I spent years travelling the world, trying to fix really complicated problems in communities, met incredible people and, by many measures, was doing really well. At the same time, though, I was suffering from horrendous self-loathing and intermittent periods of unbearable anxiety and depression. But, then, that’s not uncommon: many of us feel this way and just manage to ‘get on with things’. It took me a long time to realise that I could do more than ‘get on’—and that rather trying to save the world, I needed to work on myself.
When ‘The Big Shift’ finally came, in my early 40s, I couldn’t believe how simple it actually was! I’ll get to that in a moment, though. First, I need to tell you my ‘before-the-big-shift’ story, in all its gory details.
Before the Big Shift
I have lived the vast, vast majority of my life not even coming close to living to my full potential. Mind you, most people wouldn’t have seen me as an unhappy person, not even close. Much of the time, though, I was wracked with heartaches and heartbreaks, and dramas and conflicts were not uncommon.
Along the way, I travelled the world nursing and volunteering in Asia and Africa with kids’ charities doing some incredibly rewarding and, at times, equally disturbing work.
In Thailand I worked with kids orphaned by AIDS. While studying master’s in public health, I’d learned that kids in Thailand should have been able to access anti-retroviral medications for AIDS, The children I was working with were being prevented from accessing these medications by fundamentalist Christian groups. So I involved a human rights lawyer from Unicef to help them access the life-saving medication, which was incredibly rewarding and inspiring.
In the process, I fell in love with nine-month-old Suree. Very sadly, Suree passed away from AIDS-related complications before it was ordered that the kids must be allowed access to these life-saving medications.
Then there were the five years I spent flying all over the Northern Territory doing research into Indigenous child health and spending time in communities getting to know the amazing people and ways of the First Australians. I worked really hard raising a LOT of money (about $800K) to help set up some very cool projects for causes I was passionate about, mainly for Aboriginal child health.
But despite all these exciting times, there was also always lots of despair, a fair amount of too much drinking to soften the sadness, and a sizable amount of drama.
Through all this, since my early 20s, I had been doing yoga a couple of times a week, and dabbled in meditation. Though I didn’t see myself as overly spiritual, I’d always felt that if I could meditate daily I would be happier, but I didn’t understand why. Meditating daily seemed so far-fetched—like maybe I’d get there in thirty years and feel “better” then.
The “Big Shift”
The Big Shift came when I decided to do my yoga teacher training, mostly because I had back problems. So off to India I went! There my teacher, Sinduma, explained to me the power of present moment awareness in plain and simple terms I understood: “You don’t have to DO anything at all, you just have to do EVERYTHING with awareness”. Remember, at this time there was still very little in popular media in the West about the value of present moment awareness and mindfulness.
I wasn’t on some big spiritual search, but I found what I now consider to be the answer to what makes the human spirit soar. Living as much of your life as possible in the present. Easier said than done though, right? Especially if anxiety and depression are often your uninvited dinner guests. Over time, though, and with practice, all the little bits of knowledge and experience I’d gained over years were adding up. I just finally “got it” on an intellectual and experiential level, all at once in the most awe-inspiring way.
My inner critic, who had been really harsh, shut up. My mood was more even. I was happier and less stressed than I had ever been. And the remedy was just so simple! I was determined to explain to others in plain English—and in a fun, enjoyable way—what no-one for years had managed to convey to me in a way that resonated.
So now, teaching people about evidence-based stress management, focused largely on mindfulness, is my life.
Learning to be more mindful
People often marvel at how I manage to juggle solo parenting a pre-schooler and running my business, Lilo Wellness. I don’t blame them! It is a wonder I’m not tearing my hair out. There is one very simple reason why I manage and enjoy the ride. Managing stress has become my raison d’être, as the French would say—my reason for being.
In doing so, I am living the life I want, 100%. I often have to pinch myself. Oh, and if I didn’t live every moment of my life in a way that keeps my stress levels in check, I’d be in a heap on the floor! Literally. Then who would look after my son? (I did IVF solo, which is how I ended up fulfilling my dream of becoming a mum.)
It sounds like a burden, having to be healthy all the time, but it’s quite the opposite. Learning how to live a healthy, happy and present life is thoroughly joyous. Even when life if shit. Like right now. I’ve had hideous bronchitis for nearly two weeks, and spent most of that time in bed. But I don’t feel morose or sorry for myself. I feel physically dreadful, but emotionally not too bad.
My default when things are really crappy is to thank my lucky stars how fortunate I am. I mean, what it would be like to be this sick in a refugee camp—or, worse still, for your four-year-old to be this sick in a refugee camp? I don’t even have to try to feel gratitude these days, it just kicks in. And, how lucky am I that that happens?
There was a time when things were very, very different for me. I learned the hard way, through plenty of shame, anxiety and worst of all despair. I finally learned that it’s possible to be comfy, competent, happy and proud. All you need is some new skills and understanding.
After ‘the Big Shift’, I thought, surely there are other people out there who also want to know in plain English how to manage stress and feel as calm as if they were on a holiday as they go about their daily lives?
As well as helping people with stress, Lilo’s one-on-one sessions, workshops and courses cover healthy eating, physical activity, sleep and rest (R‘n’R). But at the heart of everything we do lays the simple, yet incredibly profound, importance of awareness. Awareness in each moment—and having an awareness of quality science-based information on what works to reduce stress, so every person can give their best.
As time goes by, I have story after story of people saying that I’ve explained things in a way that has made the penny finally drop for them. There was the cynical scientist, annoyed to have mindfulness on the curriculum of their leadership training, who after one session said it completely changed her life. The positive psychology expert who had tried to meditate for years but just didn’t get it: “I don’t know exactly what it was that you said, but something just clicked.” And countless others who have said they finally grasped the what, how and why of being more present.
We can all learn how to check in with how we’re feeling from moment to moment, and when we’re looking at ‘the big picture’. Lilo Wellness can help you develop the motivation required to do so. You can become more aware of where you’re at and where you’d like to be. Then we can help you take steps to get there—one step at a time. Putting your best foot forward and creating the life you really want.