Hello! Welcome to my work.
My name is Emily Perrin and I am a Mental Health Therapist and Mindfulness and Performance Coach. I am so thankful you are here and I’m excited to share my journey with you in detail. Although my path to this work has not been linear much of it has been shaped by my own lived experience.
The truth is I grew up in and around sport. My Dad was a college basketball coach at the University of Virginia for the first 10 years of my life where he also received his Ph.D. in Sport Psychology. Some of my earliest childhood memories are running around University Hall (which sadly no longer exists) at UVA and going to team practices. Even after leaving college basketball he has continued to work with some of the best athletes in the United States. His career has taken him across multiple professional leagues including the NBA, MLS, NWSL and to two World Cups with the US Men’s National Team. From a very young age this was my life. I knew there was another side to sport that included the mental and emotional world of an athlete.
From a young age I was an elite athlete in both swimming and soccer. I decided to put all my effort in to soccer and spent my first year of college playing soccer at the University of Vermont before transferring to UVA to finish my career. My college career was anything but spectacular and one that was ridden with anxiety and injury.
I am open and honest about my own mental health journey and my experience with significant trauma throughout my life. For the majority of my life, I struggled with anxiety, panic attacks, bouts of serious depression, self harm and suicidal ideation. I have been in inpatient psychiatric care twice and resorted to a variety of maladaptive coping skills.
I was a college athlete in a time where we weren’t having conversations about mental health and there weren’t as many resources or professionals to help athletes. I felt like most days I was living consumed by my anxiety and panic and that had a direct impact on my physical health and ability to perform. To date, at age 33, I have had two knee surgeries, one hip surgery and suffered an L4/L5 Pars Fracture in my spine.
I was navigating a lot throughout my four years but I didn’t prioritize or take my mental health seriously enough. I believe at the time I was doing the best I could but the best included a lot of putting my head down and numbing. I drank and partied way too much and I never took rest or sleep seriously. We know that even maladaptive coping mechanisms are coping. I was trying to cope in the best way I knew how given my lived experience and the environment that I was in (very elite and very intense college athletics). Now that I think about it, to simply play four years at the collegiate level at one of the best programs in the nation was a miracle.
When I graduated college I had zero desire to continue playing as my body and my mind were completely shot. I went straight into coaching, thinking this is what I wanted to do with my life and became an assistant coach at the University of Pennsylvania. After a few seasons went by I realized that what I actually loved about coaching wasn’t the X’s and O’s of soccer. It was the people, the relationships and my athlete’s mental and emotional well being that lit my soul on fire. What I also came to realize was that just because you move to a new city and attempt to start a new life doesn’t mean your problems don’t follow you. My anxiety and panic followed me and so did a host of continued dysfunctional coping mechanisms like heavy drinking, binge eating, and excessive exercising. I continuously put my own health on the back burner and tried to out run it.
After my third season at UPenn I left coaching and had what I like to call my quarter life crisis. In an attempt to continue my pattern of forging ahead and acting like I had it all figured out I took a generic sales job with a company that I wasn’t passionate about and relocated to Raleigh, North Carolina. I was in a new city with very few friends, didn’t enjoy my work at all and decided to enter a new relationship that in hindsight was not a healthy move and ended poorly.
What you run from will persist. Insert an immense amount of anxiety and panic attacks.
But this time wasn’t like the times in high school, college or as a young college coach. My panic attacks ruled my life. If anyone has experienced a panic attack or even panic disorder you know that your body lives on high alert and you feel incredibly “strung out” all the time. I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t work, I couldn’t leave the house to go to the grocery store. Eventually I was admitted to an inpatient psychiatric center in February of 2018. It was the worst 6 days of my life and I thank God every day I made it out alive because I wasn’t sure that I would.
When I was released, I went back to Charlottesville to regroup with my Mom and Dad. I had to take a really hard look at myself in the mirror because I was convinced that if I didn’t tackle this head on I wasn’t going to be around much longer. A few days after being home I was still in very bad shape and basic functions like showering and brushing my teeth were a massive struggle. When it comes to severe mental health we don’t talk enough about how hard the most basic human functions can be. When you can’t get up to simply change your clothes or just brush your teeth you feel an immense amount of shame and despair ON TOP of what you’re actually feeling. I was still barely sleeping, having night sweats, and trying to detox off several medications the rehab center had put me on. I had lost almost 12 pounds in 15 days.
Yet somewhere in there, I remember very clearly thinking “Emily go put your yoga clothes on and go take a yoga class. Even if you just sit on your mat the whole time and don’t move, just do it. It’ll be good for you.”
I’m not sure where it came from or why all of sudden it came to me.
It was a slower yoga class and I remember just starting to breathe and move. I think I kept my eyes closed for the majority of the class as I took each cue one step at a time from the teacher. Throughout the class, the teacher’s message was something to the effect of “you don’t need to be anything you aren’t in this moment.” Her words felt like full permission to be me. When you feel like a broken, anxious mess this can be a powerful message. For the first time in a long time I didn’t feel the exhausting and gripping pressure to “fix” myself. I had space and room to simply be as I was, which felt like an utter broken mess and complete failure.
The feeling was so profound and it is one of the main reasons I do what I do today.
I dove head first in to all things yoga, mindfulness, meditation and breath work. A couple months into these practices I noticed a shift in myself. And not necessarily the amount of anxiety I was having because I was still having a lot of anxiety. I will never sell that these practices make anxiety, or any mental health challenge go away. They don’t. But they allowed me to see my anxiety more clearly and to relate to it in different ways. As Swami Satchitananda said “You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.” These practices were helping me learn how to surf.
This is how I landed on the work that I do.
The practices of Mindfulness, Meditation, Breath Work and Yoga are so near and dear to my heart. They spoke to me, they healed me and ultimately they saved my life. This is what I want to bring to the world.
From that moment forward I have dedicated my time and my energy to bringing this work to the athletic community. I completed my 200 hour Yoga Teacher Training, Dukes Integrative Health Coaching program, and spent an entire year studying Mindfulness Meditation with former Buddhist Monk and now Meditation teacher Sean Fargo. Eventually I landed on going back to school at the University of Denver to get my Masters in Clinical Social Work with a concentration in mental health and trauma. I have additional training in Trauma, Trauma Sensitive Mindfulness and Polyvagal Theory. I continue to have interests in trauma informed work, somatic therapy and psychedelic assisted psychotherapy and am excited about continuing my education and training in a variety of modalities that help people.
I continue to “do the work” personally and I take an immense amount of pride in authentically and genuinely living this work every single day.
As a former college athlete and college coach I know that we need to be doing more for our athletes. At the end of the day if I can make sure that no athlete, no coach, no person goes through what I want through then my life’s work will be complete.
If I were to break my work down in to 3 categories I believe what I provide and how I work with people is by
I want to teach and empower athletes through these practices so that they can learn more about themselves. I want to give athletes and coaches tools and skills to help them be just a little more in control of their mental and emotional well being. I want to change the way we not only SPEAK about mental health and well-being but HANDLE mental health and well-being for all athletes.
I wake up every single day with a passion and love for what I do and I believe that my journey shows the capacity and the power of these practices. Although I do not look back on my own mental health journey and feel grateful for my struggle I do recognize and understand that how we respond in life matters. My response was to learn as much as I could about myself so that I could heal and live a life full of purpose, passion and love. I believe that the world as a whole continues to move in the right direction with regards to mental and emotional health but we still have a long way to go. It gives me no greater joy than to wake up, keep doing the work and continue to make changes that both support and empower the future generation of athletes to come.
Thanks for reading about my journey and this work that I love so much.