Most of you know that I suffer from depression, which was post-partum gone unchecked and untreated. Most may not know that I was hospitalized at the end of 2012 for it. My first novel had been published in 2011, which was the culmination of many years of hard work. As much as I wanted to enjoy that year of traveling and talking about my book, each trip and group I faced became more and more challenging. Up to that point I had refused medication, which in hindsight seems so silly. A major reason for my refusal for medication was a result of my therapist or any psychiatrist never being able to reassure me that the medication wouldn’t affect my work as a writer. When I think about this rationale now it seems like the protestations of a very misguided person. Personally, I also fought against becoming the much dreaded cliché--- another writer suffering depression.
My family and friends, obviously shocked by the dramatic events resulting in me spending time in a psychiatric ward, would ask gingerly what it felt like when my depression was full-blown. In the intervening years I’ve had time to think about how I should answer this question. When my depression was getting the better of me, everything, and I mean, everything required herculean effort. Even the act of getting out of bed, putting clothes on, and interacting with the world took effort. My whole life felt as if I were trying to run underwater to do anything, even the most mundane task. I wish I could point to one precipitous event that triggered my hospitalization. Instead, handling the usual challenges of any adult life of family, career, and finances eventually felt insurmountable. See, as hard as I was running under water, my feet couldn’t seem to move me forward. As traumatic as it was to end up in the hospital, a tiny part of me felt a sense of relief that I no longer had to pretend I was like everyone else, or in my case, that I was the picture of a happy, perfect life. Apparently, my ability to run underwater and maintain the façade of any normal life was quite above the norm. I was exceptionally high-functioning, the psychiatrist at the hospital informed my family. My days in the hospital just try to picture “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” went by in a haze. No one told me that the real hard work of putting myself together with this new understanding, and eventual acceptance of my disease would be outside the metaphorical padded walls of the hospital.
I had taken my first yoga class in 1993 in LA and barely survived the 90-minute class. Yes, classes back then were 90 minutes, there was certainly no music, and there was no AC at this studio. It took me many years to commit to a practice since it was a challenge to not let my ego get bruised by how hard I found the practice and how much of it I couldn’t do perfectly or even remotely well. All I can say is, thank goodness I had matured enough to not let my bruised ego stop me from committing to a yoga practice since it was coming back to the mat that kept me from falling apart completely and ending up back in the hospital. The very first class I walked into I was hyper-conscious that everyone could tell I had just been released from the psychiatric hospital. I remember placing my mat in the back of the room, as far away from any prying eyes. For the first time I no longer cared whether my downward dog looked good, instead I just wanted to feel better by moving and breathing. As I took my first down dog, the part of me that had held hard to fence off my trauma and grief, seemed to break open. Tears flowed down my face as I held this pose that used to be about something so different. I was able to get through that first class not blubbering the whole hour. I wish I could say that was the last class where I cried during my down dog. I now know this pose being a mild inversion, aiding in calming the nervous system, and relieving stress was how it became a refuge of sorts for me to cry it out.
During the days, weeks, and months of that first year after my release, my time on the mat was where I figured out how to face the world with the trauma of my hospitalization. It was being on the mat that I started to not just acknowledge my depression, but to accept it, although complete acceptance is still an ongoing, living experience. It was being on the mat that helped me accept my mental illness, without letting illness define me as a person. It was being on the mat that I tried to make sense of this new reality. More importantly, it was through being on the mat that I was able to start forgiving myself for it all. I can’t say much of it was fun, but it was what kept me going.
During the two years after my hospitalization, I couldn’t help but notice how much my practice was as necessary as the medication I was now required to take every day, as necessary as my psychiatrist I saw frequently, and as necessary as my therapist I saw twice weekly. Perhaps that was what led me to enroll in the initial 200-hour teacher training. It certainly was not because I wanted to become a yoga teacher, but instead my curiosity about how this practice was having such an impact on my recovery, got the better of me, and led me to that first training. Five years later I am teaching nearly full time and finishing up a therapeutics training to become a certified yoga therapist under IAYT. It is my hope to use therapeutic yoga to help others suffering from mood disorders and mental illness. I have also finished a second novel, proving to myself that medication would not affect me from writing any differently or writing altogether.
When I look back to the past five years and to where my life is today, surreal is the word that comes to mind first. If a fortune teller had described my life as this, I would have definitely thought these predictions were the manipulations from a charlatan of the highest order. As a yoga teacher, my intention in each class or with each client is to provide them with a space to find solace, healing, and ultimately feeling better about themselves. If this story were a Hollywood production, I would write that my depression is miraculously cured and no longer requiring medication, that I have beaten my own disease. Since my life is far from a Hollywood movie, I can say that as much as I personally struggle with the idea of taking my medication, I still take it. See, as much as I have forgiven myself about it all, I am still working on accepting the reality of this disease as likely life-long and the potential of medication being life-long as well. My practice is even more important today, but for slightly different reasons. The mat still offers me a space to continue to work through all that I have been through, to work on the self-acceptance of my disease and medication, as well as providing me with the space for my own self-care, enabling me to show up for my family, my students, my friends, and my work as a writer. It also offers me a space where the past no longer dominates the story, where the future no longer fills me with anxiety, and where my Drishti is focused on the here and now. —YKG