PAULA STEPHANI, LPC
I Can Relate
If you have been struggling with anxiety, depression, grief, low self-esteem, relationship issues, or addictive behaviors, I can relate.
I’ve experienced all of these at some point. In fact, the trajectory of my personal and professional life has been a search for understanding these aspects of the human condition, and for finding inner peace and self-acceptance in the midst of them.
An Anxious Kid
As a child growing up in a Colorado mountain town, I was extremely shy and had lots of stomach issues due to anxiety.
My sisters always insisted I sit by the window on the way to a day of skiing because I would inevitably need to roll down the window and lose my breakfast as we rolled into the parking lot.
My strategy as a child and teenager for dealing with anxiety was avoidance of situations that made me anxious.
My efforts to avoid feeling anxious, particularly in social situations, resulted in increasing depression and my life becoming more and more limited.
In my 20s, two events took place that started me on the path of positive change.
One evening I was lying on my bed feeling hopeless and thinking I would be better off dead. Suddenly, I realized a spirit being was standing next to me.
This being communicated to me that even if I died I would not be able to avoid facing the challenges that at the moment seemed impossible to face, and that if I persevered I would be able to find my way through this.
The experience was so unexpected and vivid that I accepted it as true without question, and never considered suicide again.
Soon after this, I met an Indian guru and visited one of his ashrams for several weeks. I was hoping that through chanting, meditation, and service, I could resolve my problems and “fix” myself.
However, the realities of sharing a hotel room with seven other women, getting up at 3:30am to chop onions, and getting a bad case of bronchitis made me question my plan to sign up for a longer stay.
When I got home, I wrote to the guru and said I was searching for a spiritual life, but while visiting the ashram all I could think about was getting home again, and now that I was home I was wondering if I should go back and try again.
His response was: “This is how the mind is. When it is one place it wants to be someplace else. When it is someplace else it wants to be in the original place. Stay where you are and develop a strong mind.”
These two turning points gave me an experience of viewing my life from a more expansive, mysterious, and compassionate perspective, and an understanding that the key to the inner peace I was searching for could be found in my relationship with my own mind.
My career turned toward the health field, first as a physical therapist in a hospital, and later as a psychotherapist in a community mental health center. In between, I did end up living in a meditation ashram for several years.
Integrating the physical, mental, and spiritual knowledge gained from these different chapters in my life, helped me develop strategies for better maintaining an expanded, compassionate perspective of myself and others. I also learned skills for creating a healthier relationship with my mind and body, which I continue to practice every day.
Sometimes when I look back on my earlier years, I wish I could have supported myself then in the way I’ve learned to support myself now.
While I can only do that in my imagination, in my counseling practice I can do my best to make a difference in other people’s lives by supporting them in cultivating a more empowered and harmonious relationship with themselves, which changes everything for the better.
Please click here to read more about my counseling practice.
Or contact me to set up a free 15 minute consultation.