By now the world knows that Robin Williams killed himself. How shocking it is when someone who appeared so manic, so funny, suddenly decides they no longer want to live because the pain of their life — no matter how “good” or successful it looks like to outsiders — becomes too much to bear.
I tried to kill myself when I was 16.
I have had the rep for a long time of being some type of bad ass bitch. One who always tells it like it is, no holds barred, a Kali Ma. I have heard that local yoga teachers consider me to be “hard to approach.” I have been told that I am not the type who “gives hugs” to people. I’m the bad cop to your good cop.
My humor has always been self-deprecating and I always put on a good mask. I hate talking about myself and any time someone asks me how I am or what I’ve been doing lately I usually redirect the conversation back to them or onto another topic — because if I told you how I really felt you’d probably run away.
Depression is always a few steps away. A number of years ago PTSD reared its ugly head again after a huge emotional incident that brought back buried memories of emotional abandonment. Here I was a woman in my late 50s and feeling like a blubbering baby on the inside when I had to put on the happy face to the outside world, the wise teacher face to my students. I was dying inside.
When I feel it sneaking up I am mindful of the physical sensations. I do my breathing, I am aware. I’m a yoga therapist, I have the tools. I’ve been trained very well. The best teachers about suffering are the ones who have walked through Hell, not the ones who have only read about it.
But sometimes all that Love and Yoga just isn’t enough.
Every day I make great effort to wake up grateful for what I have and I truly am. I am blessed to live where I live, to have the house that I do, to be able to travel to India 8 times. People tell me “I wish I were you” or “I want your life so that I can [fill in the blank.]” And I think, really? If they only know what a mess I feel like I am most of the time. Never envy someone else’s life because you don’t know the shit they’ve been through.
I was emotionally and physically abused by my mother. Or the woman I thought was my mother because my sister could have been my mother. I moved out when I was 18 and never looked back. When the woman who raised me wasn’t bragging to people about how brilliant I was in school she was telling me I should have been an abortion.
I found out last year that I was lied to about my heritage — I am not 50/50 German-Polish as I was told, but I am Polish-Native American-Mexican, proven via three genetic tests. Someone has some ‘splainin’ to do but anyone who could tell the truth of my birth is dead. I was ecstatic to finally confirm what I have always intuited but I very quickly nosedived into rock-bottom despair because of the lies that were told to me.
I was sexually assaulted in college before the term “date rape” was invented. After that I was in an abusive relationship where my drunken boyfriend would throw me up against a wall, wrap his hand around my neck and push me up until my feet were off the ground. But I still managed to get As in all my classes and my teachers loved me.
I watch how much I drink because I know I could very easily fall back into using alcohol to dull the pain. I wasn’t called the Acid Queen for nothing. When my first husband pushed me into the edge of a table and I cracked my back the doctor gave me Valium for the pain. I quit that shit cold turkey and it wasn’t easy.
A person can seem to have it all and yet, there is something missing. Something unnameable. It feels like a deep and unfathomable emptiness.
It is a terrible feeling of isolation and disconnection from everything and everyone. The so-called “yoga community” makes me laugh because depressed people do not need to hear that they should “manifest abundance”, that they should “ask the Universe” for Love and Light, or that they should not feel the way they do because it will only “attract” more negativity, or that they need to do 108 sun salutations and namaste everyone or whatever the fuck.
Fuck that New Age Rose Colored Glasses Shit.
What depressed people need is kindness and understanding just like with any other disease. I always refused to take medications because I took enough mood altering drugs when I was young and I know I have an addictive personality.
Sometimes I am so damn tired. Tired of giving so much of myself emotionally to everyone and not getting it myself, feeling unsupported with unequal exchanges of energy. It is why by the end of each year I can’t wait to spend a long time in India in order to get nourished and nurtured. This year that feeling has come way sooner.
And here’s a clue: when someone is saying how “tired” they are or how “done” they are, wake the fuck up and listen to them. Don’t tell them, “I’ve been hearing this from you for a long time” or “shut up and snap out of it.” Dealing with a depressed person sometimes requires a lot of patience.
Can we make the Robin Williams tragedy a wake up call? Can we make it okay to be able to reach out when we need help?
I have always felt uncomfortable reaching out and asking for help. I implode instead of explode. I could kill myself and you would not find me until weeks or a month later — because most people think I am so together and “out there” and never once think that I could easily swallow a fistful of pills with a bottle of gin and lie down in savasana.
I learned at a very early age how to go away quietly.
My life story is probably why I love working one on one with students, especially people dealing with trauma. It takes me outside myself. I recently adopted a cat because she was in a cage for three months. I had an epiphany in the pet food store where she was up for adoption: as I petted her I began to weep because I realized that no one wanted her like the way my mother (or the woman I thought was my mother) really did not want me. It’s probably why all my life I’ve fought for any underdog. It’s probably why I always butted heads with the powers that be and walked to the beat of my own drummer.
Yoga and meditation saved my life but it is always a thin rope to hold on to.
It can snap at any moment.
So before you think someone is a tough, bad-ass bitch, realize that you never really know anyone’s back story of pain and trauma. Don’t be surprised to learn that sometimes the strongest or the funniest person you know are one day away from ending it all because they are just so damn tired and done.
But I keep hanging in there. Because Yoga is about Life (Krishnamacharya.)