In Thrive, Arianna Huffington talks about her personal wake-up call: A collapse from exhaustion, a broken cheekbone and a gash over her eye. I had my own wake-up call in May 2013. At the time, it was one of the most frightening and painful experiences of my life; but now looking back, I consider it to be an amazing blessing that changed everything.
Upon graduating from college, I started working at a job that was both enriching and challenging. I was determined to be the best, to climb the ladder, to succeed. About once a year, I would have psoriasis outbreaks, a devastating skin condition that would cover my body. It always struck me in the hot New York summers. Instead of spending my time outside with my friends, I would hide my scarred body inside my cool air-conditioned apartment, filled with shame and sadness. Worse than the physical pain was the emotional pain: the plans I had to cancel, the agony that I felt when I looked in the mirror, and the embarrassment I felt when I had to go out in public.
Religiously, I applied the cream from my doctors twice a day, feeling my skin become cracked and anguished. It faded a little bit at a time but never disappeared. I successfully suppressed my pain and internalized it, pushing ahead at all costs. I worked more hours, pushed myself to a frightening level of perfectionism, developed an unhealthy relationship with food and alcohol and isolated myself from anything other than my determined path forward. I lasted another year on that routine.
It all came to a head one day when my body, mind and soul essentially took the wheel from me and put themselves in charge. I woke up at 4:00 a.m., unable to sleep and filled with anxiety. I headed out on my stressful commute and by the time I arrived at my client an hour later, I was wound tighter than I could have imagined. My personal pain and anxiety was playing on a never-ceasing tape in my mind: words of self-denigration, mental images of every mistake I had made, feelings of desperation that seemed determined to linger forever. As the tape played on through the morning, I would periodically excuse myself from the team room to hide in the restroom, crying silently and frantically trying to convince myself that I was fine.
I was at my desk when I watched it happen, almost as an out of body experience, a triple whammy. First, the health crisis: a brutal attack of psoriasis that came back to cover me from head to toe, making it impossible for me to look at myself in the mirror without sobbing. It was far worse than I had ever seen it before. Second, a mental crisis: the realization that my definition of career success, to which I was deeply attached, was not right for me. Finally, a spiritual crisis: it dawned upon me that I was actually utterly unhappy in the life that I had created for myself in New York City. This was the hardest to swallow, because it was a life that I had dreamed of for years and had created with the determination of pushing a boulder up a hill.
And just to make it really clear that something was definitely not right with me, two days later I had a terrifying panic attack while driving a car around New York's financial district, at which point I thought I might spontaneously die from the combination of fear, stress and unhappiness.
After all of these events, I found myself paralyzed. I was lying on my bedroom floor when I quietly asked for help. Something called for me to turn inward. I started to meditate and was immediately presented with what felt like every feeling I had suppressed over the past few years, every emotion that I had pushed aside, and every need that I had neglected. I knew then that the only thing to do was to surrender to it, and as I did, I found a place of the deepest inner calm within me. There, I realized that I had neglected my true self, that the life I had created was not the right one for me, and that my very soul was crying out for a new way of being. That was my final wall to fall; I surrendered completely.
Six weeks later, I was unpacking my belongings in a new apartment in San Francisco, committed to changing the way that I lived. I wanted to address my deep need to get in touch with my inner self and then to build a life that reflected that in every area from my career to my relationships to my health. Every day since then has been a part of this wonderful adventure, as I have worked to more closely align myself with my body, mind and spirit -- an ever-evolving journey that I hope continues for a very long time.
For those out there who might feel lost, confused or afraid right now, I want you to know that tuning in to your inner self can help to guide you forward in your journey. My suffering was the catalyst for a change that has improved my life in every possible way. It was a little notification (one that I successfully ignored for many years) that helped to wake me up. I hope to carry this attitude forward with me when different pain inevitably strikes in the future.
Stories about pain and suffering can be very frightening to share. I was initially afraid to share this story, but I have discovered that every person who shares their story is participating in improving our collective consciousness. It's a strange paradox that we are afraid of pain; it is one of the few things that we share as a common currency with every other person on the planet. Every person has known suffering, but when we are suffering, we feel very alone. We all have the choice to share our stories of pain with each other and give ourselves permission to notice what it teaches us and how it changes us.
I believe that it is my personal responsibility to help create a world where everyone is empowered to shape their own journeys, to ask themselves what matters to them, and to use their innate gifts to make the world a better place. If we each learn to live our own lives grounded in the wisdom of our inner self, we will be able to make miracles happen on a daily basis.
If you're struggling with an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorder Association hotline at 1-800-931-2237.
Need help with substance abuse or mental health issues? In the U.S., call 800-662-HELP (4357) for the SAMHSA National Helpline.
Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.