I read an article by a (I assume) fairly prominent yogini. Even though I’m mostly out of the yoga circles these days, I do still dip my toe into the articles that occasionally make their way into my various social networks. I like to try and at least keep up with what’s going on in the greater community I’m still on the fence about rejoining.
Today I was reminded why my mat is still rolled up and shoved in the back of my closet.
Reading Hemalayaa’s article, honestly, I was pissed.
Of course, the first thing I did was post it on Twitter and Facebook.
Yogi-life-coach-gurus like this are why I find it so difficult to return to yoga. While most of my yoga teachers were compassionate when it was revealed I was on anxiety medication, the greater community response was more often than not a “Well you’re obviously doing something wrong if you have to take medication!” or “You need to change your diet, meditate more, do more yoga!” I know this comes from a place of wanting to help, but it often does more damage than good.
What I *need* is for my brain to stop spazzing the fuck out, I *need* to stop waking up from a dead sleep convinced the world is caving in and I am dying. I *need* yoga-mat psychologists who have never lived inside my head and have never had to fight a CONSTANT battle between their rational brain and their instinctual brain to shut up and listen when I’ve found the courage and vulnerability to discuss what I’m going through with them.
This was harsh, I know. But it’s REAL.
Hemalayaa, a few friends, and I had a twitter discussion, where she did very much admit that she didn’t choose her words wisely and that she was still learning about the reality of mental illness. She held fast to her belief that antidepressants are prescribed too often based on various articles she read, and she may be right. (She has since posted an update and apology)
I don’t know, because I don’t know what happens between those taking antidepressants or other drugs for mental illness and their doctors.
I hate the term mental illness. If there is a better term leave it in the comments. I don’t consider myself “ill.”
The “Happy Pill” concept is pervasive not just in the yoga community, but in society in general. There is this idea that those suffering with anxiety or depression just need to suck it up, pull themselves up by their bootstrap, and get on with life.
Because you know, everyone gets sad or scared about stuff sometimes!
Then you remind those people it’s nearly impossible to pull yourself up by your bootstraps because you can’t even get out of bed to put your gotdamn boots on.
Just do more yoga, pray and/or meditate more, eat healthier! More blueberries and spinach! Drink lemon water and green tea!
If blueberries, spinach, exercise, and meditation was the cure, my 3 A.M. night terror panic attacks wouldn’t exist.
I haven’t written very often about my anxiety or depression issues. Usually, it’s only around the holidays when I feel like the pressure of everything will boil over unless I burp the pot a little. And once in the greater context of recognizing I have anxiety and panic attacks and why I walked away from yoga.
I don’t write about it much because, honestly, I’m ashamed. I shouldn’t be, but I am. I have always been strong-willed, determined, and able to accomplish anything I set out to do. To admit that I couldn’t…can’t overcome anxiety and depression through sheer mental fortitude makes me feel weak. When strangers, and sometimes even loved ones, tell me I just need to get over it, I feel as if I have to hide so they don’t see that weakness and judge me.
Sure, I joke about it sometimes, but I joke about it in the same self-deprecating way you joke about anything embarrassing. As if it’s in the past, or just no big deal, to deflect–but also test the waters to see if it’s okay to be vulnerable.
Well, here’s my moment of truth:
I have panic attacks. I have an anxiety disorder. I have depression issues. I take medication.
General anxiety I can manage.
Physically, it feels like I need to yawn a lot, I sweat like I’m having a hot flash, and I have a hard time focusing on minutia. I think the only way I might be able to put what’s happening in my head into reference is to ask you to imagine the feeling you have when you think you left a curling iron on or the door unlocked, but instead of just the curling iron it was the gas stove and oven, and instead of an unlocked door, you are pretty sure you left all of the windows and doors open. You know are fairly sure you didn’t, but it still feels like there is a 30% chance you did. Either way, you’re just counting down the minutes until you can get back home and be absolutely positive.
General anxiety makes it difficult to relax and accept moments of joy. There’s always the nagging reminder of “Don’t get your hopes up, you’ll be disappointed. Don’t enjoy this too much, something bad is bound to happen.”
Panic attacks are considerably worse.
Actually, that’s a huge understatement. Imagine the most terrifying experience of your life. Now multiply that by at least a thousand. And not only are you completely paralyzed, but you’re being suffocated while the walls close in around you. Your rational brain knows that this is a fight or flight response gone haywire. Neither your mind or your body can decide whether you should fight or run for your life because there is no actual imminent danger to face. Since there are no wild beasts to fight off or tsunami’s to run from, the somewhat rational part of your brain attempts to assess other possible threats in rapid fire succession.
Because there is no immediate external threat, but all of your physical senses are at Defcon 5, all of those senses immediately turn inward.
Headache from the surge of chemicals: Diagnosis – undiscovered brain tumor IMMEDIATE DEATH
Tingly fingers and arms: Diagnosis – heart attack IMMEDIATE DEATH
Shortness of breath: Diagnosis – lung cancer IMMEDIATE DEATH
The rational part of your brain that knows this is a panic attack, is now in an epic battle arguing with itself over the umpteenbillion reasons why those things are or are not real.
It feels like you are blindfolded, handcuffed, chained to a chair in a closet, on top of a bomb big enough to blow up a city block, and in order to even begin to neutralize the threat you have to open a puzzle box containing an infinite and unknown number of other puzzle boxes, to find the key to the handcuffs, to unchain yourself, to attempt to defuse the bomb. In the dark.
Sometimes, there’s disassociation. I feel like part of my brain is just floating like a balloon out in front of me. So not only am I going through all of the stuff above, but now I’m also hoping to put myself back together enough to defuse a bomb.
This can happen when I’m sitting on the couch watching a cheesy rom-com, or it can happen at three in the morning waking me up from a dead sleep. Which is usually what happens. So add all of the awfulness above with the disoriented feeling of being startled awake in the middle of the night.
Then comes the depression.
Now, because my brain is in what feels like a constant battle for its life, when it’s not fighting itself off, it’s going over everything it did wrong in the Battle of Panic Ridge. Positive self-talk can be a challenge. I’m so exhausted the only thing I can manage at times is to remind myself “Hey, you didn’t actually die, did you? We won the battle!”
Brain doesn’t care. Brain is determined to figure out what went wrong, how to fix it, how to make it work, how to win. This is so exhausting that sometimes it’s nearly impossible to get out of bed. If you do get out of bed, it’s to go to the bathroom and make it to the couch. There is no energy to eat, shower, brush your teeth or hair, there is only the overwhelming need to alleviate the excruciating pain. There isn’t even energy to cry. All you know is if you stay really, really still there might be a handful of seconds where things don’t hurt as bad and those few seconds are about as close to bliss as you might get for a while.
There is this horrific misconception that those struggling with these disorders are somehow weak or cowardly, unable to face the pain and reality of life’s ups and downs.
The fact of the matter is, we do feel it. We feel every little bit, every second of every minute of every hour of every day. And it is cranked up to eleven.
Somehow, most of us still manage to function at a reasonable level. We go to work, we smile, we converse with others. We may even seem authentically and undeniably cheerful. Charismatic, even.
We’ve adapted to hide our pain and discomfort, to entertain or distract those around us so that you won’t judge our agony.