possible during a group trip. We had the same flight back home, where I tried and pretended to be asleep, while not feeling well. My people pleasing mode had been on and I was too terrified to say something and disliking myself for it.
Up to then, most of my triggers had revolved around men. Until one day, spending a nice day with my sister, I got a call from friends, that they were waiting for me at the trainstation. We were supposed to have dinner. My stomach turned and I felt like a complete failure. I’d let them down for forgetting our date, and now had to let my sister down too for leaving early. I then realised this had to stop.
It still took a while to find the courage to start my haptotherapy in 2013, but I did it and it was the best decision I’ve ever made (in hindsight I have to say)!
My path of yoga and tantra
Like I said, the beginning of therapy was very confronting, but I’ve noticed that most things that involve emotional growth are. Also, it’s a pretty lonely path too. You have to do the work, by yourself, for yourself. Since then, I’ve been able to really start to notice what feels right for me to do. Learning to feel and respect my boundaries. Not that they’ve never been crossed since then, it’s a process…
During that process, my yogapractice had deepened a lot. My first yoga experience was at a gym, when I lived in London. I didn’t really like it, because I wasn’t flexible at all (and you need to be flexible for yoga right…??), but I was curious so I kept going. Several years later I started to meditate and went to a month intensive yoga teacher training in Thailand in 2015. That was a really special and transformative month. Putting together all I had learned in therapy and adding to that, this amazing body-mind practice. It was difficult to come back home, to ‘normal’ life. Most people from the training felt the same, so luckily, we had each other. Unfortunately, no one lived close by.
About half a year later, my aunt (my mothers’ sister) asked me if I wanted to go to a tantra experience weekend with her. We had talked about it before, but were kind of hesitant and scared. She has quite some experience with inner work, but tantra was a ‘big’ thing. Also because of the sex label people tend to put on it. She had found a place that looked ‘safe’ and nice to go to. We decided to go, making a promise to leave together if either one of us didn’t feel ok. This was my next, utterly out of the comfortzone experience. The first evening we met everyone and mostly danced. I hated it. It was all about making contact and connecting and everyone was moving in and out of my space. That night I was a terrible mess and happy my aunt was there. On some plane however, it did feel like this was something I wanted to do. Here, it was actually about truly connecting without all the expectations and people pleasing I was used to doing, which had always made me anxious. We decided to stay, continuing to explore intimacy and connection together and with others.
Later during the weekend, it was massage time. First, there was a demo, which looked beautiful, respectful and intimate, but made my mind go mental and nearly made me panic. Fortunately, there was a man in the group, whom was my age and who had a similar look on his face. We shared a beautiful massage together, doing it different, respecting each other’s wishes and taking it slow. The weekend was a true experience and I’m forever grateful my aunt took me there.
Tantra is what I needed to learn to connect with others again, in a more intimate way. For me, yoga has always been a practice with and for myself. Connecting with my own body, breath and mind. This has been really useful, necessary and wonderful, but for me, it lacked the connection with others, which I realised during that weekend.
Now, two years down the line, I have attended the tantric massage training, did some more physical and emotional inner work and love to dance and cuddle! Still, it surely doesn’t always feel good (but sometimes it can be magical) and I’m still very cautious about my and other people’s boundaries (or better said, my interpretation on what their boundaries might be).
There wasn’t much physical love at home after my mom died, so that has been a huge hurdle for me. Learning to be ok again with and enjoying touch and hugs in a non-sexual way. I can even hug my parents again, which took me 2 years to say/ask.
Like I said; it’s a process and babysteps :).
My furry friend
Oh and speaking of hugs. I almost forgot about one very special furball; Sam. I got Sam from a shelter when he was 8 after I had moved to Utrecht. A black cat who wanted to be left alone, unless he came to get attention. If you didn’t respect his boundaries he’d hit you, using his nails if you’d continue. I liked that, he was really clear. He was me, only with the ability to communicate his boundaries. Over the years, we grew closer and became best friends, he really was my little man. He, like myself, became less distant. He ran away once, when I was living together with John. Things weren’t going well between us, even though we acted like they were. Sam knew, I realised a lot later, after John had moved out and Sam started to eat properly again.
He had an awesome character, I can honestly say I’ve learned a lot from him. The most valuable lesson for me is to not hold a grudge, because there’s just no point. Sometimes we’d annoy each other. Sam would hit me, I’d waved back, he’d hit again, I’d push him off my lap. He would take a walk, eat a little and come back to cuddle, simple as that. Say it like it is and then get on with it. It took a while for me to get it, but it makes so much sense, it’s exhausting to hold a grudge and keeps you from spending valuable time together.
Last year he got sick and kept losing weight. He was 16 already. After some visits to the vet (he passionately hated the vet and they weren’t too fond of him either) and struggling to find food he did want to eat, he got worse and it was time to let him go. It was an incredibly sad moment when he died in my lap. It did however give me the freedom to make plans to leave with my van.
Life as I know it
Through this whole process, I can very proudly and happily say that I have met wonderful people and (in my experience) less wonderful people. I’ve realised that all are mirrors from which I can, and want to learn, most of the time anyway. The relationships with family and people who were already in my life have changed. Mostly for the better and not necessarily without a ‘fight’. I continue to learn from each and every one of them and the situations I find myself in. Where the process was confronting and scary in the beginning, it is now fascinating, interesting, beautiful and still quite difficult at times. Communicating with people I care about remains to be one of the more challenging things. I’m learning to allow more love into my life, towards myself and others and to expand my comfortzone. Trying to take responsibility for my thoughts and actions and trying to hold others responsible for theirs (something with communication… ;)).
So, it’s not all butterflies, rainbows and unicorns, it’s still a challenge. But one that has made me, in essence, so much happier and at peace with myself, the world and the people I surround myself with.
I don’t really believe that things happen for a reason, cause some things are just too plain cruel and unfair. I do, however, believe that there’s always a choice. Not necessarily a good and a bad one, sometimes it’s all crap, but crap is a choice too. Life happens and it’s up to me and you to live it and choose.
The body is such a wonderful tool that holds so much wisdom, so nourish it well. And the mind… it’s such a wonderful organ, that can cause so many issues… Don’t take it too seriously, it’s all interpretation. So much for my borrowed wisdom from the internet, books and quotes ;).
So, like everyone else, I’m just another person with a story that led her to being where she is now. Figuring out who I am and what I’m capable of. Writing my story down to reflect on it and learn from it.
And now, now everything continues while I live in a van…