[TRIGGER WARING: This post discusses suicide]
As our Two Chairs community continues to grow, we have incredible opportunities to connect with people working in the wellness space, and learn about their experiences with therapy. Britt Barrett, Ayurvedic Practitioner and Intuitive Healer, is one such individual. She attended our #TalkTherapy launch event with a friend, and was inspired to share her mental health story in the hopes of encouraging others to adopt a holistic perspective of their health — unifying their notions of spiritual, physical, and mental wellbeing.
Britt’s point of view has informed her work: sharing this integrative model with others through her Daily Ayurveda coaching practice. Ayurveda is a rich and holistic nature-based medical system, and was created over 5,000 years ago in India to prevent disease and promote health. It’s based on the premise that each human has different dietary and exercise needs depending on their body type, or “dosha”. As she put it during our interview, “something that works for one person may not necessarily work for another person.” Sound familiar? Our tailored approach to care at Two Chairs was developed in the same spirit.
Britt is a Bay Area native. She grew up on the Peninsula, and has called the East Bay home for the last decade. She invited me to her sunny apartment in Oakland a few blocks from Lake Merritt to #TalkTherapy one Summer afternoon, and we settled in with some crisp green grapes and open minds.
First brushes with mental health
More than once during our conversation, Britt described herself as “sensitive” child — she recalls feeling everything very deeply, and being hyper in-tune with her emotions from a young age. In moments of overwhelm, she would take solace in the wide open spaces of the nature preserve near her home.
So when Britt had her first experience with depression in high school, it took her awhile to realize that what she was experiencing was not just a result of her sensitive disposition — it was a diagnosable illness. “On the outside, I looked liked I was thriving. I was on homecoming court, I was on leadership, I was on the dance team. Everyone from high school looked at me and thought I was a superstar, but on the inside I felt extremely isolated, alone, and sad.” The pressure she felt to uphold a certain appearance, combined with these complicated emotions took a toll on her mental health.
“When I was 16 I was suicidal and I didn’t ever attempt but I wrote a letter to my parents saying goodbye. My dad found it and drove me to the emergency room. I ended up seeing a psychiatrist and going on antidepressants for awhile. That was my entry point into understanding not only my depression, but my mental health in general.” As a sophomore in high school, the dialogue opened up for Britt, and it forever changed the way she thought about, and continues to think about, her mental wellbeing.
Dealing with disease
Flash forward a few years, and Britt is in college, living what she would describe as an unhealthy, unsustainable lifestyle — going out all the time and constantly stressing about the future. At the age of 21, she was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis, which is a chronic digestive issues caused by a combination of genetic factors and stress. The disease was unbearable at times, with intense abdominal pains and fatigue. She made changes to her life to minimize the stress factor as much as possible, but after a couple years down the path of western medicine, nothing was helping to alleviate her symptoms.
“I was really depressed again, I felt like I had hit rock bottom. I was living at my parents house when I went to a free lecture at a bookshop and ran into an Ayurvedic teacher there. Her name is Acharya Shunya, and she is now one of the thought leaders in Ayurveda.” Britt was immediately captivated by the concept of this alternative medicine, and seized the opportunity to learn from Acharya. “I was lucky enough to be one of her students when she first came to the states and started teaching.”
“In Ayurvedic college, the first year is all about self-healing” — understanding your own elemental makeup and personal needs. “Then the following two years are about pathology and how to help others heal.” This includes learning how to create treatment plans for others to restore their balance. “Once you have this knowledge, to hold it and not share it is thought of as a cosmic sin.”
As she immersed herself in the teachings and lifestyle of Ayurveda, she rid herself of her ulcerative colitis symptoms, and gained a heightened understanding of the interconnectedness of her own physical, mental and spiritual health, and by extension — everyone’s. “I see mental, physical, and spiritual health as the complete package to a human’s healing…You have to treat your body like you would treat your child. You have to take care of yourself in the way that you would nourish a child.”
In conjunction with her Ayurvedic practice, Britt has sought out therapy in both the traditional and nontraditional senses for more than 20 years. “I think it’s the greatest gift you could give yourself — time to spend understanding what causes you pain so you can stop the cycle. That way you can be a beacon of light instead of subconsciously continuing to dole out pain.”
Over time, her therapeutic matches have become stronger. She now meets with a therapist and they do somatic and expressive arts therapy every week. This creative and emotional outlet is imperative for Britt, and the connection they share is at the core of their work together. “I always wanted to have one person that wasn’t my parents to see me for who I really was, and I feel like I found that in her.”
“I find therapy to be crucial to clear the cobwebs. I think everyone should go to therapy. We all have stuff, no matter how great our parents were or how privileged we are, we all need that support that’s really centered on us, where we don’t feel like we’re taking up too much space. We have the full hour to just process all the unprocessed stuff that’s been lurking in your system. It’s a cleaning.”
No journey is without setbacks, though, and Britt is no exception. Her ulcerative colitis symptoms resurfaced after a stressful separation with her fiancé last year, and she describes this as a humbling experience. “I made a name for myself in the Ayurvedic world by being someone who was healed by Ayurveda for over eight years, to just being a human who has things that happen and needs extra help. I’m now using a combination of steroids and Ayurveda to stay balanced.”
Helping others heal
She recognizes that her mental health toolkit is deeply personal and ever-evolving, and helps her clients see that for themselves. “After doing so much work for myself in all these different realms of healing, I’m always trying to help my clients figure out what’s going to be the most effective for them. Each time I sit with someone I’m gathering information via their energy that they’re putting off or their facial expressions or the way that they talk about food. The way that their skin looks. I’m using Ayurveda as my guide, but each person I work with looks, feels, and acts so differently.”
This individual coaching allows Britt’s clients to cultivate healthier lifestyles and flex new cognitive muscles between sessions, and even after coaching is complete. Just like in traditional talk therapy, dedicated time with an expert in the field helps clients reframe ideas and shed light on various aspects of their lives. Essentially, she’s “helping them become their own coaches” so they can better control their thought patterns — whether it’s about diet, exercise, relationships, or their careers.
In addition to the one-one-one coaching that Britt does, she facilitates intuitive painting classes for corporations. In these classes, she encourages creative play under the notion that it’s about the process versus the final product. It’s this same mindset that has been so helpful for her to recalibrate in times of transition and to accept herself no matter where she’s at in the process.
And when all else fails, she still turns to nature to provide comfort. “When I feel like not a single human could handle the emotional depth that I’m experiencing, I always feel like nature can. My favorite spots are Muir Beach, Redwood Regional Park, Muir Woods, Inspiration Point — anywhere that I can be in the trees is fine with me.”
If you would like to share, I’d love to #TalkTherapy with you. If you’re interested, you can email me at [email protected].
If you or someone you know is experiencing an emergency or crisis and needs immediate help, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room. Additional resources can be found here.