Exploring Jersey: Long Beach Island

Life has gotten pretty busy since I’ve started to settle in to life up here in Jersey. Especially since I’m writing and trying to find a job.  But I did have the opportunity last Saturday to drive down the shore with one of my writer friends to Long Beach Island for paddle board yoga.
While I was over the moon about trying paddle board yoga, I had so many questions! How do you paddle board? What happens if I fall off? Will I be in deep water? What if the board drifts away before I get to it? Will I be able to get back on the board? What do I wear? Yoga pants? Bikini? What’s it like to practice yoga wet? Will I slip off of the board?
Despite some questions and reservations, I put on my bikini and made the hour drive with my friend. Once we arrived at the location I started feeling more nervous than excited. But I still wanted to do it.  
There was a group paddling in, so we had to wait for them before we could do anything. The light blue boards looked pretty big, had an anchor tied to them and had a special yoga mat top.  
After the instructor introduced herself, and gave us a brief demo on how to move on the board so that we were balanced and how to actually use he paddle, we headed to our meeting spot. I volunteered to go first. Sitting on my knees I started paddling. I was all over the place, but started to figure it out pretty quickly. The only adjustment I made was to sit on the board, because it put too much pressure on my knees to stay in the position. I would’ve stood up, but our instructor said it was pretty windy, and she wouldn’t recommend doing so since we were new.  
Paddling out took longer than I expected and made me wonder if I’d still have energy for an hour of yoga. It took several minutes for the others to paddle out, but the instructor swooped right in to where I was at. She hopped off of her board and connected us while she relocated me and put the anchor from my board down.  
Once we were all lined up, we started our practice in a seated position. We were instructed to close our eyes, which I reluctantly did one eyelid at a time. I thought she was crazy for asking us to do that. We were 100 feet from the shore, on a paddle board. I felt exposed and vulnerable. And scared. I had to force myself to trust that I would be fine and nothing would happen.  
As soon as I let go of that fear that something bad might happen like falling off of my board, or a bird pooping on me, it was liberating and peaceful. Feeling the heat of the sun and the wind on my skin as I heard it blowing, along with hearing the movement of the water around me was surreal. I felt like I was deeply connected with the world and not just the people I was practicing with. 
Standing up on the board was a little unnerving at first. We started with sun salutations. It couldn’t have been a more perfect setting.  
We went into familiar poses as well as a few new ones that I didn’t even know that I could do. It was exhilarating to accomplish these poses on a board that was sometimes wobbly from the water, wind and my own sometimes unstable balance. There was a few times I thought I might fall off, but I would slowly adjust or back off of a pose until I was stable again.  


I felt like it was a huge achievement that I made it through the entire hour without falling off of the board!   
Afterwards we sat on the beach at LBI, which had a different feel and look from the other places on the shore that I’ve gone to. But I still enjoyed it! Love the sand, sun and salt water!
Along the way we picked up some chocolate and marshmallow fudge at Country Kettle Fudge since I’d been told it was a must since I was going to LBI. They hand stirred it with large wooden spoons in these big barrels right there in the store! It was so good, that I ate every bite of it!
The last stop on LBI was the Barnegat Lighthouse, aka “Old Barney.” It was the first time I’d been to a lighthouse. My friend wasn’t interested in climbing to the top since she had already done it years ago. I was a little disappointed, but once I got up a few flights of stairs, I totally understood. And realized she was the smartest one of us both.  
My heart was beating so hard and was labored and loud. I started regretting my lack of running the past few weeks. My life flashed before my eyes a few times… I wondered why lighthouses don’t have elevators. That would be a great upgrade and much appreciated!
Hitting the halfway mark was by far the biggest relief and motivator! I looked forward to reaching the top of each section of yellow metal stairs, where there would be a sign that noted how many steps you’d climbed and how many left to go. There was also be signs sharing the history of the lighthouse that you could read while you caught your breath, which I thought was very considerate.  
At the top I took a moment (probably a full minute or two or more) to catch my breath. I was worn out!   
I stepped outside and was blown away by the view and the wind! I walked all the way around taking it all in and taking pictures. I lingered a bit because it was breathtaking and I also wasn’t quite ready to go down those 217 stairs!  
Didn’t have trouble sleeping that night!


Exploring Jersey: Aerial and Acro Yoga

One of the ladies in my writers group thought I might be interested in trying out Aerial Yoga. I’ll admit, I had never heard of it before and probably looked at her dumbfounded when she mentioned it to me. I asked her to repeat what it was called. Twice. 

Once I got home I googled it. It is a thing! I kind of felt stupid that I had never heard of it. I’ve been practicing yoga off and on for several years now.  I started while I was recovering from PTSD, because it’s it’s very healing for the mind, body and spirit.  But I had never taken it to this level. Literally.

Aerial Yoga uses a silk hammock (or swing) that hangs from the ceiling to help support your body as you go into various poses. There’s an eloquence and grace to this type of practice, maybe so not much when I’m doing it since I’m like a bull in a china closet most of the time.  

My friend showed me a few poses to warm up with and get comfortable. Boy, was I awkward at first (which isn’t really new since I seem to be a little awkward in general). Wasn’t quite sure what to do with this fabric dangling in front of me. Do I run and jump on it and go “weeeee,” while I’m flying in the air?  Because that’s what I wanted to do, but I didn’t. I’d save that for another day.

We started out by straddling the fabric and moving our bodies and fabric until we were in a cocoon. Couldn’t see anyone. The only sounds I heard were from our instructor verbally guiding us and the It felt isolating, yet peaceful. As we progressed into more advanced moves & poses, I kept having this sinking feeling in my stomach that I was going to fall on my head and not be able to catch myself, and someone would have to call 911.  

During the second week of classes, I began to relax and feel more comfortable. Even letting out a “weeee!” as I was wrapped up in the hammock swinging, which made our instructor chuckle. Even though it was a level 2 class, we went into some more advanced moves. When our instructor asked if anyone knew what “flipping the bird” meant, I said, “probably not in this context,” which made him laugh. Again.

Flipping the bird was pretty cool. Started out by sitting on the floor, gripping the silk with both hands and pulling my body up and over the silk, doing a back flip and landing with my stomach/hips on the silk. I got it in my first attempt. Although it probably wasn’t very pretty since it felt like my legs were flailing around to kick over. But I did it!   

While I thoroughly enjoyed the Aerial Yoga, I absolutely fell in love with Acro Yoga! It was like cheerleading for adults! But without the pom poms and megaphones.  

The class began with all of us sitting in a circle, which felt like a huddle before a game. We all introduced ourselves and stretched. The stunting started out with bases on the ground, feet in the air. Flyers, pressed their hip bones onto the base’s feet and went flying.  We were quite simply playing airplane, like I did with my nephews, but for the first time ever, I was a flyer. It was so awesome!   

The other stunts grew more complex and challenging. Most of them, I had no idea what I was doing. But the bases and spotters were very gracious and informative, verbally and physically guiding through the moves. Some of the moves where I’d flip upside down felt a little disorienting. Couldn’t tell where I was. I felt like I was underwater and not quite sure of how or where I was positioned. But it was so exhilarating! The biggest adrenaline rush I have ever felt practicing yoga or any other fitness activity, which is perfect for me since I’m such a thrill seeker.  While I get an intense adrenaline rush, I also have to slow down and move into poses with a gentility that does not come natural to me. 

 I had no idea my body was capable of doing the things I’ve been able to do in Acro Yoga. Can’t wait to see what else I can accomplish! There will definitely be more Aerial and Acro Yoga classes in my future!
Namaste y’all! 🙏❤️

Disorderly Life: PTSD Recovery

Turning 30 was something I never expected to do. I assumed, as did most people who knew me, I would have killed myself or done something reckless that would have gotten me killed; considering I spent my late teens and 20’s spiraling out of control after being raped when I was 16.

Living with undiagnosed Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) nearly destroyed me and destroyed most of the relationships in my life. It took a decade to repair the damage to my mind, body and soul caused from the trauma and the copious amounts of psychiatric drugs that I’d been prescribed over the years for treatment.

It took nearly 10 years to realize that the multiple medications my psychiatrist had prescribed, which included high doses of anti-psychotics, anti-depressants, benzodiazepines and sleeping pills, were doing more harm than good. I decided to try getting off of them. At that point in my life, it couldn’t get any worse, or so I thought. I was just existing and doing a terrible job of that. I was a shell of the person that I had once been and no longer recognized myself.

In hindsight, I shouldn’t have quit the anti-psychotics, benzos and sleeping pills at the same time, cold-turkey, but I’d had enough of life like that and was ready for a drastic change. And that is exactly what I got. Although, it wasn’t good. It didn’t take long for me to go into full-blown withdrawals, which included extreme irritability, anger, sadness, insomnia, no appetite and even gran mal seizures. It was a terrifying process, physically, mentally and emotionally, but there was no going back.

Fortunately, about a month after I initiated the process I attended a NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) meeting for the first and only time, which is where I met the therapist who helped save my life. I mentioned to her that I was looking for someone who was trained in a cognitive behavioral therapy technique called EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing), because it had shown great promise in the research I had done. To my surprise, she was trained in EMDR and gave me her contact information so that we could set up a consultation.

It didn’t take long before we were meeting at least twice a week to get acquainted and establish a safe environment/relationship to begin what turned out to be a 3-year journey of identifying, working through and reprocessing the bulk of the trauma that was interfering with my daily life. As Charles Dickens said, “it was the best of times and it was the worst of times.” The process was physically and emotionally painful and exhausting, yet incredibly rewarding and liberating. I had finally found a viable treatment to minimize the debilitating symptoms of PTSD that had crippled me since my teens.

Unfortunately, I experienced a very bad setback in the 2nd year when I was assaulted and nearly raped by a stranger, but with the help of my therapist I was able to work through that as well, which included prosecuting my attacker.

After 3 years, I started seeing my therapist about once a week and started trying to integrate back into normal life, which was incredibly challenging. This took several years and lots of awkward and uncomfortable trial and error.

In the meantime, I began to slowly withdraw from multiple antidepressants and then eventually made it to the very last medication, which was Adderall. Out of all of the other meds, it was the hardest. It was even more challenging to go through withdrawals since I no longer had the ability to constantly isolate myself like I had in the beginning of my recovery.  And after 15 years of continuous use, I was so physically addicted that I couldn’t even perform minimal daily tasks without taking the maximum dose of 80 mg per day. It took 2 years to wean myself off of the Adderall and still be able to halfway function.

By the summer of 2014, 2 months after my 39th birthday, I was finally off of all psychiatric medications for the 1st time in 18 years. That summer I slept a lot and ate a lot. After 3 months I started coming out of the mental and physical fog. Started to feel like myself again, although just a fragment of who I used to be. It was still something. I was no longer completely numb and dumb from the meds.

I felt alive.

However, I had put on 20 lbs in the course of 3 months. I felt awkward and heavy. There just happened to be a promotion for a local fitness bootcamp, called Camp Gladiator that my sister worked out at. She tagged me in a Facebook post for it and at the last minute, I decided to try it out. I was so nervous and scared. My mind and body were so out of shape. There were parts of my body and brain that were still waking up. I felt random nerve tinglings in my body on a regular basis. I had no idea what I was going to be capable of.

On that first day, I brought my pink 3 lb weights, yoga mat and made sure that my sister would be there. I didn’t even get out of my SUV until she arrived. It was ugly and embarrassing. I couldn’t even run 100 yards during the warm-up lap. I felt like I was going to throw up at least 3 times and I took countless breaks during that 1-hour session.

Nevertheless, I pushed through the pain, discomfort, awkwardness and downright embarrassment and signed for a 12-month contract. It was the best, most life-changing decision I had made in a long time. Especially with winter approaching, I was concerned that I would do as I had always done: withdraw, isolate and battle depression, except it would be worse since I was no longer on meds that I had been told I would never be able to live without. But it turned out to be the first winter since my teens in which that didn’t happen.

After 2 months of bootcamp I decided to take up long distance running. I started walking/running 1 mile and then progressed to running more. I had never ran been a long distance runner even as a high school athlete. By February 14, 2015, I ran my first 5K and by the end of March, I completed my first half-marathon.

About the time I started running is when I started making nutritional changes. I ate a lot of grilled chicken breast, quinoa/rice and steamed vegetables. I gave up sodas completely and drank nothing but water , unsweet tea and coffee. After giving up soda, it seemed so much easier to give up the junk food that I still craved on a daily basis.

Looking back, for several years I had hit a plateau in my recovery. I wasn’t a complete mess anymore, but I still wasn’t fully functional and integrated into a normal life. It wasn’t until I really took control of my health through fitness and nutrition that I finally started to live and make real progress toward building and creating a new life.

This was never how I expected my life to turnout. I never thought I’d survive this long.

Recovery isn’t what I thought it was going to be. I didn’t just do the work to fix the parts of me that were broken and pick back up on some path that I was supposed to have been on. A new and improved path was forged while I was doing the work.