Hello my name is Holly Alexandra Dodd and I have PTSD, extreme anxiety and depression.
In October of 2012 I weighed 125 lbs and In November of 2012; I weighed only 60. I was terrified, to say the least. Over half of my body weight had completely disappeared. I had struggled with anxiety and depression off and on since 2006 but I distinctly remember how much worse it became in that short months’ time. I began seeing every doctor that I could, specialist after specialist. No one knew what was wrong with me, why this was happening to me, or how to stop it. You could see that I could not keep any food in my system. And I really love food so this was pretty much a nightmare that came true. During this time I had also been accepted into a couple different programs for mental health (although the wait lists were 3 years long) through both YRAP (York Regional Abuse Program) and three Ontario Shores programs (Intensive PTSD, anxiety, and Cognitive Brain Therapy). These programs helped save my life.
In 2014 I was told that I needed to make a will, and funeral arrangements because my health kept declining and my immune system was really weak. I was not expected to pull through. I made these arrangements because no mother should ever have to. Then I fought like hell for my life. It took me 3.5 years in total to slowly start putting weight back on. I had to re-adjust my entire life around an illness that no one could name. I figured out which foods were most likely to stay in my tummy and which activities triggered my sickness. I stopped working and started focusing on my mental and physical well-being. I started working on forgiving myself, on loving myself and being grateful for the time I had been given. I worked on changing my thought patterns and realized that my past trauma had made a very strong impact on how I lived my life, which view I had taken and who I was comfortable around.
In school, we were not taught to love ourselves, or practice self-care, we were not told there are both healthy and destructive coping strategies. That is something I had to learn for myself. I felt completely alone, and for a very long time I thought my mental illness’ made me weak and should be kept to myself. I did not know how to live my life when my mind was my worst enemy, or how to quiet the thoughts that seemed to take over whenever they pleased. It felt like no-one could understand what I was dealing with. That they wouldn’t want to if they could. But that is what anxiety does for me. It twists my thoughts, it makes me think that people would be better off without me. That everyone hated me or was disgusted by the bones protruding from my skin. It made me believe that even my family was disappointed in me because of my illness. It put so many unwanted, intrusive thoughts in my mind, without trying to compare the thought to reality, I would just believe it.
Throughout this time I had begun searching for help, everywhere and anywhere I could get it. I let go of my old belief systems and started reading a lot of self-care/love/ and health books. I went to seminars and programs and worked my butt off to gain not only weight, but knowledge about the brain and its many functions and protective mechanisms, self-love, and the connection that we hold with the universe. I had practiced yoga and meditation since 2005 but during this time my practice shifted. It became a spiritual connection and a safe place for not only my body but my mind. A magical place where I could disappear and feel my feelings without being afraid of my mind.My practice became my saving grace. I was getting stronger and felt healthier, even if I only sat on my mat for a moment. The release of emotion that followed was liberating. I felt like I was starting to find myself again. Like I was able to hear my thoughts without them destroying me. I could look in the mirror without being disgusted by my bones, and started to just love myself for how much I had overcome. How much I had persevered.
My yoga practice slowly turned into my life practice, as It is the only thing that has taught me to slow down and learn about myself. That life will constantly change, no matter what you had planned (which used to make me really stressed out and anxious). I like to have a plan. I had planned to be married by 20, and to be having children by 22 latest. All I wanted was a beautiful family and to be a stay at home mom in my own home. I didn't realize that was actually societies plan for me until I started learning so much about myself and how the brain works. I started to question why I thought what I did, did I really feel that way? Did I really think that way? Or was I conditioned to do so, through the media, through my upbringing, through the messages in school. I started to question everything. And I am so grateful I did. My whole belief system has shifted, now I dream of being healthy, of loving myself first and foremost, of building my dream career and teaching other people how to address and manage their PTSD, anxiety and depression. I dream of being a yoga instructor and teaching yoga therapy to those who need it most. Of travelling the world and experiencing all the cultures. Of marrying my best friend and learning the best ways to love each other every day. Everything is in motion and it has just taken me a long time to be okay with not being in control of which direction that motion travels.
I now weigh around 110 lbs, I can keep lots of different kinds of food in my system, and can occasionally try new things. I can have a drink with my friends without my anxiety spinning out of control. I can go out for dinner or just take a walk in the woods. I am and will be forever grateful for this life, and for the lessons I have learned. I understand that for me to be happy I must choose happiness, I must choose mindfulness, and I must choose kindness every day. I use my yoga practice as my therapy. Meditation is my best friend and I am slowly learning to love those intrusive thoughts; because instead of being scared, now they bring me a connection to myself that previously I didn't know how to find. I am living with PTSD, extreme anxiety and depression, and now I can say that these illness’ do not define me. They are not what I am but they have helped shape me.
I was stuck in my own mind, which is a darkness so many know and feel. It was as though the air was heavier for me, as though there was this weight sitting on my chest that I couldn't get rid of. I want you to know you are not alone, you can do this. You are a brilliant ray of sunshine. Just remember that even the sun gets hidden behind the clouds, but it always shines though, even if it takes some time. I want to remind people that it’s okay to take your time and be patient with yourself, you deserve kindness too.
I think mental wellness was looked at in a very negative way for a long time. That many still see mental illness as a weakness that you can choose to be done with. Unfortunately it isn't even close to that easy, and it is so much harder when you think the world would just shut you down if you ever felt comfortable enough to share. I feel it is extremely important for everyone to know that isn't the case. That mental wellness is just as important -if not more important - than physical wellness. It isn't something that should be hidden, and I wish someone told me that a long time ago. I am here for you. Always. At anytime. You can call or text 416-899-9953, email [email protected] or send me a message through instagram @hollyalexandradodd.
I mean it. Truly I am here,
Wishing you all the love and kindness that your heart can handle,
Yoga Therapy Instructor
Written for Cam’s Kids
“Supporting Young People Struggling with Anxiety”