I Let Things Fall to Pieces So I Could Rebuild Them How I Wanted

Recalibrate Gloria Chan Austin Mindfulness Coach Teacher Neurowellness Stress Relief Corporate Wellness

My year of struggle, mindfulness & transformation

My motivation for writing this is: (1) to reflect on my most difficult yet transformative year, (2) to share how diving deeper into difficulty gave me unimagined freedom, and (3) to thank those who supported me so lovingly.

Caveat: This feels scary as shit to write. The only things I “share” in the world are usually quite fine-tuned. Dedicating this retrospective as a view into my suffering rings every Type A alarm bell I have. I’m scared I’ll seem weak, I’m scared I’ll be trying too hard, I’m even scared I might hurt feelings. But, in addition to some of these really strong fears, I also feel really strong encouragement to (try to) be brave – and share a story I hope will help normalize, justify, and empower people’s suffering – into healing, learning, and growth.

One year ago today: Rock bottom

I woke up on a working Monday, for the first time in over a decade, with no workplace to report to. It was my first day on short-term disability from work, at the ripe old age of 27.

I was battling chronic migraines that had wiped out my physical health, emotional health, and daily life. Every other day, if not every day, came a migraine delivering pain so excruciating that I’d uncontrollably vomit any food, drink, or medicine for six to eight hours. I tried what felt like every kind of medication. The migraines kept winning. And so, on December 18, 2017, I woke up with no work to go to, no idea what to do, no hope for what to do next. All I could feel was this overwhelming cloud of fear, pain, and defeat.

Next up: Rockier than rock bottom

I thought just having to take medical leave from work was my ultimate low. But there was more. I started seeing a psychotherapist, seeking mental health support as my physical health unraveled. The unexpected plot twist… A theory that the likely cause of my migraines was unprocessed childhood trauma that had been triggered without my rational awareness – and my nervous system was lighting itself on fire as a response – hence, wild chemical changes in the brain and nervous system – hence, uncontrollable migraines.

Cue timeout: Me, the youngest executive-level Engagement Manager at our consulting firm, regularly flying across time zones, pushing 80-hour work weeks, running meetings with Fortune 100 CXOs – while still making time to volunteer and lead charity events, riding front row at all the SoulCycle classes, doing all the NYC brunch and bars and clubs, while still maintaining meaningful relationship and friendships… Go-getter, even-keeled, resilient me – had gotten physically WIPED OUT by subconscious childhood shit?!?

Cue resistance: Nope, that can’t be it. But then my boyfriend remembered a possible event that could’ve been the trigger of the theorized childhood trauma. And so I looked up the date of the text messages from that event. And I compared it with my migraine tracker. And it lined up. The trigger event happened the exact week my migraines started spiking.

Cue repressed memories: Starting to remember really horrific memories I hadn’t thought about in a long time… Remembering abusers, but now with an adult perspective of what is right and wrong... Having memories return in nightmares that had me waking up screaming and sobbing… Grieving on a loop that felt like it might never have an end... Some days felt so painful, between the pain of the migraines and the pain of the emotional work, that I wished I could press a button to turn everything off for just a second… So I could just get a tiny breather from what felt like inescapable pain. Hello, actual rock bottom.

Sometimes, you have to dig deeper to find a better way out

It’s easier, faster, and less painful to put a bandaid on a bullet wound than to take the time to properly remove it. But that doesn’t make a bandaid the right solution.

When most of us fall down, we’re so scared of anyone seeing us fall down that we mindlessly scramble to get up as fast as possible. What I’ve learned is that most of the time, getting up the easiest and fastest way will only give you a temporary foothold. You’re probably going to fall again, probably in the same way, and you might even recognize a pattern. A lot of people’s patterns of falling don’t change because it’s really scary, painful, and time-consuming to pause in the fall, process how you fell, and learn a completely new way to get back up.

I don’t know if I decided to take the hard path in one moment. I think it was more a series of moments, and a series of choices, and a series of supportive loved ones in tough times. In retrospect, it would have been easier for me to resist the deep emotional work. It would have been easier to reject my psychotherapist and neurologist. It would have been easier not to independently research and verify the physical science of my migraines and their links to my trauma. It for suuure would have been easier to not be admitting this as any of my story but to instead have just gotten back into my glamourous business travel and fancy job title and designer handbags and shit. But it would’ve been temporary.

I’m eternally grateful I dug in deeper to find a better way out.

Your self-identity can change unexpectedly. It’ll be scary, but you’ll not only be OK, you’ll probably be better.

When I went out of work, I remember saying to my boyfriend that the scariest part was how I identified myself by my career and felt like I was losing that. He responded saying he was so disappointed to hear me say that because he thought of me as so much more than my career. I didn’t understand his disappointment for a long time. Even though I intellectually knew different, I really felt, at the core of me, that I might be worthless without being actively at work. After enough of my hard but worthwhile mindfulness and psychotherapy work, I realized that early on in my life, my brain hardwired the belief that financial independence was the only way out of some very tough childhood circumstances. And I never thought again whether to re-evaluate or re-wire that thinking.

When you finally track down the roots of a thought pattern or behavior, you can tell whether the roots are current or outgrown – and when you find outgrown roots, you have an opportunity to prune and replant something new.

Boy, did I find some roots, and boy, did I replant some shit. Working for my financial independence was still very important to me, but if I didn’t get to do it temporarily, I realized I was not only experienced, capable, and resourceful enough to regain it – but that I had plenty more than my career – my intellect, my caring, my generosity, my curiosity, my creativity, my love, my people in life that had become a small, chosen family.

Releasing myself from this deep-rooted belief that “if I’m not working, I’m worthless” was scary as hell, because I had defined myself by it for a long time. It was learned out of meaningful stuff. But then I learned this: meaning changes as you grow. And just because something doesn’t have the same meaning today as it once did – doesn’t diminish or reflect poorly on anything – it just means you’re evolving, learning, and growing.

It’s hard to pull up old roots, but without doing so every once in a while, you can’t be free to plant anything new.

Planting something new

In the middle of 2018, I QUIT MY JOB. With nothing else lined up. It was bittersweet and hard, but months of deep mindfulness practice and hard emotional work helped me just know it was time. I felt lots of gratitude for my former career and coworkers. I felt lots of inspiration and excitement for a blank slate for the future. I felt lots of self-doubt and fear of failure too.

My last reflection as I sit here – six months after incorporating Recalibrate, executing on a vision to change society to help people live better, tapping into a passion I’m daily moved by, celebrating proof that we are helping people, and still learning from all kinds of self-doubt and fear. My work is now on the sacred ground that is an individual person’s neurowellness. Their internal workings, thought patterns, emotions, and behaviors – the core of what makes each of us human – yet also what our popular culture largely underequips us to take care of.

I couldn’t feel more alive and fulfilled. I feel like I have a new lease on life. And I believe none of that would have happened without deliberately choosing tougher roads to grow upon, even when the going was already rough.

If you’re down now, if you’re scared of the future, if you’re good now and find yourself down later – just try to remember, that sometimes: you have to let things fall apart so you can build them back the way you want to.

Wishing you and yours well in this wild and beautiful journey that is life.



Gratitude shout-outs:

  • My boyfriend of four years, recently turned husband, Dr. Casey Packer – for being there everyday, for taking on more than your fair share, for becoming my new family.

  • My best friends in Austin, Melanie Torre and Michelle Watson – for helping me embrace the hard stuff, for keeping me grateful for the good stuff, for going to crazy cycling classes and / or eating delicious food with me on a moment’s notice.

  • My psychotherapist galore, Dr. Charlotte Howard – for being the most intellectual, graceful, empathetic, guiding force along some of the toughest work I’ve ever faced.

  • My incredible neurologist, Dr. Iris Wingrove – for putting quality of medical care back into the equation after so many of my previous specialists didn’t, for guiding and advocating for me when I was totally scared by my health, for helping me take care of myself so I could heal.

  • My first mindfulness coach, Peter Craig – for patiently guiding my skeptical, wound-up self to the gift and science of the practice.

  • My mentor and cherished friend, Paula Bookidis – for always helping me feel safe when making the hard choices.

  • My former employers, mentors, teams, and friends at Sense Corp – for supporting me in my healing and in my journey to start something new.

  • Recalibrate’s Founding Partner, Jenn Valenza – for signing up for, believing in, and supporting Recalibrate, and me.

  • My friends, near and far, checking in on me, encouraging me, and having my back along the way.

Gloria ChanComment