Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Yoga and Depression

I haven't really kept up with the whole "living in India" thing. Truth is, I haven't wanted too. I haven't wanted to say how hard it is. How little adventure there really is. And how depressed I am.

I have been struggling with depression for over 5 years now. About a year ago I decided I just couldn't live like this any more. Three years of therapy and all the prayer in the world hadn't fixed it. I was still living in a dark, hard place. And so, I talked to my doctor and she put me on antidepressants. That is probably one of the bravest and best things I have ever done for myself.

A few weeks after starting to take the medication (because that is what is is. Medication, to help with an illness. Not a crutch. Not an easy out. Please, those who take them and those who judge those who take them remember this) I woke up happy. As I was getting ready for a regular Wednesday, I couldn't figure it out. Nothing had happened yesterday to make me excited. Nothing was happening today. I wasn't looking forward to anything. I was simply happy. And that felt like a miracle.

The last year hasn't been all happiness. I have hard days still. Days that feel impossible, but those days are few and far between.

Through all of this I did yoga. And yoga helped. It helped so much. It increased my endorphins. It centered me. If made me feel whole. Even if it was just that one hour of wholeness. It didn't fix or cure anything. Not for me. And that is ok. It gave me the grounding, living feeling that made the rest of the day almost bearable.

Well, since coming to India, though still on my medication, living every day has become harder and harder. Some days seem impossible. I've found myself sucked back into the mud pit of depression. Have you tried walking through a mud pit? Every step is like climbing Everest. Smiling seems insane. Why would you smile when you feel so very alone? Depression isn't just sadness. For me, it is a pressing numbness edged with despair. It is a void that sucks all feelings right out of you and leaves you a shell. A shell who is looking at life through a warped window. Others might feel close to you. Others might think they see you, but they don't know that you would give anything to FEEL something. Even anger would be nice.

I lost all interest in pretty much everything. I don't know if it is depression or the quality of the food, but I don't eat much. Breakfast is a no go. Lunch is hardly anything. Dinner, hardly anything. It is a lot of work to get good food, and it is expensive and takes time and is usually "fast" food (think dominoes and KFC, snickers and coke). Not great. Maybe my depression is getting worse due to malnutrition? Who knows. But food holds no interest. Going out holds no interest. Staying in? That is easy. I've stayed in bed until noon, because I have no reason to get up.

I found myself today with depression sitting on my chest, weighing me down so hard I felt like I couldn't breathe. Curled up as small as I could, I put headphones on and blasted music. Music so loud it filled my head and took over my pulse. Blood pumping to the outside noises because my own heart had given up. I abandoned myself. I didn't want to feel. I didn't want to be. I didn't want to take up space. I just wanted it all to stop. To go away.

After what felt like minutes, but was really hours, I had that out of body experience. I saw myself, all 5'10" of me curled up so small, trying so hard to drown out everything. And I decided I had to do something. And so, shaky and scared of feeling too much, or not feeling anything, I made my way to my mat. I turned on some music because the silence was too much. And I stood, slowly grounding through my toes, pulling myself up, breathing. Really breathing. Deep breaths. Breaths that took my whole body, that expanded my chest and pushed oxygen out through my toes.

It was hard, breathing that deeply when I have been trying to make myself disappear. To be that alive. But soon I found myself moving, breath fueling every tiny movement. A Sun Salutation happened. And I felt myself coming back, creeping from whatever inner hole that vital part of me and sunken into.

I didn't have a lot of energy. It was 6:00 pm and I had eaten hardly anything. But five Sun Salutations later found me in Downward Facing Dog, pulling energy up through my feet and letting it run through my body, spilling out of my palms and back into the earth. Putting myself back in the cycle of life. Back in the cycle of being.

My blood pressure and blood sugar were low. If I moved too quickly, stood up to fast, I would start to black out. But I moved slowly. Forward fold, triangle, modified bridge, a breath fueled child's pose and a savasana that had me feeling. Feeling my breath. Feeling my body. Feeling like me. When I got up, even shakier, I eventually made my way down to dinner. I ate. Real food. And now I am here.

I am here to say, yoga won't cure everything. But it helps you own yourself. It helps you feel alive as you breathe with everything you are. You move and bend and stretch and realize that it is OK to take up space. It is good to feel the slight pull in your hamstrings as you surrender. It is a tool that will help you claw your way up, breath by breath, to the top. To yourself. Even if that moment of feeling like you again only lasts a moment. It is a moment that lets you know that you are still in there. And it is a seed of faith and hope and compassion and forgiveness for yourself.

Sometimes it feels impossible to make it to your mat. The physical effort, the emotional effort. And that is ok. Just sit. From previous practice you have dedicated that rectangle to grounding, centering, breathing, reaching, stretching, forgiving. So sit in that sacred space you have created for yourself. You don't have to move. Just start to breathe. Bring life back to you. Breath by breath. Just for one minute. One terrifying minute.

My hope is those minutes will add up. That my husband's warm hand and encouraging words will lend me strength when I don't have any. That if I push just a little. Just to sit, that I will find the courage to move. And that with that movement I can come back to myself.

I know, yoga is not a cure all. It won't take depression away. Not for me anyways. But it gives me the tools, the hope and the strength to keep going. To reach out to friends, families and professionals for the help I need. I have a support system that is beyond wonderful. I have a net that catches me and gently bounces me back. Yoga is what I do for myself. Yoga is my sunshine.

You are not alone. Not ever. Not in feeling trapped in an unhappiness that turns you numb. Not in feelings scared to reach out. Not in feeling afraid to feel or not feel. And there is no wrong way to feel. You, right now, in this very moment. As scared or hurt or numb or sad or angry as you are is OK. And when you are ready, you have the tools you need. You have your breathe. Your practice. Your friends. Your family. And professionals that are always ready to lend a helping hand.

And you have me. I won't judge, because I am in the trenches. Right now. And every day. So if no one else seems to be listening, I will. And I won't fix it. Or even try. I know I can't. But we can be depressed - together. And maybe you and I, we can breathe - together. We can move, fight and reclaim ourselves - together.


  1. You are very brave to share your struggle with us! I wish you to find happiness and inner peace!

  2. Love this! esp as someone who practices yoga and faces depression, thank you!