Everything is a practice: Alice Karolina: on Staying Sane



My name is Alice Karolina, I’m a brand strategist and I live in BC, Canada, which is actually the ancestral homeland of the Coast Salish peoples. So it is unceded territory. I also am the founder of the ethical move, which is a movement for ethical marketing where we’re trying to create a different conversation away from scarcity tactics, psychological manipulation, and generally high pressure selling to a marketplace that is based on trust, transparency and honesty.

What is my mental health story? Why does mental health and wellness matter to me?

My mental health story is long. I think we started noticing a bit of neurodivergent tendencies when I was still a little girl. It was suggested to my mum that I might have ADHD. We never actually got diagnosed but later in my health journey, I did try Ritalin and it helped for a bit. So that was our sort of test.

I think the combination that I’m dealing with is maybe a little leftover ADHD, although I don’t have the typical big symptoms. And definitely complex PTSD from childhood trauma and trauma bonding with a narcissistic father, absent, narcissistic, neglectful father.

AbandomentI think the combination of various people having left at various times in my life when I thought that I needed them has made me quite scared of abandonment and anything like that. So I definitely sort of what’s I called hyper-vigilant, on the spectrum of like, I guess hypersensitivity, I don’t know if I count as a hypersensitive person, but I definitely have a strong reaction to smells and sounds and I need things to be very quiet for me to focus, which is why [I use these] noise-cancelling headphones. Also, just because I like them. I don’t even listen to sound that often. I just like the closed office and the sort of little space it creates for me.

And I have been in and out of like therapy and [in treatment with] various practitioners, be it somatic work or tapping, energy healing, shamanism. I’ve tried everything and everything. Oh, hypnotherapy. And just I’ve not been shy to try different things.

I have definitely been on a journey and all of this, it mainly came out or comes out when I’m in a relationship, either a romantic relationship or sort of like close friendships. Not so much in my family anymore; the abusive side is non-existent. And the non-abusive side which is my mother and her husband, my stepdad, they are the holders of love and truth. And I have a very good relationship with them. So they have always been really helpful, although as a teenager, I didn’t think so.

I definitely have been on a sort of self-development and health mental health journey, since I was [young]. The first time I think I took meds because I was a bit depressed was when I was a young teenager, turned 11, after the divorce between my parents, my mom, my biological father. They divorced when I was 10. So I did not talk about it. And I think I internalized all of that.

When CPTSD is involved is that I have pretty severe flashbacks to the point of dissociating completely. So that could mean like, I would just get tired and zoned out. I think the dizzy spells I’ve had recently are sort of a version of that. And then I also was really able to make illnesses appear, like symptoms of things. If I had to get out of stuff, I would just collapse and buy out of stuff. If I couldn’t handle whatever was going on, my body would kick in and take me out of the situation.

I have worked really hard on being on re-parenting. I did lots of parts therapy, as my therapist called it. I’ve had three different therapists. I think over the course of my time doing this, I think it’s been like, first time, I think it was eight years. The second time, it was a couple of years. And I feel like there have been other things in between. I’ve always worked with my somatic person, which is like, yeah, I think it’s a combination of like various things. Oh, I’ve tried Reiki too. I feel like I’ve done everything. So that is my mental health story.

Why does mental health and wellness matter to me?

I kind of got thrown into it. I don’t think I would be so in-depth with it. Maybe I would I don’t know. But my mental health or wellness matters because I can’t have relationships otherwise if I don’t take care of it. If I don’t pay attention to it, I can’t actually get any work done. I have to acknowledge the fact that it has a huge impact on my life, whether or not I choose it to have that.

But I’m always on the side of I’d rather understand it and learn a bit about myself and peel the onion than being thrown around by it. So it matters to me because the betterment of me makes me just more relaxed and happier. And I want to be happy. That’s why it matters to me.

And I want my relationships to be good and not thrown around by my constant emotional upheaval.

What does mental health mean to me? How do I define it for myself?

Mental health is just like physical health. It feels like it’s my brain or my body. It’s just a part of theMental Health makeup of my DNA. So it is just the mental brain thought expression of my being. I just I think of it as just a natural half of me or whatever that is, maybe not half. I don’t know what the part the percentage would be.

But it’s like my body is one part, my mind is one part. And I guess spirit would go into that. I know that you mentioned spirituality. But spirit for me is almost like a separate category again. Because it definitely has a lot to do with me. Trusting and being on a spiritual path, on a sort of more Buddhist path, I guess, with daily practices to stay open and practice beginner’s mind and trying to meditate. Sometimes that works and sometimes it doesn’t. I definitely do breathwork.

Being conscious and being present with synchronicities and living in the knowledge that there is–I don’t want to call it a higher power but—[there are] definitely currents in the world that are energy, or that sort of determine how we interact. I think a lot of it is also influenced by just orbital planet old situations.

I don’t have a great relationship with astrology because it was used as an abusive tool by my biological father, to show me my potential for, you know, how bad my life was gonna be, or how much I was like him. And so I can’t really say that astrology is part of it.

It’s more just that I think that the moon impacts us and the way that planetary alignments shift, I do feel like I notice that.

[Mental health] means a great deal to me, because if I don’t take care of it, if I don’t consistently check-in, which means every day, then I definitely lose a part of me. I definitely need to parent myself every day. I don’t have the luxury of sort of abandoning it and leaving it all behind. The practice of regularly being there with it makes me more able to be in the world, in relationships. It also makes me more empathetic and more understanding.

Being in the inquiry is also just a natural curiosity of mine. I like having think time every day and just kind of pondering, pondering whatever pops into my mind. Letting go and being with uncertainty and understanding that the constant need for safety and security is trauma-informed.

David Whyte has a poem, I think it was called Close. [Start Close In] It just had this beautiful, like, we’re always close whenever there and that it’s just the human experience. And there being not quite all the way in something, we’re always close. That really inspired me because it means that enlightenment, the place that we want to get to, is not a place that that exists. It can happen for a split second, but then we have to keep practicing to be there again. [Being there again] doesn’t actually matter so much because the actual practice is the point. Not the arrival, because there is no arrival, because as soon as you’ve arrived, then there’s another onion layer to peel. But it’s nice to be in flow every now and then.

How do I care for my mental health wellness today?

I have a daily practice where I check in with my parts, how I learned it in therapy to sort of parent, whichever part is having either a meltdown or a good day or whatever. And if one of the parts has an issue, say sometimes my anxiety, you know, rears its head a little bit. I go take care of that part. Instead of trying to fix what’s going on around me [although] that sometimes works. Sometimes I don’t notice until later until I’ve already reacted to my surroundings, that it was just a part of me that was freaking out.

I examine my world as much as I can to understand whether or not it is actually a concern, something I need to work on or be with or whatever something I need to be aware of. I think I would like to let go of that a little bit. This hypervigilance, why I check-in, often I can find things before they explode in my face. If I check-in.

Yoga for mental healthI have a physical practice as well. I do yoga every day. I roll out my mat and either stretch or do yoga or Pilates or whatever floats my boat on the day. It’s also really helpful for me to go running in the fall in the morning first thing, which happens more or less. I know that midday running is a really good thing for me to or at least exercise.

I know that a healthy diet is really important to me too. Every now and then I don’t drink for a while also just to clear my head but I’m European that way. I can’t cut it out completely. I don’t know why I’m saying it’s European. It’s just what I grew up with, with just alcohol being in everyone’s life, not to the extent that some people do it, but just, it’s just part of the enjoyment of life. And that’s always going to be part of it, because I just, I love it. I love the taste of it and the social aspect.

I’ve never done any drugs or anything like that, aside from maybe pot, because I was too worried that my brain would take that and run with it. And I would never come back. So I’ve never experimented with anything other than pot because even that was I was addicted for a little bit, but I stopped because it was also related to a relationship I was in. But yeah, it was getting really bad because I used it obviously as a coping mechanism. And it wasn’t really doing anything else for me. And it’s very common in Switzerland [where Alice grew up] for people to smoke a lot. So I just kind of got wrapped up in it, and then and then thought that I needed it.

Today, I just take care of myself every day, I have habit practices, like 15 or 16 habits I do every day, which also includes writing down my gratitude for the day, setting intentions, tracking my feelings, morning, evening, morning, daytime, and evening. That has been very helpful because even in the past, I’ve thought for a minute I was bipolar because the trauma was throwing me around quite a bit. And through the tracking that I was able to show the psychiatrist my tracking. He then was able to determine that I was not bipolar because I was all over the map and not cyclical. I find tracking to be just generally really helpful to also understand how my life actually goes in comparison to what I think it is.

So I often get … nostalgic. Like, oh, everything was perfect last summer, when no it wasn’t, or the other way around, like, Oh, my vacation was terrible, because I don’t know, it rained every day. And then I looked back and it actually didn’t. And so [tracking has] given me a little bit of distance between how I perceive the world and how it actually is… and how it actually is, is also just a fallacy. It’s just the perception. it’s given me a lot of space.

I have recently noticed also, that I need to take care of myself in an even bigger way related to my business. I have a second business now with the ethical move, and I’m realizing that I am definitely burning the candle at both ends with it. Part of it is constantly checking in and planning and always being on top of things and, and then also always having calls one-on-one calls, realizing that that is actually not sustainable, I can do that for a little while. I can’t do it for more than let’s say two to three months, well, probably two months, and then I have to crash. That’s too much of an up and down I’d rather have smaller oscillations.

I am currently looking at how I can revise my services, my offerings, to be able to handle something long term and be able to be happy at it and enjoy it and also still be creative at the same time because that’s what goes out the window when I’m not [happy].

When I’m very overwhelmed, then I definitely don’t have a whole lot of room for writing or drawing which are is very important to me. And I believe it’s actually a big factor in my mental health as well.

The main mental wellness tip I have found useful

I think I discovered it all on my own, to be honest. One moment that was really impactful for me was when I thought I was depressed and my regular GP wanted to give me antidepressants because I cried in his office. Then I went to see my therapist and he basically said, I’m not depressed, I need a hobby. Immediately, the depression stopped. The “being thrown around by feelings bit,” I recognize when it happens now and I just kind of go, “Okay, it’s probably going to cycle out so I just need to hold on tight and stick it out and give myself some room to breathe.” Because probably I just need a hobby, you know…

I have really crippling anxiety sometimes. Anxiety looks like crying and big feelings or big thoughts and needing to change everything… but I don’t really have the lying in bed can’t get up kind of thing, I don’t have that. I just sometimes can’t work because I’m throwing around too much. My brain is overprocessing. I’m calling that anxiety. That’s the best word I could find in English for it. I don’t know if there is one in German.

But [regarding depression, I read something and] it was to the effect of how do you get motivated when you’re depressed. And it was basically just talking about how you just have to start working, and then find motivation through work. So basically understanding that, in those mental health states where things are not ideal, and work seems like the last thing you can do, and motivation sure is not anywhere, to just make like one small incremental first step in a direction and then another little one, and then maybe take a break, but just kind of do little small incremental things until the motivation motor starts. I don’t think [motivation] works the other way around. I think we do little things, and then the motivation kicks in.

I learned from my body coach back in the day, when I first started working on I don’t know, lovingLove Your Body my body, for the first time–I had an abusive ex-husband and one of his main ways to shame me was shaming my body. And so I wasn’t allowed to eat chips and so many controlling ways that showed up. I had a really twisted idea of what my body should look like.

I work with a body coach. The thing that I learned from her was the smallest possible increment that I can do every day is what I need to do. And not I’m gonna workout three times a week, it was I’m gonna roll out my mat every day. That’s all I can promise, I can’t even promise 10 minutes of exercise. That’s what I thought I’m like, 10 minutes of exercise every day, she’s like, you’re not gonna do it. Let’s go smaller. And so we decided together that rolling out my mat every day would be the thing. And if I rolled it out and didn’t even touch it, or just rolled it back together, that’s fine. I won.

And going outside was just like, I just had to step outside, I could just like literally take the trash out or just go step outside the front door and take a breath and walk back in. And that was a win.

And then I started compiling wins. And that was when things changed. Because then all of a sudden I was all of a sudden doing yoga without noticing I was doing exercises, I was walking every day, like all of a sudden I was doing all these things. Like I was getting groceries by on foot or my bike, and not just, you know, take the bus or try and find a way to like, get a ride or taxi or whatever. I just did this one little incremental thing every day. So that was probably the most helpful thing.

It really is about staying present and not getting too wrapped up and understanding that even flashbacks are just rides you can choose to be on or not, and you do have a choice. And that it just takes practice to learn when that choice appears and to not go down the rabbit hole every single time. Because the rabbit hole, that flashback area, is probably not where the answers are… It’s always just the same repetitive loops of thoughts and projections. I surprise myself sometimes how many times I repeat the same exact sentence in my head that I’m going to tell someone… I just keep going and going and going with the same fight when I’m never gonna say it out loud. I have to be careful not to get wrapped in the spinning out, thinking that it’s good for me to let it out.

And so just learning that neural pathways are actually created through repetition… really understanding that the power of repetition is actually it can go both ways. I think that’s a big, big tip for me.

The one thing I would share about mental wellness with women entrepreneurs

Everything’s a practice. You know nothing about the thing that you’re about to do until you do it. I highly recommend discovery over figuring out. I call figuring out the thing where you like, make a plan, and you go look for that thing, and you try and figure it out, and you do the research and all this stuff. Oftentimes, that first of all gets you in a loop of just like research and anxiety, I don’t know, does me. And oftentimes, your blinders are so tight that you don’t you couldn’t possibly see what’s on the outside. It’s not something that you’re open to because you have a fixed idea of what it should be.

Everything is a practice.

But if you say, “Hey, I’m going to, I don’t know, roll out my mat every day, see what happens,” then you have a chance of discovering what could be. I never thought of myself as somebody who could do something for a long period of time every day. That’s not someone that I thought I was. And then I started rolling out my mat a while ago, 2017 I think I started rolling out my mat in January.

Then I started my 300-day habit practices because I felt like, well, I’m going to make this into an actual intention, I’m going to focus on rolling out my mat for 300 days because I want to be really good to my mental health.

My current cycle is happy. I’ve decided that I’m going to focus on what makes me happy. And that that is a totally legitimate thing I want. And so far, it’s been really interesting, because around the corner came having to cut ties with my biological father and having to go through another trauma run through so many things that I thought I had completed, but then realizing, “Oh, actually, it’s about generosity. It’s about grace. It’s about openness and compassion. That’s what happiness is. It’s not joyful every day excited.”

It’s just such a beautiful process of discovery. And I think that’s what I would want to wish for any entrepreneur, to just trust that your gut knows, it really does, you just need to practice the space for it, you need to practice the capacity for enough peace and quiet and space, just space so that you’re the voice that knows best.

But if you want to be in business, then I’m sure there are things that are really exciting. Do those and then your audience will be there because you’re obviously a reflection of your audience. So [using] discovery over figuring out because it kind of takes the sting away from everything, you know, it’s just like a little bit of testing. Just beta test, just try it out. And if it’s shit, don’t do it anymore. And if it’s awesome, keep doing it. But that’s something you got to just try. And you know, I need to listen to my own words.

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About the author 

Shulamit Berlevtov  -  Shulamit (she/her) is the Entrepreneurs' Therapist. She is working passionately to mitigate the entrepreneurial mental health crisis through keynote speaking and educational workshops and by supporting women entrepreneurs 1:1 to care for their mental and emotional wellbeing and their money psychology in an era of relentless stressors that can make you want to lose your crap on the daily.

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