Jenine Lehfedlt knows a thing or two about resiliency.
With bangs that match the turquoise decor hanging on the walls, Lehfeldt never expected to find herself the owner of a yoga business, much less a practitioner of the slow-moving, meditative art.
“I’m a Zumba and barre instructor … I did ballet for 18 years,” the 37-year-old said, sitting in her yoga studio, Sweet Serenity. “Yoga just sounded so slow.”
“That whole mindfulness and breathing, all that stuff, I was a skeptic,” she continued. “And [now] here we sit in a yoga studio that I own.”
She laughed, as she did often while talking about the struggles that brought her to try yoga about a year ago.
The last 10 years have been difficult for the North Delta-raised woman. She’s lost a career to a workplace accident, had to care for an ailing husband and face down her demons after surviving a suicide attempt.
But those years have also seen her conquer her depression and ultimately embrace the change that came about through those challenges.
Now, Lehfeldt is opening up to share her story of recovery and hope.
“The general public didn’t know about it. People who are even my friends didn’t know,” she said about her depression. “I know there’s people out there who feel just like I did, and if I can reach that one person, I hope I can help them out.”
In the beginning
Lehfeldt grew up in North Delta’s Annieville neighbourhood in the 1980s, living the life of a kid who could watch the annual Family Day parade from her porch.
Sharing a home with her single mother, older sister and grandparents — her father had died of leukemia when she was seven — she spent summers being babysat by her unwilling sister and her spare time practicing ballet or in the park with her dog.
Moving through the Delta school system, she went from Devon Gardens to Burnsview to North Delta Secondary. But when graduation came, she was one course short for her Dogwood diploma.
“You know, when you’re 18, you’re like ‘Oh, whatever. I don’t care,’” she explained. “So what can I do with my life without my Grade 12?”
The answer: makeup artist, which quickly evolved into a joint venture with hair styling as well. There was creativity in hair styling, Lehfeldt explained. You could change the hair’s colour, its length, its design.
“My favourite part of the whole thing was how someone would feel when they got there versus how they felt when they left,” she said. “It was just validating, I guess. I like making people feel good.”
After graduating from Joji’s Hair Academy in Vancouver — and winning a fantasy-themed hair-styling competition — Lehfeldt began work as a stylist in Vancouver, commuting from Delta to do what she loved. But in 2007, all of that changed.
‘The worst day of our lives’
Lehfeldt met Nathan for the first time at North Delta’s infamous Cheers nightclub. Both still in their teens, they fell madly in love — “I met him and my knees gave out, and that was it” — and were married in her grandparents’ North Delta backyard. She was 21.
“We were babies,” she said, smiling.
They lived together happily in Delta for some time, until Lehfeldt’s 26th birthday. That morning, Nathan had gone in to get some blood work done. That afternoon, Lehfeldt got a call from the doctor.
“Are you with Nathan?” she remembered the doctor asking. “I can’t reach him. I don’t normally do this over the phone but you need to get Nathan to a hospital immediately. He’s got leukemia; it’s cancer.”
Lehfeldt drove both of them to the hospital. She and Nathan ate Cactus Club take-out in the hospital room, waiting to find out what happens next.
“For that first 24 hours, [it] was horrible, obviously the worst day of our lives,” she said.
Lehfeldt quit her job in Vancouver to take care of her husband, and they sold their belongings to help make ends meet. Her husband was off work for nearly three years. When he was better, he tried to go back to work in the steel shop where he was before.
But, Lehfeldt said, “it changes your perception of life.”
“He’s like … ‘I don’t want to do this anymore, this isn’t what I want to do,’” she continued. “His dream was always to be a stunt man, so I was like, ‘Well, why don’t you pursue that? And if you’re going to get into film, I may as well [too].’”
Hair, camera, action
While Nathan pursued his career as a stunt man — becoming a stand-in, or “human light reflector” in the process — Lehfeldt tried her hand at hairstyling in Hollywood North.
Working her way up from independent films, Lehfeldt found herself getting work as the lead stylist in the hair and makeup trailer for TV shows and movies like The 100, Continuum, Fear the Walking Dead and the Netflix series Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events.
“Lemony Snicket’s was the best, because I got to create characters and work with so many wigs and make those wigs into caricatures,” she said. “It was like being in a surreal place every day. It was the first time in my career that I was like, ‘Oh, I work in movies.’”
The hours were terrible, Lehfeldt said, as she sometimes worked 24-hour days during a night-time shoot for The 100. But it was rewarding showcasing her creativity and making the actors feel like the characters they were about to become.
In June of 2016, Lehfeldt was working on A Series of Unfortunate Events, testing out different hairstyles to see what would look good on camera. In the hair and makeup trailer, as she was curling an actor’s hair with a flat iron, the base burst open when she twisted the iron towards her and the positive and negative wires latched onto her hand.
“I had a death grip on it, I couldn’t let go,” Lehfeldt remembered. “They tried to get me to lay down but I couldn’t, my body was stiff.”
An ambulance took Lehfeldt to the hospital, keeping her there to monitor her heart rate for 18 hours after the electrocution. When she went home, her jaw was clenched and her arm was a “limp, useless noodle” from nerve damage.
“I just remember thinking, ‘Oh, what a freak accident. I will just take a couple of days, it will feel better,’ not realizing it was actual nerve damage,” she said. She took some time off work and her employers offered her counselling to deal with the incident.
“I was like, ‘I’m fine, it was just an accident, it’s no big deal,’” she said. “But cut to, I don’t know, a month … later: deep, huge hole of depression.”
At first, Lehfeldt tried to work through the pain — “fake it until I make it,” as she put it. She returned to the series, still working as the lead stylist, and even took on another show that season. But it wasn’t the same.
“They’d be accommodating, as best they could,” she said about her bosses on set, “but I couldn’t do my job the way I used to.”
The constant pain in her hand and arm meant that, although she was officially the first assist in the makeup trailer, her duties were nothing like they used to be. Her hobbies of painting and writing faded away. She ended up in a deep depression.
“None of my co-workers, my family, nobody knew. Except for my husband,” she added. “He’s the only person.”
In August of 2017, more than a year after her electrocution, Lehfeldt was helping her mother and grandparents switch floors in the house (her mother was moving upstairs and her grandparents downstairs). Lehfeldt organized the switch, coordinating with contractors, movers and packers to get the job done.
On the following Monday, she was supposed to go back to work.
“I just couldn’t bring myself to do it,” she said, then paused. “And I tried to take my life.”
“There’s lots of people out there who are down in the dumps, or they have an addiction or something, they live on the streets,” Lehfedlt said. “Or they have a life like mine, where there was nothing wrong with it.
“But I couldn’t live with it.”
Lehfeldt attempted suicide on Aug. 25 — Nathan’s birthday, as she remembered later. She was in a psychiatric ward for two and a half weeks, and was eventually put into a recovery program.
The program required Lehfeldt to eliminate addictive substances from her life, something that hadn’t been a problem for her she said. But it also suggested that she try yoga, an activity Lehfeldt had found uninteresting compared to her fast-paced hobbies of Zumba, barre and ballet. But, she gave it a try.
“It really helped with my depression,” Lehfeldt said. “It got me more centred into my body and less in my head.”
“Yoga really taught me what self-care really meant,” she added. “I used to think self-care was selfish, not realizing it just meant take an hour for yourself. That’s not selfish.”
Lehfeldt found herself at a class at Lahari Yoga, a studio in the social heart of North Delta. The second time she went there, attending a class with her mom, they learned the studio would soon be closing. Her mother joked that Lehfeldt should buy it.
The joke, made in passing, struck a chord. A few days before, Lehfeldt had heard from WorkSafe BC: she couldn’t work as a hairdresser again.
“You think it would be the hugest, most devastating blow,” she said. “But I had been doing so much work on myself that I kind of just went ‘Oh. Okay. Well what now?’
“Cut to a couple days later, my mom made that comment,” she continued. “It stuck in my head.”
The following weekend, Lehfeldt was shopping at Winners when she saw two turquoise window frames for sale.
“I was like, I have to buy these,” she said. “I haven’t even bought the studio or anything yet, but it just felt like the right thing to do.”
She bought them. A few months later, she was the owner of her own yoga studio.
On June 9, 2018, Lehfeldt opened the doors to Sweet Serenity (8330 112th Street). In the months since, 400 people have signed up to take part in her yoga, barre, Zumba and pilates classes. Now, Lehfeldt is working with Deltassist to begin a trauma-informed yoga series for their Alternatives to Violence program — a continuation of the work she started at her September grand opening, which raised nearly $500 for the organization.
“I feel like that feeling I would get from that client being so happy with their hair, or an actor being so happy with their hair leaving my chair — that feeling of just feeling good … is now quadrupled because I do it in a group setting,” she said.
“It’s almost a blessing in disguise,” she added. “I got electrocuted. It sucked. I went through these really dark, horrible times, only to grow.”
Lehfeldt’s suicide attempt was just over a year ago now. Life still isn’t always easy: her much-loved grandfather died this February from leukemia and other old-age complications, and Lehfeldt’s landlord sold her house while she was setting up her yoga studio. But for Lehfeldt, life can go on.
Sitting in her yoga studio, a gentle heat coming down from fans in the roof, she looks content. She’s still learning, she said, learning to be in her own skin, learning to be open and vulnerable with the hope that it might help someone else. And hoping that others in need will let her story help them.
“It’s just that little bit of willingness,” she said, legs crossed on the floor of her studio. “That really helps.”
“Hang on, I’m just going to grab my phone for one second,” she added, getting up and picking up her phone from the front desk a few feet away. “There’s this quote that my husband sent me that basically sums it up. He’s like, ‘I saw this and I thought of you.”
She paused, thumbing through images on her phone. Then, seated back on the floor, she read:
“She picked up the pieces of her life and created something beautiful. From that day forth she shone like the sun and changed the definition of broken.”