Courtney Pinkerton | Coach & Author
This has been a big year for our family. After years of searching for a place to put down roots, last summer we purchased a dream property in North Carolina. The renovated farmhouse, heirloom apple trees, ample garden and chicken coop spoke to me from the moment I saw them.
When we first moved in I was besotted, stumbling around like someone in a Rumi poem soaking in the mountain views and the beauty of the land. I was itching to get started with our tiny farm adventures so my youngest and I bought a pair of enormous breeding bunnies and, even though it was almost too late in the season, I couldn’t resist planting tomatoes and basil in the overgrown beds. My heart swelled at the thought of next year’s garden filling my home with fresh produce and flowers.
I had a lot to be grateful for. My children were healthy and my husband was happier in his work than he had been for a long time. My coaching practice was full of clients I enjoyed and now, after a lengthy search, we had room to stretch out.
Life felt expansive and full of possibility. A coach I was working with called this feeling “playing the game of how good can it get.”
The first time I remember noticing that something was off with my mental health was when my daughters and I traveled to catch a cruise with my parents in June. My girls, age 12 & 14, and I were all looking forward to the trip but when we walked into airport and saw it packed with people, I felt my tension shoot up dramatically.
I’ll spare you the full story of the challenges we navigated, involving an overweight suitcase, testy airline staff and extra fees. As the clock ticked toward departure and we faced another huge line at security, my anxiety ramped to hyperdrive. Thankfully, we made it through and on our flight.
While airports are notoriously stressful places, I sensed something was off internally. The level of stress I felt seemed to outpace the actual situation. I love to travel and have met long lines and unexpected bumps before. In fact, I credit two years of slow and often unreliable transportation in rural Nicaragua during the Peace Corps with forging my general travel outlook: stay flexible and open to serendipity.
But this time was different. I wasn’t able to access those inner resources and felt as if I had lost any capacity to buffer stress. While I thought it was weird at the time, I chalked it up to the isolation of the Covid years and assumed I had just lost my travel edge.
I have always been sensitive: an empath, highly sensitive person, and INFP on the Myers Briggs. After an experience of burnout in my early thirties, I built up a toolbox of resources like tapping, meditation, and chi-gong that help me metabolize stress. I also immersed myself in Enneagram trainings that over years, taught me how to soften my Type 3 habits and to find freedom from inner pressure and overworking.
My wellness team included a therapist, coach, integrative health doctor, massage therapist, chiropractor, and an energy medicine practitioner. With all these supports in place, I had gotten to a point in my life where I felt content and even joyful much of the time.
But over the summer, my anxiety bloomed. Our home was pretty chaotic for months after the move and I was struggling with almost daily migraines, probably a combination of the heat and upending of daily rhythms. And that same feeling from the airport, like I had lost my stress tolerance and any sense of perspective, continued to grow in every facet of my life.
I remember saying again and again, “Why is this so hard?” I started talking to my therapist and my doctor about the challenges I was facing. No one had a simple answer.
They thought the move was rocking my inner equilibrium or maybe that, at 46, my hormones were changing. From the outside, I don’t think it looked like I was struggling as much as I was. Or maybe it is just hard to convey when you feel like the ground is slipping away underneath you.