It Takes a Village

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This is a view of Keppoch Beach, in PEI, where my Mom’s family is from. And before I post about the general awesomeness that is the Island, I wanted to talk about something a little more serious.

Depression and Anxiety.

In the wake of the sudden suicide of Robin Williams, much has been written about the importance of acknowledging mental illness and helping those who suffer from it benefit from treatment.

Firstly, let me say if you or someone you care about suffer from Depression or Anxiety, please speak to your doctor. These are serious conditions caused by imbalances in brain chemistry. A variety of useful treatments exist, including medication, therapy, or combinations of these. Cardiovascular exercise, certain supplements, and yoga have also been known to help. And it is VITALLY important to seek treatment.

But this post is not really about that. It’s about the external factors that make these treatments WORK. It’s about the Village.

We’ve all heard the phrase, “It takes a village to raise a child.” In my ten years of schoolteaching, practicing yoga, and living adult life, I’ve come to believe it takes a village to do most things. It takes a village to stage a school musical, keep a Mysore program running, move houses and renovate, come to terms with grief. And for Mental Illness, it really takes a Village to support someone’s recovery.

So here’s what you need to know: it’s not enough to post heartfelt Facebook tributes to Robin Willians and pay lip service to the importance of treating Depression. Treatment itself is not enough. It needs to be supplemented with love, human contact, laughter. You need to show your support for your depressed parent, sibling, or friend with ACTION. How do you do this? REACH OUT.

You are NOT off the hook if the depressed person has a partner. Likely their partner would love it if you took their suffering beloved out for lunch, or if you dropped by for tea. Likely their partner would also be so grateful if you put a heavy hand on their shoulder and said: “How are YOU doing with all of this?”

You are NOT off the hook if you are busy. You are not off the hook if you have children, work three jobs or run a small empire. You can pick up the phone once your kids are in bed, and call your depressed friend. You can write them a kind “thinking of you” email or text before your big meeting. You can invite them over to hang out while you cook Monday’s dinner and supervise math homework. You can BE THERE. Silently offering tissues as they cry for reasons that seem silly or even illogical to you.

How much does it matter? A LOT.
How do I know? Well, I was once very close to someone who was going through Clinical Depression and Anxiety. And, since February, I have suffered from Depression myself.

On both sides of this situation, I’ve made a lot of mistakes. As the loved one of someone with a mental illness, I did not ask for help. I did not ask my loved one’s friends to drop by and play board games with him, I did not ask his family for support.

For my own bout with Depression, out of which I am thankfully emerging, I did not seek treatment as soon as I should have, which destroyed a very important relationship. I did not ask for all the hugs and listening and care I needed from my family and my friends. I was scared to do that. I didn’t want to be a burden.

Sometimes that feeling of not wanting to be a burden can transform into something darker–such as suicide. Robin Williams was a gifted actor. In his roles, he showed us all the humour and pathos of the human condition. But living so close to these extremes of dark and light, alive to the very marrow and poetry of existence, is often perilous. We need to remember that even the very gifted can suffer. Even they need both treatment AND support.

Thanks to a sympathetic doctor, a fantastic therapist, supplements and yoga, I have pulled through this episode of depression. I tell you about my errors in this area because I want you to benefit from my experiences. So that you can, in the words of the great Spanish poet Antonio Machado, “make sweet honey of my old failures.”

Here are some resources for those dealing with Depression, either their own or a loved one’s:

-A Canadian Resource providing explanations and treatment options for Depression depressionhurts.ca

-An article that might help if you are the caregiver, relative or friend of someone with Anxiety or Depression (about anxiety, but applies to both, in my opinion) http://hellogiggles.com/7-things-people-anxiety-want-loved-ones-know

Falling Into Grace

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This post began last Tuesday morning in the Mysore room, when I fell out of headstand. Hard.

My inner Dorothy Parker would like you to know it was an embarrassingly loud cymbal-like crash that everyone in the room heard and saw.

Talk about Eight Limbs. There was a looooonnng moment, seemingly in some twilight-ish space time continuum, where I could still feel both elbows on the ground, saw my hands come apart, and my legs scissor swing towards the wall. Miraculously, my neck was not broken. I was not concussed. My knee hit the wall, resulting in what is now a fashionable purple bruise.

Not going to lie. I did not breathe, meditate, or observe any of the yamas or niyamas. I went into child’s pose and began to weep. Quietly.

My teacher immediately came to check that I was ok. When I assured her I was, she gently coaxed me back into headstand, standing there to be my wall. I held it for 12 breaths as she whispered: “You got this” over and over. But as I walked home, I felt a curious mixture of adrenaline-fuelled fear and shame. Had I wanted that pose too much? Failed to practice aparigraha? Or worse, been guilty of a sort of tapas-fuelled hubris? A kind of—hey look how much progress I’m making, I can do headstand!

But then I realized something: that fall was a blessing. It showed me a lot of the Eight Limbs at work all around me. My teacher showing huge compassion (ahimsa) for my sore body and my bruised and fearful ego. The concentration (dharana) it took to get up there again immediately after falling. All the breathing I did as I walked home (pranayama).

Every time I have fallen in my life and my practice, it’s made me understand my students better. Not being able to hold a pose you’ve done hundreds of times is just as frustrating as not getting long division, or being talked about even though you’ve dispelled the rumour. Having your heart broken allows you to understand the eleven-year-old sobbing in front of you who didn’t get the role they wanted in the play. I always tell my grade 6 students that “everything is figureout-able”. The truth is, everything is figurout-able, if you keep practicing. If you keep growing. If you allow your practice, and your spectacular falls to change you.

My practice is my time to feel alive, loved and free. And over time, I think (I hope) it helps me make others feel that way too.