I stood staring at the tiny white pill in my hand. I was supposed to believe that this pill would alleviate my pain, my fears, my inability to function, my sadness and disconnection from the things I loved, my extreme and disturbing thoughts about life and death. It took me a few minutes to swallow my pride before I could swallow the pill. I knew I was moving into unknown territory.
On paper, it didn’t make any sense for me to be experiencing a “major depressive episode,” as the psychiatrist had called it. People like me aren’t supposed to go through depression. Are we?
For over a dozen years I’ve been a successful yoga teacher, devoted to holistic health, to meditation, and to spirituality. I’m thriving in my job, with hundreds of beloved students in New York and Miami, working for a great company, taking people on retreats to beautiful places around the world, leading yoga teacher trainings and workshops, with a beautiful apartment and two loving cats, living in my favorite city surrounded by beaches and sunshine.
But there I was: struggling with the most basic decisions, like brushing my teeth, drinking water, taking a shower, getting out of bed. And nonetheless, I kept going, day after day.
If it wasn’t for the care of my ex-husband and friends who detected my unusual behavior and coerced me to get help, I would have continued being functionally depressed. I was really good at putting on a happy face in front of students, coworkers, and strangers. It was in the privacy of my own home that I couldn’t get off the sofa and walk several feet to the balcony for fresh air.
I couldn’t pinpoint any one thing that had triggered this episode. It was a whole cascade of triggers. The news of my parents divorcing late in life made me question love in every single relationship. The news of my best friend being diagnosed with a brain tumor threw me into a dark passage and shook my faith in life. His diagnosis came on November 9, the day after the GOP candidate was elected, which shook my faith in society and democracy. Job stress got under my skin, to the point that I became chronically defensive and irritable. I ended up twice in the ER with kidney infections. My body was trying to tell me something but I still wasn’t getting the memo.
The blows seemed to be coming from every side. I felt helpless. Speechless. Disappointed. Beaten down. And so, with some nudging from loved ones, I finally reached out and asked for help.
At first I felt conflicted about the idea of taking an antidepressant. It threatened the image I had of myself in my own mind. In my circle of yogi friends and holistic healers, pharmaceuticals are regarded with skepticism. And yoga teachers, as a whole, are put on a pedestal and idealized as people who have it all together—the natural way. We’re not supposed to have real problems, because yoga and meditation and kombucha and chia puddings and açai smoothies have smoothed all our problems away. Often we participate in creating that myth, through the images we project on social media: the endless “look at how beautiful my life is” narcissism of Instagram yoga culture.
How about telling the truth for once? The truth is, my life was in meltdown mode, although you would never know it from seeing me in class. I kept it together for my students. But at home, after class, I couldn’t get off the sofa. After starting treatment, it took a while before I felt comfortable sharing my situation with anyone outside my small circle of closest friends. But once I began to open up about it, the response I got from students and colleagues was incredible. People reached out to share that they were going through similar things, or to tell me how much it inspired them just to hear me being honest about my struggles.
Since then I’ve been on a steady upward trajectory. I’ve been taking the little white pill. I made changes in my diet and adopted a more active fitness routine. I began to wake up feeling energized again. I started feeling grateful again for my life and the blessings I enjoy. I stopped taking things too seriously, and started feeling lighter and more joyful.
Now that I’m seeing life again on the sunny side, I am feeling both stronger and more tender. And it has brought a new motivation to my teaching. It has made me extremely curious and compassionate about depression, trauma, and mental health issues. I even took an advanced teacher training in yoga for trauma and addiction. I’m committed to be an agent of change and to help others deal with situations like this. I know this little white pill in the palm of my hand doesn’t need to be there forever, but for now, I am grateful for the help. It feels good to look forward to waking up each morning again.
This article was first published on May 18, 2017.