Self-care in the Time of Anger

IMG_3426I’ve been out from under the long winter of discontent I wrote about two weeks ago for a few months now and each day I feel more present. I’m standing, strong and solid. I feel familiar to myself again. What characterized my depression was the disconnect I experienced. I listened to what I was saying in conversations and was shocked by the harsh words coming from my mouth. I observed the choices I made and often asked “why?” I felt the connections with friends and family fraying no matter how hard I tried to hold on. But when that little white pill began to work it’s magic on my brain I was able to reintroduce myself to the woman I knew before I took a walk on the dark side. And I like her.

Chemistry, in the form of that pill, opened the door and let the light back in. But what now? How do I keep that light shining?

Self-care.

We live in curious times. There is anger in the air and in the constant stream of information hitting us via the news we stream, the Facebook posts we read and the Twitter streams we follow. It’s confusing. Frustrating. Exhausting. It’s hurting our health.

And that’s why self-care is a practice that is important for everyone to remember. Especially in this stressful time. Because the better we can take care of ourselves the better we will be able to take care of one another.

Here are ten changes, listed in no particular order, that I’ve put into my own self-care practice. Maybe my ideas will be a springboard for your own vision of what self-care means.
1. Exercise more. It was difficult. I didn’t want to do it. But the thing is, each day I rode my bike to the studio and every time I walked – it became easier. I’ve made it a part of my life (and don’t tell anyone but this morning I actually started jogging).
2. Sleep more. This was difficult, too. There’s always one more item to cross off the to-do list, one more email to write, one more check of social media. But good sleep hygiene – setting a regular bed time and wake-up time – keeps my mind clear and my energy levels high.
3. Play more. I am not the most spontaneous woman in the world. But I’m trying. I’m trying to be less rigid with my schedule and more open to last minute adventures like movies and walks with friends.
4. Eat more. What I mean, of course, is choosing healthy foods and eating more of them. I’ve begun spending more time in the kitchen again (the proof is here). This is a great time of year to be creative with the bright, fresh produce available at the local farmer’s market.
5. Back away from the news. This year has been nerve rattling and I spent the first few months watching the evening news every evening for hours. During the day I would check my phone for breaking headlines at every opportunity. And if I wasn’t looking at the news I was looking at Facebook. To be honest I still do spend a bit of time each day reading posts (self-care is a practice – I’m doing my best). But sometime around March I realized how much of my own life I was missing out on by watching every one else’s.
6. Choose your battles. After November 8th I tried to take it all on. I wanted to march in every march, write a dozen post cards every week, call my representatives every day. I didn’t know why I was fighting, only that I had to. It wasn’t long before battle fatigue defeated me. And now I have one or two pet issues that I focus on. Collectively, we’ll get there, but I have to choose one or two battles at a time.
7. Remember that home is where your heart is, not your office. The truth? Home is where my office is, too. Ben and I both have a little space carved out in our 600 square foot condo. Because where we live is so compact, our office spaces were an ever present reminder. What that meant is that when we at home we were in our brains working and not in our hearts living. A few months ago I pushed some furniture around, ordered some beautiful rattan screens and now when we’re at home we can keep work out of sight (and out of mind).
8. Indulge more. How do I indulge? Sometimes it’s a little piece of English Toffee from Molly Stone’s bulk bins. Sometimes it’s a mani/pedi. Sometimes, when I’m feeling extravagant, it’s a Thai massage. And sometimes it’s a simple as spending an extra hour in bed on a Sunday morning.
9. Touch more. I’m not much of a hugger, but I’m learning. When I was in high school I read an article about the power of touch and how, as our society was becoming more automated, we were losing contact with one another.
10. Love more – your work, your friends, your cat, your self.

 

 


Feeling True Again

CIMG1075Yoga has been my ‘centering place’ for thirty years – the one true place to which I turn when my soul needs to celebrate or my heart needs mending. I can stretch the blues away with a few flying dragons or settle unbridled joy by closing my eyes to breathe.

Or at least I could.

Even though I’m now on the other side of the depressive episode that turned my otherwise colorful world black and white, I struggle to find the words to describe the guilt I feel for having fallen ill and the remorse that stains my recovery.

I am a yoga teacher. Today’s ‘californicated’ version of the simple practice I embraced in 1984 promises, with a fixed smile and soft focused gaze, that with the right intention, a few appropriately placed crystals and the strike of a gong all chugged down with a bottle of organic kombucha we can keep the demons from our door and hold close our health and wellness.

I believe this. Or at least most of it. I believe in the power of yoga. I believe in a mind/body connection and that what we think affects what we feel. I have experienced the healing vibration of bells, gongs, tuning forks and even, sometimes, pretty rocks. While I don’t always choose wisely, for the most part my diet is vegetable based and, on occasion, includes the weird tasting fermented fungus otherwise known as kombucha. It’s true. I believe all these things help to sustain our health and wellness. If we’re already pretty much healthy and well.

But last year I wasn’t healthy and well. I needed an allopathic intervention of therapy and pharmaceuticals to change the course of the path I was on.

I’ve experienced three episodes of depression in the past decade. It’s possible I fought my way through the first two but more likely all three are part of the same fluctuating persistent depressive disorder. The last dip, triggered about two years ago, was the most severe and included increased anxiety and suicidal thoughts. Still, I resisted seeking help because I believed, as a yoga teacher, I had the tools to lift myself out of the dark pit I had fallen into. I thought if I could just think the right thoughts, practice enough gratitude and eat good food a bit of light would once again fill my heart. I didn’t want to admit that what was happening to me was more than a bad mood or the blues. I didn’t want to admit that I wasn’t strong enough to heal on my own. I didn’t want to admit that I couldn’t yoga my way to better mental health.

I was convinced that if what I knew about yoga and complementary therapies after working in the industry for twenty-five years wasn’t enough to restore me – that if I had to resort to pharmaceutical intervention – then my practice and my teaching was based on a lie. I was a fraud. If I was a fraud, then what did my life mean?
That’s how ill I was.

I’m not alone.

Depression and anxiety are two of the most common mental disorders in the United States. In fact, in 2014 almost 16 million adults over the age of eighteen or older had experienced at least one depressive episode in the previous twelve months. You may be one of the 40 million adults in America who suffer from debilitating anxiety. Most individuals who have anxiety are also depressed.

At the same time, we read reports about the over-prescribing of antidepressants. But if I’d not been given the prescription I’ve been taking since the beginning of winter, this summer would be looking very, very different.

When I finally let go of the idea I’ve heard so many yoga teachers express to their students – that the magical cure for what ails us can’t be found in an orange bottle of little white pills – that’s when the downhill slide I was on began to level. I filled the prescription my doctor offered and within four weeks began to smile in the morning. A few weeks later I could feel my soul warm and now, nine months on the journey, I’m writing again. I’m walking and riding my bike again. Most of all I’m laughing and loving again. I feel better than I have in many years. My yoga practice is strong and my love of teaching has blossomed.

That little white pill may have saved my life. Even if it didn’t, even if I would have finally been all right without it, this little morning pill has given me the strength to open my heart once again to all the self-care tools that have kept me strong in the past – before depression and anxiety had their way with me.

My message? If you are struggling and you think that a deeper asana practice is the cure, or that all the other tools in your self-care plan will bring you back to yourself – maybe they will. But if you suspect, or if someone suggests to you, that you may be seriously depressed, please find a doctor you trust and let them help you.
Besides loving Ben, it’s the best thing I’ve ever done for myself. I feel true again.