Even Yogis get the blues sometimes. I know it is not very original, but the EmmyLou Harris song gave birth to this blog. Only, this blog is not a blog, it is a heartfelt apology to my daughter; because now I do understand what she goes through on a daily basis in her battle with depression. Yet, it is also something more, it is a heartfelt apology to anyone who suffers from depression and has ever been told to just” get over it.” They didn’t understand, and they were wrong. As someone who works with depressed clients, I only thought I understood. I have training. I’ve read about the depression, gone to counseling sessions, and believed I understood exactly what depression is. I was dead wrong. Depression is not understandable by those of us who have never experienced it. It is impossible to explain the poison that can be born, nurtured, and unleashed by your very own mind; until you have lived it. Now I have, and I want my daughter to know, I am sorry. Sorry for every time I said she could snap out of it, that she could control it, or ignore it. She couldn’t, and neither could I.

My introduction to depression came via sucker punch from a severe vitamin D deficiency. I never even saw what hit me. The things my mind starting telling me became my truth. I was lost to hopelessness and despair. Every success I had, became a failure. Everything I had worked so hard for, became something I never deserved. Every negative thing I had ever been told became the gospel of my life; and trust me, as an abused child, there were plenty of those locked away in the deep, dark recesses of my mind. Every ugly thing became me until I was that ugly thing. I began to hate myself and push people away. I ignored phone calls from good friends and family because I felt so detached. I left projects unfinished because I was anxious and couldn’t concentrate. I torched a budding relationship because my mind convinced me I was unlovable and deserved to be alone. I didn’t study for an important final because my mind convinced me I wasn’t smart enough to pass it. I couldn’t work on my business because my mind convinced me I was a failure. These are just a few of the things I felt and heard, some of the nicest really. These irrational thoughts were all I dealt with all day, and most of the night because the voices kept me awake.

In every way, I was letting myself and my life go. Hell, I was burning bridges I was still standing on. It was all just too much, and I was overwhelmed. I could barely function. Yet, I did yoga. I went to work. I taught my classes every week, and by the end of class I felt better, if temporarily. Eventually, some of the things yoga has taught me helped pull myself out of the swirling drain of despair, and back into the light. I don’t know if I will stay here, I am told it could take months for the deficiency to correct itself. That scares the shit out of me. I don’t ever want to go to that dark place in my mind again. Yoga didn’t cure my depression, the vitamin D will do that. However, yoga gave something that I held on to. A safe place in my mind where the craziness could not follow, and there I found the courage to fight through the storm.

My journey with yoga started when I was very young, and has become the journey of my life. The mind, body and spirit connection has given me strength and focus to get through the most difficult days. The quiet place inside my mind that I was taught to go to during meditation has often been my refuge. When I was three years old, the Buddhist yogi who taught me to meditate instructed me to find the cool, blue place in my mind. “That is where your peace lies. It will always be there for you,” he said. And it has always been there for me. Now I believe it saved my life. Though I was not suicidal, I was certainly at the lowest point I have ever been. I was losing things that were important to me.

That same quiet place is inside everyone, although sometimes it is almost impossible to get to. Yoga can help you get there, and stay there when the world seems to be crashing in. Yoga teaches your mind to focus internally in a way nothing else does, and gives you an inner awareness that can guide you through the worst of times. I believe I suffered depression so that I could give my daughter the understanding and compassion she so desperately needs. I believe this happened to me so that I could become stronger and share this with you.

I believe I can make a difference by sharing yoga with you as well. You can start building your refuge right now. Turn your thoughts inside and slow your breathing. Close your eyes, inhaling and exhaling through the nostrils as you let the world fall away. There is only your breath. Bring the stillness into your mind with every breath. Exhale out the negativity, forcefully. Let it go. Stay here until you begin to feel peace. Soon only the quiet will remain. Look into your mind, and find the calmness there. Amid all the swirling red and yellow there is a little spot of blue. Go there. Stay there. Make it yours. Firm it up with your happiest thoughts, memories, with the things and people that you love, and every compliment or affirmation you have ever received. Fill it with all the positive energy that you can, so that reserve will be there for you when you need it most. Fix the path to your quiet place in your head to ensure that you can find it again. Leave a piece of yourself at your best there to remind you of who you really are when the demons come to tell you everything you aren’t. Most importantly, practice finding it again when you are rational so that the way will be easier to find when you are not. At the very least, your mental refuge is a safe place to ride out the waves of depression before they drown you. At the very most, it will be the place where you find your true self again. I have never experienced the crushing waves of depression before this, but if they come again, I will be ready to surf them instead of drowning.

I do not mean for this to sound easy. It isn’t. It wasn’t easy for me to drag myself through the chaos to that safe place in my head I created so long ago, but I made it there, and I made it back. Ironically, during the final exam I did not study for, the one that the entire semester was riding on, is when I found true self again. I hadn’t even bothered to review for the exam. The voice in my head had almost convinced me to turn it in with nothing more than my name on it. Why bother to try? I was too stupid for this class, and I didn’t study anyway. It was a waste of time. I was just a failure, I should give up, and quit school. Then my eyes landed on one question. This calm voice from deep inside said, wait…I know that. The calm voice was me. I’d been in that warm, blue calmness the whole time, blocked by the black wall of depression from making my way back. But, while I was treading water and struggling against depression, I had heard the lectures and I knew the answer. Slowly but surely, I answered almost every question on that exam. I worked physics problems I had never even tried before. With every stroke of the pencil, my true self drew closer and closer to the surface. I did not fail that test, but passed barely! However, I now know beyond a reasonable doubt, that I could have easily gotten an A in that class, had I been in my “right” mind during the semester. I wasn’t miraculously cured during that exam, but the rational me had returned. She was ready to speak her mind.

I then realized I owed an apology to someone, but the voices didn’t want me to make it. It was as if they knew that if I apologized, they would lose their control over me. A battle ensued inside my head that I cannot explain. After three hours, I was able to hit send on a painfully honest text. I admitted I was severely depressed… in black and white… for the first time. It feels like one of the bravest things I have ever done. I asked for understanding and forgiveness for the way I acted. I asked for another chance, because I do believe I am worth one. That was all that mattered. I believed in myself again, regardless of whether he did or not. The voices went quiet. The mental exhaustion I felt for the next couple days was intense. My mind was still foggy, but there was no internal noise driving me any longer. Today my mind is a peaceful place again.

My focus is back now, and I am determined not to be ashamed of having had to battle depression. I am determined to bring light out of the darkness, for that has always been my nature. It has given me insight that will make me a better mother, a better trainer, a better yoga instructor, a better friend, and a better person. A depressed person should never be made to feel ashamed by what they are going through. Nobody chooses to be depressed. I promise you, it is a living hell. In fact, many depressed people choose to end their lives to shut the violence in their minds up. I can understand that now. I just wanted to make them stop, by doing exactly what they told me to. Luckily for me, that was just fail a test, blow off your newly started business, and tell a guy to go to hell, not end my life.

A few more weeks of depression, and who knows? It is the most insidious thing I have ever experienced. Which brings to mind another valuable lesson yoga has taught me, to let it go. In The Four Agreements, Ruiz writes, the human is the only animal that does not forgive itself. Rather, it fosters self hatred by not forgiving itself for mistakes of the past. Consider a lioness. The lioness does not hang her head in shame after the prey escapes, nor does she lay around starving to death feeling like a failure. She merely moves on to the next kill. I will be that lioness. I do not need to forgive myself, for it was not really me that did any of these things, but I will have to live with the repercussions regardless. I might have to retake that class. I might never see where that budding romance could have gone. I am okay with that. To beat myself up would be giving the voices a chance to take hold again. I will never do that willingly. So, I choose to let it all go. That is the most important thing yoga has ever taught me. Let it go. We who teach have a saying… “The past is behind you, do not look there for you cannot change it, the future is before you, do not look there for you cannot see it, be present and live.”

Author’s Note:
When I let my daughter read this prior to releasing, she cried. She told me that all she had ever wanted was for her parents to understand what she went through on a daily basis. She said she had prayed for this. She thanked me, and told me my understanding was the best Christmas present I could have ever given her. I found myself profoundly grateful that this had happened, so that my daughter’s prayers could be answered. I do understand her now, and I also understand why I needed to go through this.