This past weekend, I was visiting with my friend Tom.
Tom and I share an appreciation for cooking – though his appreciation is far more passionate than mine. He adores cooking. He would, and has, put it above all else.
“Whenever I’m sad or having a tough time,” he says, “I just go to the kitchen and start chopping or shredding and my troubles just melt away.”
Tom has said this to me so many times that he’s beginning to sound like the autistic savant Raymond on Rain Man. (“Melt away. Away. Troubles melt away.”) And I know him well enough to understand that the implication is that I should give this ‘cooking thing’ a try whenever I’m feeling down.
Tom means well, but he is unable to grasp that it’s not that easy for me. And I envy him this.
I live with depression. And not the “I’m so bummed they discontinued my bra” or “I can’t believe they kicked my favorite singer off of The Voice” kind of depression. Mine is of the “don’t leave the house and suffer paralyzing fear/anxiety that makes me want to strangle myself with my discontinued bra” variety. It isn’t pretty.
And for me, it’s terrifying.
Part of Tom’s concern comes from having helplessly watched me perform the thorazine shuffle through several bouts of this sort of depression. Except I wasn’t on thorazine. In fact, I wasn’t on anything during each of these episodes because they were the subsequent result of my going off a medication that had been quite effective for me.
So why would I do such a thing?
Ironically enough, it was the pressures of being in the yoga/new-age/healer world.
When I first began to practice yoga, long before I considered teaching it, I was very open about being on medication for depression. Instead of the acceptance I thought would be proffered, I was often shamefully advised against taking pharmaceutical medication:
“St. John’s Wort would be so much better for you and it works just as well.”
“Aren’t you worried about what the medication is doing to your brain?”
“If you practice more yoga, you can cure depression. Just breathe.”
“You should try meditation/acupuncture/dancing with a shaman during a blue moon. That worked for my relative/friend/celebrity.”
There are more. But you get the point.
These same people wouldn’t venture to tell a yoga teacher receiving chemotherapy for her stage 3 breast cancer that she should try Flintstone vitamins instead. That would be ludicrous. And yet, the stigma around the largely misunderstood affliction of mental illness warrants these sorts of responses from people who mean well, but are essentially clueless.
Even in a population that’s supposed to be open and accepting.
The sad thing is, I was young and vulnerable and I drank the Kool-Aid (likely sweetened with organic stevia). I believed that all I had to do was practice daily, eat healthy, watch my breathing and all would be healed. Three times I went off my medication with this belief (one of those times for two years) fully committed to rising above the depression. And three times the depression returned – each time with more vengeance than the last.
Yes, there are side effects.
But the most recent bout of depression gave me a full understanding of why Virginia Woolf filled her pockets with rocks and walked into the River Ouse, never to return. If it were a seventy years ago, I’d have done the same. So yeah, I’ll take the side effects.
I have been on my medication for over twenty years now. It is not my sole treatment, but rather part of a larger holistic regimen of self-care that includes yoga, psychotherapy, meditation, deep breathing and practicing gratitude.
And I am grateful for them all.