Saturn Return | A Tale of Transformation at The Community Pool
Two years ago, sheer terror woke me up in the middle of a cold January night. I wasn’t having a nightmare, I was living one. Like dominos crashing with the force of tidal waves one after the other, everything in my universe began to shift.
I had what seemed like the dream job, the dream man, the dream body, and I was feeling more spiritually connected and emotionally stable than ever. This was so, until everything started to slowly and then extremely quickly, fall apart.
Some call this phenomenon the “Saturn Return.” Others; a dark night of the soul. Western Doctors might diagnose what happened to me as a “ severe clinical depression.” Whatever this was felt like I was quickly falling down a deep dark never ending well.
On a particularly haunting night in January, I remember knowing deep within my soul that something was breaking me apart from the inside, and I believed I might not survive it. I knew deep down that I was entering into the greatest transformation of my life, but as a strong and happy person, I thought I’d tackle this as I had everything else in my life — quickly, forcefully and with passion. I had no idea what was about to happen. I had no idea I could ever feel so helpless.
At first, I prayed for the pain to stop. I prayed for my mind to stop spinning; for the fear to subside. I prayed to a god I wasn’t sure I believed in. I looked around at the same universe I once thought was supporting me and asked “why would you do this to me?”
I remember a friend saying to me, “ What if this is happening for you and not to you?” I remember feeling intense anger towards him in that moment. How could this be happening FOR me, I wondered? How could this be part of my plan? How could this be my greatest transformation? There was no way THIS was it.
Entering into this transformative time of my life ( what I refer to as my Saturn Return) felt like I was swimming in a calm and gentle ocean, and suddenly and without much warning, the blue sky turned grey and then black, and as I turned around, the biggest wave I had ever seen was coming towards me and BAM! Suffocation. I was drowning, fighting for my breath and feeling like it was all over.
Somehow, I survived the wave though. And there I was - feeling like I was floating in a dark, cold and stormy ocean, terrified and alone. I wasn’t a good swimmer. I wanted to rest, and mostly, I didn’t want to be alone.
Confusion set it.
Questioning everything set in.
Fighting my reality set in.
I kept asking myself how I ended up flailing around in a stormy sea when all I did was go to the beach on a sunny afternoon? I didn’t want to swim alone. I didn’t want to swim in a storm. And all I wanted was for someone to come and rescue me. But there was no one in sight. And it dawned on me, that I might just have to save myself. This was a particularly scary thought at the time because where in the hell was I going to get the strength to do that? I’d never been a strong swimmer, and I was afraid of the deep dark sea.
What made my particular breakdown even worse, was that at the time that it happened I was working for my dream company and becoming known as the “Inspirational” writer I always dreamed I would be. People turned to me for guidance. People thought I had it all together. I thought so too. The shame and judgment around not turning out to be the person I thought I was - it was pulling me apart from the inside with a determination of a thousand Samurai warriors.
It took me a very long time to realize that compassion, kindness and asking for help would save my life. It took me even longer to understand and appreciate that THIS was what my Saturn Return was eagerly trying to teach me. I even remember the moment that I saw myself floating in the same ocean that used to appear wild, dark and scary, except now it felt warm, calm and I was literally surrounded by dozens of loved ones. I knew in that moment that while I hadn’t seen them before, they had been there all along.
It took me even longer to appreciate this time of my life as the greatest lesson I’d ever learn as well as the most powerful gift I’d ever be given.
But before we get there…
After that particularly scary night in January when I woke up drenched in an anxious cold sweat, I reached out to both the Eastern and Western world for help. Ferociously drowning, I needed to find some way to make sense of what was happening to me. A researcher and writer, I wanted as many perspectives as possible. And so it began.
Robert Frost said, “ The best way out, is always through.” And looking back now, I would not take back anything that happened to me throughout the last two years because what they did was bring me to the greatest joy, peace and love of my life. They also brought me to the community pool. Again, I’m jumping ahead( I tend to do that.)
As I was felling into a well of darkness, and before I felt so incapacitated that I could barely speak or get out of bed, I started to reach out to anyone and everyone I could. Looking back now, I feel like what ultimately saved me was the fact that I had no choice but to ask for help, and kept asking for it no matter how bad things got. And things got bad.
As someone who was always more comfortable providing support rather than asking for it, this was THE lesson my Saturn Return was teaching me — how to ask for and receive help.
I found an astrologer, a psychic, a psychiatrist, a therapist, a physician, an Akashik record healer, a Dharma teacher, a yoga teacher … and the list really does go on.
Here’s the truth — they all saved me.
And here’s the deeper truth — I ultimately saved me.
Everyone I met along the way helped. One day, a homeless man on a bus saw my eyes, looked deeply into them and said, “ he hasn’t forgotten about you.” Somehow in that moment, as tears streamed down my face, I felt like maybe, just maybe, everything might be ok. It felt like the god I wasn’t sure I believed in had sent me a little reminder through this man. This kind human probably has no idea how his few words saved my life in that moment.
I continue to honor those who I met for a moment, as well as those who I met who continue to be pivotal people on my life. Without the community I ended up building, I believe I would have died. I can’t imagine being who I am today without the people who entered my life, and without my personal relationships, which were transforming right along with me. I know that the reason I finally became the artist, writer and coach I always dreamed of is because I made it through this Saturn Return with the help of those who were meant to help me find my most authentic self.
Through the Saturn Return, the universe gives us a chance to actually step up and be those people we are meant to be. It helps cleanse us of what and who we no longer need ( even if we don’t know it yet) and invite in, those things and people who will ultimately support us. Saturn is the planet of transformation, and about every 28.5 years it returns to the same exact spot it was in the day you were born. So if you’re somewhere around the age of 27–33, you are going through your first big transformation.
If you’ve ever felt like you’re meant to do something great, but aren’t quite clear as to what exactly that is or how to get there, welcome to your Saturn Return. There are often times in life when these questions are present, but during this time, the planets are literally algining in order to help you figure out YOU. Now, if you’re not 28 yet and already asking these kinds of questions — awesome. I was too. Keep asking, as gently as possible, and trust that the answers are coming.
And if you’re in your late 30’s, 40’s 50’s and beyond and still asking these questions — great. It’s never too late to get closer to your authentic essense. Think of when you were in your late 20's/early 30’s — was there anything that showed up that you didn’t fully explore? Did you make choices out of love or out of fear? Did you do what you were “supposed to do” or what your heart was calling you to do? We’re you trying to please your family, friends, colleagues and lovers or yourself?
There is no wrong answer and no wrong timing. Invite yourself to simply observe and try on the belief that anything that you’re truly meant to do, and the person you’re truly meant to be, simply hasn’t manifested yet because you weren’t ready. When might you be ready? How about NOW?
When is NOW.
The journey of radical transformation is not for the faint of heart.
This IS the hero’s journey.
Moving into a Saturn Return is also an invitation to remove that boulder you’ve been carrying in your backpack that’s actually weighing you down.
What boulder? All those feelings, thoughts, stories and people who are weighing you down more than lifting you up.
You cannot get to where you’re actually headed with this kind of baggage. And we all have it. So take a deep breath and get ready for the ride. Now is the time to lighten up the load so that the next chapter of life flows better.
My Saturn Return introduced me to the people I needed to meet in order to become who I came here to be. And in order for this to happen, I had to let go of most everything and everyone I thought I needed in my life. This was the scariest thing that I have ever had to do. It’s also the most powerful. I know this now, and hindsight is 20/20.
At the onset of my Saturn Return, an astrologer said to me:
“ You are entering into your Saturn Return. Everyone goes through this, but for some people it is more severe than for others. This is a time of transformation, as Saturn is a planet of transformation. For people who are already on the right path in life, this is a time of great growth, and for those who are misaligned in someway with who they came here to be, this is a time when the Universe gives them a chance to realign and transform. And it can be brutal. And you are the most sensitive being I’ve ever met ( a very rare triple Cancer) so please give yourself some grace because this is going to feel unbearable.
No one will understand you. You will feel like you are dying. You might even want to die. But please remember that you will survive this, and when you do, you will come out stronger than ever. You will need to let go of people in your life who you love now, and detach from them fully. They are not serving you. And you will need to let strangers in to help you. Please let them in. They will save you. This will take about nine months. Go somewhere safe. Don’t try to work now. Just rest, stay strong and trust.”
I thought I was going to die when I heard the last part:
Those I love will leave me?
I need to let strangers help me?
Are you F3&*ing kidding me?
I wasn’t sleeping. Everyday felt like an eternity. I was physically exhausted, barely eating, feeling weak and looking ghostly. My anxiety was so high, I couldn’t breath. I was sure that I wasn’t going to make it through another day, let alone, nine months.
Two years later, looking back, I see that of all the professionals I reached out to throughout that tumultuous time of life, this astrologer was more on point than any doctor or therapist. And yet one doctor stands out. He was the stranger who would come in, and who I would let in to save me, heal me, and teach more more about love than any human I’d ever previously met. He, along with the other people who showed up as angels at this time are the inspiration for the book I always dreamed of writing, and that I finally wrote. More on that another time, let’s get back to the doctor and then of course, to the pool.
I first met him at the Crisis Center in San Francisco on one of the most challenging days of my life. I wanted to write “ worst “ right now, and just as I started typing that word, I realized that there is no way this could be the worse day, since this is the day I met one of the kindest humans on this planet.
Of all the people who came into my life as healers during my Saturn Return, he instantly felt like THE angel that the universe sent to guide me. Even through my pain, I could feel it, and while I could not understand it, him showing up gave me a little bit more strength and helped me hold on when I really thought it was all over. He was someone who listened to me in the most authentic and real way I’d ever experienced. I could see in his eyes that he not only cared deeply, but that he’d been through something very difficult himself. My intuition was very strong here, and while I was having trouble trusting life, and mostly myself, I knew this was true. This knowing helped me show up in the most vulnerable way I’d ever showed up with anybody in my entire life. This is another lesson I had to learn through my Saturn Return - vulnerability is strength.
Throughout the entire nine months of my Saturn Return, this doctor took care of me. What he did for me was so simple when you really break it down. He listened to me. That’s really all it was, and yet, this, I have learned, is the greatest gift we can ever give to anyone in this world.
He helped me feel less alone. He consistently showed up to assist me, and went above and beyond in every way a doctor and human can. I remember thanking him towards the end of our time together, and with tears in both of our eyes, all he said in his humble manner was, “ I helped you because I felt I could.” That’s all. He helped me because that’s what angels on earth do. They simply help because they can.
He also told me that he’d never seen anyone come out of the kind of darkness I was in without pharmaceutical drugs. This was something that was particularly important to me, and it meant so much coming from him. Months later, after reading some of the writing I was sharing from Costa Rica ( where I moved the following year to write my book,) he wrote to me and said that my words helped him feel better on difficult days.
In that surreal moment, I broke down and cried at how this whole game of life works. I never imagined being able to help him in any way. He was the one who saved me! How was it possible that I somehow helped the person who saved me in such a deep way? And yet — isn’t THIS the point? Isn’t this what we’re all doing for one another?
Whether we’re doctors or writers, aren’t we all here to heal and help one another throughout our journeys?
Yes, it seems so.
Many things have since unfolded, and the last two years often feel like a dream. Frankly, if they hadn’t happened to me, I’d have a hard time believing them. I entered into the deepest darkness of my life, and re-emerged as the most peaceful and brightest self. The brightness isn’t so surprising, since this was a space I’d lived in before. The peace however, is very new. The peace is what I didn’t know I didn’t know. The peace is IT.
My journey led me into a deepest spiritual, mental, emotional and physical exploration of my life. It inspired me to move to a remote beach in Costa Rica, and go back to my home country, The Republic of Moldova, where I finished the research for my book, “Chrysalis” — a book I dreamed of writing for ten years, and one I would have never written without my Saturn Return. That “clinical depression” as some called it, saved my life much more than it destroyed it. It brought me face to face with myself — all of me.
It taught me grace, compassion and humbled me to my core. The way I know myself now — the way I love myself now, it’s truly a different experience of life. I now know that I can survive anything, because I survived wanting to not survive at all. I honor anyone who has ever been where I came back from ( which is almost every human I’ve ever met, to varying degrees.)
So where does the pool come in? It’s time to go there…
Just because you survive something, and gain a deeper love for yourself doesn’t mean you don’t still have some shitty SHITTY days. And about 5o days ago, I was having many of those, all in a row. In fact, at that point, the last month or two weren’t feeling so great. I felt anxious for the first time in a long time. And of all the emotions out there, anxiety happens to be my least favorite. I know anxiety very well, and I know not to fight it, but I also know that the sooner I can invite it in and then gently ask it to simmer down, the better. I decided to ask my therapist for support, since I now know how to do that.
Before the support was invited and received, I kept dreaming of going back to Costa Rica, because there by the ocean, there was no anxiety. But there is no warm ocean in San Francisco. And dammit, I don’t have a bathtub. For years, I have been complaining about not having a damn bathtub. Despite having my very own amazing little studio in San Francisco ( a dream for so many) all I was focusing was the LACK of bathtub. And somehow it felt justified because I knew it was coming from a place of desiring healing.
So there I was wanting my bathtub, and also wishing I could go back to Costa Rica. Dreaming and wishing is lovely and fun, and yet it typically does not make a bathtub (or warm ocean) appear. So when my therapist suggested I visit the pool, I actually listened. And yet, there were a few problems. And they felt kinda big. Huge, in fact. Mainly, a pool was not a bathtub, nor an ocean. And then there was some other stuff…
First of all, the idea of being in a bathing suit freaked me out. I had been injured a few months back — a very bad foot sprain took me out of my life. So I could not walk or be active throughout the last few months. This led to some weight gain. I was feeling very uncomfortable in my body after months of chronic pain.
Also, where was I to find access to a pool nearby? The gyms are so expensive, and I had just started working again. How was I going to afford it? And why would I want to be covered in chlorine?
Well, today is day 50 in a row of my early morning swimming, and I have a few answers.
San Francisco apparently has 8 community pools, where anyone can swim. If you are low income, the passes are only $2. For everyone else they are $6. The closest community pool to my house happens to be 7 minutes from me, door to door. I afford this pool because I choose to spent my latte money on the pool. I choose to spend any money I was spending on cocktails or cigarettes on the pool. I can afford it because whenever we truly commit to affording something, we find a way to do it.
And why would I want to be covered in chlorine? Because by jumping into the pool every morning, I feel like I am finally home. The sense of joy and peace that I feel every single day both during and after my swim is unlike anything I have ever experienced in my life. Someone can break up with me and fire me from a job, but the pool and I are homies and it can’t and won’t ever fire me or break up with me. We are unconditionally and wholeheartedly in support of one another, every single day, one day at a time.
By the way, I am not a morning person, nor have I ever committed to doing anything this consistently throughout my whole life. So 50 days of early morning swimming ( I’m talking about 5:30AM early) is a little out of character. You might be wondering what inspired me to dive in to such a commitment? Day 1.
The first day that I showed up at the pool, I was deeply anxious. I remember changing out of my clothing, and putting on my sports bra ( I didn’t actually get a bathing suit till day 25 of swimming) and hearing the voice in my head go on and on:
“ You got so fat! Ouch, my foot hurts. What am I doing here???”
I tried to tune that voice out, as I walked out of the changing room and onto the pool area of the North Beach Community Pool. As soon as I put my feet in the warm water, I instantly knew that this was right. As I submerged myself, it was as if everything faded. It didn’t matter that I was injured. It didn’t matter what my body looked like or that I was wearing a sports bra instead of a real bathing suit. It didn’t matter that I was feeling anxious just moments before. Nothing really mattered. I was present.
I realized in that moment that this pool might just be the “bathtub” I’d been searching for. I dove in to feel the water all over my face and when I came back up and opened my eyes, I almost couldn’t believe who I saw. It was the doctor who saved my life two years ago. And when I looked a little bit deeper, tears started streaming down my face. So much suddenly made sense.
Every time I used to visit him, he would meet me in the waiting area and we would walk back to his office together. I noticed that he consistently had a little limp, and I didn’t think much about it, though I was curious. Seeing him at the pool on that day answered the question I had years prior. I saw in that moment, that he was missing one leg.
That first moment I saw him in that pool was by far the most profound moment of my life. Here I was, feeling deeply anxious about my foot injury and body, and I see a man who is missing a leg, and in my experience, hasn’t let that stop him from being one of the most completely inspiring, helpful and powerful humans I’d ever met. I realized in that moment that I wanted to be like him. I too want to be a person who doesn’t let any sort of limitations ( whether physical, mental, emotional or spiritual) stop me from showing up in a BIG way. And really, this is all about one’s mindset, and not at all about their body.
Something really deep healed with this realization.
My whole perspective shifted. I realized in the most deep way that what we have or don’t have is so minuscule compared to how we choose to serve and give back. I don’t know what happened to my doctor’s leg. I have no idea how it affects him. But I know that in my own experience, spending even three months with a foot injury was very difficult. It slows one down in a way that is hard to understand without having this experience. It humbled be greatly. It brought to me a new appreciation for a slower way of being. I now see the beauty, grace and power that comes with slowing down and going at whatever pace suits you, despite how fast the world around you is moving.
At the pool on Day 1, when I thought the man I saw was my former doctor, a part of me felt like I might be making this whole thing up. It was too perfectly timed. And then he saw me and said hello. And as always, when I looked into his eyes I saw the kindest and most loving eyes. As I was leaving he said, “you’re always so bright!” And as I limped back into the changing room, tears streaming down my face again, I could not help but be in awe of the universe and how it sends us exactly what we need, when we need it. Somehow this human being is always able to see and reflect my own light to me at exactly the right moments. I am deeply grateful to him for how he continues to show up for me, without even trying.
And I write this story to honor him, and everyone out there who heals by simple being themselves.
I decided to go back to the pool the next day because day 1 was so moving,
Today is my 50th day in a row of swimming.
What we are searching for is always within us, and none of us know exactly how we are going to tap into to it, or who might help us. This is why saying yes to life and to people who show up is so key. Even when we find it hard to trust. Especially then. It’s very easy to trust when things are going well, but the time to truly trust is when things are not. And if you’re human you might hit a rough patch or 20. And its OK. We are all here to help one another. And this is why asking for help can save a life. This is why saying a kind word to a stranger on a bus might just save them. You don’t know. You simple never know what someone is really dealing with.
I share this deeply intimate story as a reminder for you to keep exploring, to keep opening up to yourself and to your innermost truth. Listen to your gut, even if everyone in this world is telling you otherwise. If I had listened to most “professionals” I would never have tapped deeper into my truth. Have courage to trust yourself even when the world feels like it’s falling apart. And invite the possibility that this might all be happening FOR you, and not TO you.
Not a day goes by that I’m not present to the fact that if I can survive and thrive through a transformation as deep and painful as mine was, then anyone can. I am just like you. And you are just like me. We’re searching for our place in this universe. For meaning. For peace. We’re looking to connect. To create. To feel.To leave this world a bit better than we found it. To love.
Are you with me?
And if you are struggling and doubting now, let these words be like those words I heard through the mouth of the kind man on the bus : the world hasn’t forgotten about you. You might just be on a detour setting you up for your truest destination.
It’s not about where we go or who we meet, it’s about finding ourselves authentically, in all our brightness and in all our messiness. It’s also about knowing that all of us — the fu*^cked up ones and ones that have it together at the moment, we’re all one and we’re all healers.
I suggest being open to surprises too. After traveling the whole world searching for happiness, inspiration and transformation, I found what I had been searching for deep within my own heart, at the community pool.
This one is dedicated to my former doctor, friend and inspiration. Thank you.
If you need any support right now, please do not hesitate to reach out to me at email@example.com, and if I cannot offer support through coaching, I will refer you to some incredible healers who can.