In conjunction with World Mental Health Day 2020, Prestige Malaysia talks to three dynamic women who redefine what true inner strength looks like. Last in the series, Tiffany Yow, Founder of The Flow, courageously shares her story of surviving bullying, major depression, and how yoga saved her life.
“I never really knew there was something wrong,” Tiffany Yow says as she recalls the starting point of her darkest chapter. Growing up in Kuala Lumpur, the founder of The Flow, a yoga and pilates studio, didn’t have it easy attending high school.
“I was bullied for a period. At the time, I was unaware that I was,” Tiffany explains, knowing there were just days that she wanted to skip school to avoid being the target of gossip and mean words. “It got so bad at one point that at recess, I would go to the infirmary and pretend to be sick,” she confesses. As a youth, Tiffany thought that these growing pains were not abnormal and that she did not need help.
Detailing an account of the type of harassment she faced, Tiffany talks about her school’s practice of floating classrooms. “Each lesson, we would go to a different classroom and students would write about me on desks,” she recalls, mentioning cruel insults and slurs. “I would walk around the entire classroom, trying to erase it. I bought a big black marker to cross it all out in permanent marker. What else could I have done?” she asks, explaining that teachers were ill-equipped and ineffectual at curbing the torment despite her pleas for help.
Numerous incidents left Tiffany exhausted, anxious and depressed. “One day, I thought I didn’t want to live anymore. I took a blade and started to cut myself.” For Tiffany, though destructive, this was a form of release. “The despair in my head and heart hurt so much more than the physical pain of the act,” she explains.
To this day, Tiffany is unsure of what made her a target then. “I think it was just a mean girls thing – there was no real reason.” A few people from high school had since reached out to apologise, saying “I don’t know what happened in school – I’m so sorry.”
Facing isolation and the absence of a support network, Tiffany pursued her Year 12 in Australia after SPM. “I just wanted to leave for a fresh start, and it was good,” she says. In her later years, Tiffany found herself working in investment banking for about seven years. A typically male-dominated field at the time, she felt pressured to keep up with the boys to fit in. Old and painful feelings began to resurface, affecting her daily life.
This time though, Tiffany sought help. With mental illness less stigmatised in Australia, she found it easier to approach available resources. “I started seeing someone and talking about my feelings. After being diagnosed with depression and anxiety, she (the therapist) helped me to identify my triggers,” she says. It was a long process towards healing.
Encouraged to find a more sustainable way of managing her thoughts, Tiffany’s therapist recommended yoga to help her calm down. “I tried it – and hated it!” she exclaims with a laugh, before clarifying that it was hard to be calm with her thoughts. She craved something more intense without the added confusion of Sanskrit chants. She eventually gave yoga a second chance, venturing to another studio. “This time it stuck. I walked out of there feeling calm, and more able to sit with myself,” she admits.
Soon, she stopped going to the therapist entirely and kept returning to yoga. “Honestly, yoga saved my life. It allowed me to separate from my thoughts and taught me how to breathe,” she describes, grateful for the refuge she finds on her mat. “Yoga taught me to comfortably disconnect, get off my devices and work through my issues,” she elaborates.
In a much better state of mind, Tiffany found a whole new lease on life. She was disappointed to return to Kuala Lumpur on holiday and fail to find a place that gave her the same sense of peace. Inspired to open her studio, she left investment banking and took the plunge. “I felt like KL needed it. Everyone in KL needs a space to disconnect and feel comfortable, and to know that it is okay not to be okay.”
Today, Tiffany is proud of herself for all that she has overcome. Still bearing her scars, she engages in an open dialogue with the strangers who study them with interest. “I don’t want to cover them up. My scars are a reminder of getting out of depression and coming out stronger.”
Knowing that cyberbullying has become the issue of today, Tiffany implores others to be conscious that their words and actions will have an impact. “Everyone has a story, just because someone’s life looks perfect on the outside doesn’t mean they aren’t struggling on the inside,” she says. To those in pain, she offers these words of comfort: “More people are struggling than you realise. If you can, find the strength to be comfortable with yourself and know that you are not weird and you are not alone.”
This story first appeared in Prestige Malaysia’s October 2020 issue.