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“Let difficulty transform you. And it will. In my experience, we just need help in learning how not to run away.” ~ Pema Chödrön
For as long as I can remember, I was running away.
Growing up on a small farm in a rural village in northern Germany, even as a teenager, I found it hard to be in one place. I was always cycling everywhere and just could not stay still.
By age 17, I had moved to Spain to work as an au pair, and then after a few more years, I moved to London. I spent 24 years in London and, for a long while, it did feel like home.
What does running away look like?
I spent my first 10 years in London running from myself. It’s a skill I truly mastered. I was constantly changing jobs, flats, and even relationships—sometimes all three at the same time. I would often party through the weekends so I didn’t have to face myself.
I remember one of my bosses telling me, point-blank, “Anke, you really have to stop hurting yourself.” At the time, I didn’t understand what he meant, so I didn’t take any notice and just continued partying, recovering, and working—the never-ending cycle of self-harm.
My actions weren’t just hurtful to me though; other people in my life were hurting watching me, like my mum. It came to a point that all the damage I was doing started to manifest itself physically through debilitating neck pain, which severely limited my quality of life.
Change starts once you hit rock bottom.
When we hurt ourselves for too long, it can take a long time to find our way back. Rock bottom for me came when I just couldn’t bear the pain anymore. It wasn’t enough to be in pain, no; and it wasn’t enough to be in Accident & Emergency again after taking a cocktail of narcotics. If I could maintain a normal level on the outside, like going to my corporate job, then I wasn’t at rock bottom. Or so I thought.
When that moment comes—the moment when you don’t want to live life this way anymore, when you don’t want the pain, when you want the job, and you don’t want to keep hurting yourself—then, and only then, does a shift start to happen. For me, this was the start of “coming back home” to myself.
Heads up, the journey is bumpy and you will want to fall back into old habits and toxic relationships.
Is there a quick fix option?
I will be honest: there is no quick fix. It took me two decades to get to where I am today. Coping with anxiety or normal life challenges when you haven’t set a strong foundation will always feel difficult.
But there are seven things that have been most beneficial to my own personal healing journey and I want to share these with you:
1. Take a Break
“You can not heal in the same environment that made you sick” is such a true sentiment. When I left my corporate job in 2003 because I knew that I couldn’t take the pain any longer, I decided that I need to recover in a different place and so I went home to Germany to spend time with my parents on the farm. This was truly a time of healing connections with my parents and my roots.
After this, I travelled to Thailand, which I know sounds so cliché. I was still seeking an answer and I was drawn to the healing energy of Asia, where I am now married and continue to enjoy my life.
Breaking free from our daily routine, taking time out for friends, and being in nature enabled me to learn how to ground myself, as well as commence healing to my body, mind, and soul.
Yoga played a big role in me “coming home.” Even early in my healing journey, when I was in too much severe pain to do all the movements, I persevered. Pushing through, I eventually gained strength and confidence.
It is said that when we are in pain, we have removed ourselves from our bodies. Yoga helps to connect the body and mind again; reconnecting body and soul was bliss.
Start with some simple yoga stretches in the morning to help set your energy for the day.
3. Thai Massage
I first discovered Thai massage when I was travelling through Thailand. I was hooked immediately, and when I returned to London, I signed up for a course so I could study it myself.
Even though I was still in pain through much of my studying, I remember the teacher would say, “Stick with it because giving Thai massage will heal you.” That is what I did, and despite many obstacles, I have managed to remain pain-free for many years now.
Giving a massage is just as healing as receiving one.
4. Do Less
Sometimes it can be just as simple as being kind to yourself and accepting that it’s okay to not do everything or be everything to everyone.
Instead of adding more to my days, like working and studying, I created more space in my life. Weekends were no longer filled and I always allowed time to just be. By giving ourselves less to do, we can get in touch with our spirit and let life happen organically.
5. Embrace Spirituality
Years of all work and too much playing hard had resulted in my spending very little time in nature. Connecting with nature again was good for both my body and soul. The countryside walks and even just days in the park were a great start.
Once I moved from the city to a more rural area, I could do more outside activities, like hiking. I also started reading more inspiring books that helped me connect to my soul. Meditation is also a great spiritual practice that can truly help you heal.
It sounds strange to mention grief here, but often whether we lose a loved one, a job, or a relationship, we don’t allow ourselves the real time to grieve the loss.
When I lost my mother, I didn’t grieve initially. But when I eventually let myself dive into the grief, that’s when I began to heal. Allow yourself the time and space to heal from whatever loss you may be dealing with; you just might find that it leads to the most transformational healing of all.
7. Try Transformational Coaching
At first, I was hesitant to explore therapy or coaching. I did initially try Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) when I was grieving for my mother, but I quickly realised that we cannot always use these techniques on ourselves, and so it wasn’t until a much later stage after I had healed my body, that I made my biggest personal shift.
Yoga and Thai massage were the catalysts for my healing early on in my journey, and transformational coaching was the catalyst in the latter part of my healing path. Connecting with my inner compass and wisdom, and being reflective, is so important when we want to make lifelong changes. And being there to help others find space for themselves to make these changes has been even more rewarding than my own transformation.
These are the seven ways in which I found healing, but how about you?
Where do you think you can start to create more space in your life?
Stop learning and you will arrive.
Stop searching and you will see.
Stop running away and you will be found.
~ Lao Tzu