After my last post, I feel like I should be writing about how brightly I rebounded from depression by replacing refined sugar with green smoothies, or how receiving some second-series backbends re-energized me.
But I didn’t. And they didn’t. Cutting out sugar has saved me from spending too much money on cashew-milk ice cream, but I don’t think it’s radically changed my emotional state. And those deep backbends only made my deficits, both physical and emotional, so much clearer. Thanks, Kapotasana.
I needed more than naturopathy this time. I got back on antidepressants.
Even with the chemical help, I’m still just muddling along in life–and in my practice. However, I’m proud of that. Seven years ago, I wasn’t muddling along. I was at a dead stop.
The difference between me today and my darkest days in previous years is that I’m not giving up. In the years before I got sober, being at the butt end of the depression stick meant that I’d do something terrible and spend a few days in the psych ward. In the years after, it meant that I’d quit everything I was doing–my job, my hobbies, my haircut, my clothes–and start anew in a wild attempt to fix myself by changing everything around me.
Muddling along isn’t great, but it’s better than stagnation, and it’s better than quitting. I may not be thriving or experiencing an “abundant” life (whatever that is), but I am continuing, and that’s good enough for me right now.
The yoga world is rife with ideology that leaves little room for mental illness or treating it with–shudder–Western medicine. One shala, Ashtanga Yoga Boston, even requests that new practitioners disclose any prescription medications or history of alcoholism or substance abuse to the teachers. I’ve practiced there. Had I known that people like me need to self-disclose in order to practice, I might have been uncomfortable putting my mat down. Luckily, I didn’t read their full practice guidelines. Should I have?
I spent two minutes googling “yoga and depression” and I was flooded with advice, none that included visiting your doctor. Unable to access your emotions? Sit in baddha konasana for five minutes. Feeling choked up? Do matsyasana to open your throat. Energy flagging? More backbends!
This all-natural self-healing ideology extends beyond asanas to diet, lifestyle, and thought patterns. Need to energize and enhance your mood? Drink warm water with lemon in the morning instead of coffee (it will also “hydrate your lymph system”–whatever that means). Can’t concentrate? Try guided meditation. Irritable? Time to detox with an alkalizing juice fast to remove all the inflammation. Depressed? Spend more time outside! All of these are actual, real suggestions from publications that the Western yoga community loves to cite. I found this gem today: “mental health is the process of getting rid of the bad thoughts and embracing the good thoughts.” If only it were that easy. I won’t even go into the problematic polarization of thoughts into morally loaded categories of “bad” and “good.”
These are all great ideas, and I’m sure there’s some truth to them, but sometimes, the naturopathic way isn’t enough. It wasn’t for me this fall. I was doing all I could to fight off the depression in “natural” ways. I reduced my time commitments and increased my social connections. I used a sun lamp in the mornings. I practiced yoga. I stopped eating desserts. I drank green smoothies every day. I used lavender and orange oil on my pulse points. I meditated.
When I still found myself in tears, banging my head against the wall at the prospect of facing another day, I knew it was time to return to medication. I’d gotten off of antidepressants with the help of my psychiatrist and therapist last winter, but I had to reconsider that decision.
As I write this, I’m fighting off shame. I should be able to cure my depression with raw foods and meditation. I should be able to get rid of the negative thoughts through positive thinking. I should be able to calm my racing brain with deep breathing. Yoga should be enough. Antidepressants are made in a lab, out of chemicals, and the yoga rhetoric today eschews chemicals in favor of organic produce. I shouldn’t rely on a pill to make me happy.
But I’m not relying on a pill to make me happy. I’m using it as a tool, one of many in my kit. Best of all, it seems to be helping. As a local MD who practices integrative medicine said, why wouldn’t I use every tool at my disposal?
Green smoothies may not be the answer, but I know they’re a better breakfast for my aching little brain than doughnuts. Meditation may not be the only solution, but I know that it has the power to modulate my mindwaves. My yoga practice may not be curing my depression, but it’s helping me to remember that, just like some postures feel like shit, some days feel like shit. I do the posture anyways. I get through the day. I may need a pill every morning to keep me muddling along, but at least I’m muddling.