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.)
10 thoughts on “the walking wounded: when Love and Yoga aren’t enough”
I tried to comment on your post; it wouldn’t let me for some reason. Thanks for writing this! I see elements of myself in there. Much love to you,jjz
“The world is large, but in us it is deep as the sea.” R. M. Rilke
Before she passed away from cancer 10 years ago, my mom was in need for a bone marrow donor. Her best option was a sibling. Since she was one of seven kids, she thought she had a pretty good chance of finding a donor. All of her siblings were tested. None were a match. It wasn’t until after she died (really just a couple of years ago) that I found out that three of her siblings weren’t full siblings (revealed by the bone marrow tests). This I found out from my aunt (my dad’s brother’s ex-wife) who was close friends with my mom. Don’t know which siblings. Once I heard about it, I reached out to one of the sisters that she was closest to and asked her if my mom had told her anything about the results from the bone marrow tests and she said she didn’t. Don’t know if I should share the information or not.
I’ve dealt with a lot of dirty family laundry revelations prior to my father’s recent death and I could go on and on.
I don’t know how important forgiveness really is, but here’s a quote I’d like to offer up: Forgiveness means giving up the hope of a better past.
It helped me.
To me it means that not forgiving is an exercise in futility.
And who has time for that?
Lastly, years ago, my husband said to me “I’m sorry your dad doesn’t like me.” I replied “It’s okay. He doesn’t like me either.” My father was a narcissist and if it didn’t revolve around him, he wasn’t particularly interested. Sounds like the woman who raised you was the same way.
I get it.
thanks much. I am sure that nowadways she’d be diagnosed bipolar or borderline personality disorder. I’ve been told it’s amazing that I turned out as well as I did. 😉
Thanks for your open honesty. I hope you’ll accept this hug of energy. Its never easy to bare your heart to the world and share these kinds of experiences. As another trauma survivor, I, too, stood face to face with suicide. I was lucky that someone reached into the gap and pulled me back from the edge.
I really appreciate the following: “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.” I hear this a lot regarding depression and chronic illness/pain and it makes me want to scream — not very yogic, I know. Yoga gives us tools. But its not a magic pill.
“..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.” That’s good stuff. You are defined by THAT, not your traumas.
I was afraid to use SSRI’s because of previous substance abuse problems, and also because of the stigmas attached.
You resist because taking them proves you’re not strong enough, you can’t do it yourself, you haven’t tried hard enough, because it’s part of you to be sad/depressed, and maybe you don’t deserve to be happy because you’re a fucked up person. You have the COURAGE to take them because you deserve to live fully, above that fucking fog. The fog is gone and for the first time I feel like myself.
You, as much as anyone else, deserve your love and compassion. From my experience, it is through the process of getting in touch with your inner light that you truly start to heal. I know exactly what you mean about the exhaustion that comes with feeling and bearing unspoken pain for so long. Unfortunately, sometimes the people closest to you just don’t have the resources/consciousness to help. That was the case with me, and it’s why I started therapy with someone who emanated the type of empathy I knew would be critical in my journey. When she told me one day I would go from surviving to thriving, I thought she was crazy. And now I don’t think she’s so crazy anymore. Somewhere along that journey, beneath all those seemingly endless layers of shame and hurt, I found myself again, and I love what I found : ). I’m still on the path, but I just wanted you to know, from someone who has experienced serious trauma and grief, it will get better if you commit to your healing! I knew I was angry that people I loved couldn’t see me, but now I know, that I needed to see me. There is love in the world and it lives inside you. I don’t even do yoga or ever reply to blogs, but I came across your article through a Facebook post, and I recognized so much of those feelings you shared, that I felt moved to share. And I know exactly what you mean about getting mad about some of the new age jargon, I had the same experience, I was mad because I was hurting and I didn’t get it. Lately though I can’t help but feel connected to the “universe.” I wish you love and peace on your journey. May you find your light and bring it forth so it can shine.
thank you for taking the time to write!
You are a yogini, exemplifying unity living your life
We are along life’s jouney doing the best we can at any moment (now)
As I heard recently from a fellow traveller
We don’t arrive at the place called peace and unpack
I admire your journey! I have a similar story and refuse to take medication as well! It turns you into a suicidal robot. Personally, I think it’s an irresponsible way to deal with depression. Covering it up with medication doesn’t heal the illness, you know? You are very strong. Namaste.
thank you for reading!