I’ve just taught another successful yoga class. Happy customers file out the door, thanking me as they go. I smile the loving, benevolent smile of a safe pair of hands, someone highly experienced in the field of personal well-being. Then my own hand reaches into my bag for my car keys. But instead it finds a small oblong box. A sting of shame courses through me and a tear pricks my eye. But still I smile.
The box is still in its paper pharmacy bag, unopened.
‘I don’t prescribe antidepressants for everyone, you know,’ the doctor had said last week. ‘But I think we’re at that stage where you need help.’
I nodded and quietly said,
‘I respect your professional opinion.’
It was true, I did. The suicidal thoughts were with me every day now, and I was starting to drive erratically, often through blurred eyes from sobbing, a part of me hoping the car would spin off the road and that would be that.
How had I missed this? I had been here before, in 2012; in a suicidal depression, having to stop work, move back in with my parents, take antidepressants, my life unravelling around me. And here I am again, only this time I am a yoga teacher, surely I should know better.
When I teach yoga it lifts me, and the depression feels far away. I remember the things I love about myself and I feel empowered and happy. I can very easily switch to ‘professional mode’, knowing that these good people didn’t come to spend time being dragged down by a depressed person – they came to be inspired and uplifted, and I don’t want to let them down. But then often on the way home the negative thought spirals begin again, and it’s too galling for me to accept, especially when I’ve just taught a workshop about managing the monkey mind. So this leads on to its own self-destructive thought loop, about how I’m a terrible person for being so duplicitous with my students.
Basically, I feel like a fraud.
I’ve always tried to lead by example in sharing my vulnerabilities. I passionately believe it’s one of the things that will save our society – when we start owning our flaws and shadows and sharing them with each other openly, rather than this competition mentality we’re in now, where emotions are often seen as weakness.
But… for some reason, I too have felt the taboo of depression, and I think mainly because I am a yoga teacher. What an irony. I don’t want to admit this about myself to people, in case they stop coming to my classes. What can a depressed person teach about yoga?
Well, one thing I do know about depression, which has been biting at my heels my whole adult life, taking me down on the odd occasion like now, is that it does teach you a lot. And I want to share what I’ve learnt. I want to get over the shame taboo of depression/mental health issues and open up about my experiences. Because I know I’m not alone, and the only thing that helps in that dark place, is feeling a hand extended into the void from someone who tells you they know that place, they’ve been there themselves, and they escaped in time, and so will you. Sharing is empowering; our vulnerabilities become our greatest strengths when we own them with an open heart and soul.
For me, these two suicidal depressive episodes have both come at a point in my life where major change is needed, and I have been resisting this inner knowing, ignoring my voice of intuition. I often feel ‘weak’ because of my depression, but a wiser me know it’s my immense strength, positivity and awareness, which of course has been cultivated by many years of dedicated yoga, that keeps me going through the days, even when it’s to my detriment. I refuse to give up and give in to it, until circumstances conspire to force me to give in. I know from experience that I can keep going for a long time, and most people won’t have a clue what spectacular unravelling is occurring within me. I hide it well, looking after my appearance, keeping up with deadlines, smiling in public. But… the signs are there, and they progressively leak out more and more, and I really should know them by now but they seem to creep up on me, like a stealthy stalker I hoped I had left behind.
Random crying in public, stopping socialising, ‘bleakness’, not being able to imagine the future, physical aches and pains, insomnia, anxiety, lack of appetite, obsessing over painful things in my life that can’t be changed, wishing they were different, struggling to meet work demands and having to let commitments go and let people down. And then the suicidal thoughts come. It starts with ‘what’s the point’, a feeling of meaningless to life. Then it moves to ‘I just want to end it’, then it turns to actually obsessively thinking about ending it, then onto contemplating the pros and cons of all the different ways of doing it, whilst feeling self-loathing at my lack of courage at actually doing it. And then, eventually, it starts to physically manifest – at first through the erratic driving. Luckily, I haven’t got beyond this point this time round, but last time it progressed to pressing razors to my wrists, willing myself to cut the skin. It’s terrifying really, when I write it all down. How did I kid myself I was managing?
It actually took a firm but gentle talking to from my GP sister, who kindly explained I was in a text-book depression, as I had been before. As soon as she said it I knew she was right. A part of me must have clocked what was going on, but the part in denial had been stronger.
All through this dark time, which began towards the end of my time in Mexico, early this year, where I spent the last two weeks crying and barely leaving my room, I have managed to keep up the smiley, happy, Yoga Teacher act. And it doesn’t even feel like an act, it feels real. It feels like a little reminder for me of what Becky May is like outside of depression, it’s like a ray of hope. But it’s a head-f**k too, to be sure.
But, what depression does is crystallise things for you – it forces you to stop, strip away everything extraneous, take stock of your life, and it literally becomes a matter of life and death for you to make positive changes. I remember this from last time. So strong was my urge to die, yet amidst that there came another voice within me, determined to learn from this experience and use it as a gift. As soon as that voice was heard, the healing and change started. I made huge changes – I travelled solo for the first time, something I had wanted to do for years. And when I returned I trained as a yoga teacher and massage therapist, again things that I had dreamt of for years and ignored up until then, which was the source of my suffering. Finally I followed the quiet voice of my soul, and it was the best thing I ever did, and it shifted my depression and led me onto a beautiful new chapter. Depression gave me courage to make big shifts, because I could no longer afford not to.
So how come I’m here again, you may well ask. The healing and positive changes can’t have been that significant if it’s back to square one. Well, no, that’s not quite right. This yoga journey is one of systematically shedding illusory layers, with more and more consciousness of the process as time goes by. Following my big yoga journey since the last depression, I have much heightened awareness of what is going on here. On one level, yes, this is a purely physical issue, due to a hormonal/chemical imbalance in my brain, which does run in my family so is possibly genetically inherited. But there’s another, equally valid and far more empowering way of looking at this.
Once again my soul is trying to get a message across. It’s a message I’ve been wilfully ignoring, clinging to my old ways of living, hoping these will suffice but knowing deep down they won’t. I know there need to be some big changes now. This is a real opportunity. Last time I listened and finally heard the voice that told me to become a yoga teacher. This time it doesn’t seem so concrete/tangible, but I know it’s about putting myself first/ truly honouring myself in a way I haven’t done before in my life. It’s about owning all that I am, the light and the dark, and not hiding any of it away. It’s about becoming more visible, owning my power, stepping out from the shadows into the light. It’s about sharing my wisdom more openly, and unveiling the parts of myself I have hidden from shame. It’s about creating a home, and it’s about writing. It’s probably about many more things too, which will become clear when I make the choice to step through the door that this darkness has been leading me to. From the darkness comes revelation and bright light pouring back into your world. Such is the way of things. In writing this article I have already made that choice. The next, bright new chapter awaits me.