26: From Hollywood to Healer

26: From Hollywood to Healer

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Inspiration for Nurses

From Hollywood to Healer

If you dream it, you can do it.

~Walt Disney

When I was an adolescent, I dreamed of being a fashion model. I’d grace the pages of stylish magazines, appear in TV commercials and be an actress in Hollywood, too!

A modeling agent in Toronto told my mother, “Annette will never make it.” I saw that woman as a dream stealer. I was fourteen years old and, like most teenagers would, I refused to listen. I convinced my mother to let me take a modeling course. Later, I went to see a different agent who decided to give me a chance. Defying the odds, I began to get work and get paid.

By the time I was in my twenties, Toronto was too small for my ambitions. I pursued my dream and headed to Hollywood. A famous agency, Wilhelmina Models, gave me a shot. They sent me out on auditions and I got steady work. I studied acting at the legendary Actors Studio in Hollywood, where stars like Marilyn Monroe, Robert De Niro and Marlon Brando learned. I was cast in numerous small parts in films and was directed by Francis Ford Coppola, famous for The Godfather.

I went to film premieres in snazzy movie theaters with famous actors and enjoyed champagne and fancy food at the after-premiere bashes with stars like Paul Newman and Barbara Streisand.

Even with all the glamour and success, Hollywood and the world of fame and fortune left me feeling shallow and unfulfilled. Ever since I was a child, I’d been fascinated by mysticism. I knew early on I had a calling; I was a seeker of wisdom and truth. Yet, L.A. was not nurturing my soul. I didn’t go to places of worship nor did I practice spiritual techniques to help me with my suffering. I didn’t know what to do.

After several years, I left L.A. and the Hollywood dream. I made my way to Montréal, where I continued my modeling career. I met Gaetano, a handsome, talented artist and sexy French Canadian. We had a whirlwind romance and I became pregnant within the first year of our dating. We joyfully announced the good news to our families. It was the beginning of a long period of shattering heartbreak.

In 1984, I gave birth to Julian, the perfect baby. He never cried or fussed. In fact, he didn’t do much of anything. Julian showed zero interest in toys and avoided eye contact. My gut told me there was something wrong, but no one listened. Finally, when he was two-and-a-half, we took him for an evaluation at a local children’s hospital.

We got the devastating news. Julian was severely autistic. He also suffered from partial cerebral palsy.

Autism. Cerebral Palsy. It was the start of my dark night of the soul. As Julian got older, unable to talk or achieve independent skills, he became increasingly aggressive. He was considered low functioning on the autism spectrum. He was still pooping his pants at the age of nine, and by that time I was like a zombie, the walking dead. Gaetano and I fought morning, noon and night as our boy flew more and more out of control. We crashed and burned, ending up on welfare — isolated and devastated.

Miraculously, I mustered a little bit of energy. I had contacts in the fashion world and became a buyer for prominent women’s clothing lines from Europe. I made good money and we got off welfare but I was still distraught. I discovered a yoga studio, only steps from my workplace. The classes were a salve to my wounded heart and weary soul, giving me the wisdom and truth I’d been seeking my whole life.

It was there, in the yoga studio, I dreamed of one day being a yoga teacher. I could teach others who were suffering, and help them discover the healing power of yoga. I began to shift from despair and hopelessness to a new inner state of optimism.

Although my inner life was improving, the outer life with Julian and his father continued to disintegrate. Gaetano and I split up. We took turns caring for Julian, who became impossibly aggressive until the day, when he was fourteen, we made the heartbreaking decision to place him in a small institution. It was excruciatingly painful. Every day I was tortured with guilt. It was then, desperate to heal, that I made a bold move.

At age forty-three, I took yoga teacher training at the Kripalu Center in Massachusetts. That changed the course of my life. I began to face my pain stories. I started to meditate and forgive myself, melting my guilt and self-hatred over not being able to take care of my son.

Two years later, I studied with Dr. Deepak Chopra. The training was packed with doctors, nurses and healthcare professionals eager to learn how quantum physics, medicine, yoga and meditation could all be integrated. I envied the nurses who were studying with me and thought, “Wow, what if I was a yoga teacher and a nurse? Imagine how many more people I could reach and help.”

And so it came to pass. At the age of forty-eight I went to college, and graduated cum laude the age of fifty-one as a registered nurse.

Julian is now in a small group home and is surrounded by love. Although he still can’t talk, he has learned other communication skills and rarely displays aggression.

During my final year in nursing school, I’d been recruited by a nursing agency to work at a small hospital. I accepted the job, and it was there that my yoga teaching and nursing practices finally merged. Numerous nurses, excited about my methods, inspired my creating and founding the new field of YogaNursing®.

Today I’m creating a global army of modern nightingales, Yoga Nurses, to expand consciousness in health care, relieve stress, anxiety, pain, and suffering for nurses, and improve patient care worldwide.

It’s a long way from my life in Hollywood, but it is my dream come true.

~Annette Tersigni

More stories from our partners