photo credit: Stuart F Taylor, Writer & Illustrator, London UK
Life with a mental illness by yoga teacher Rosanna Gordon
There’s been a lot in the media lately around the topic of mental health. More and more people are coming out of the closet and opening up about this condition. It’s good for us to develop a better understanding and have a strong dialogue on this subject, since 1 in 4 of us will suffer a mental health condition at some point in our lives. So let’s stay informed and connected.
There seems to be a certain amount of ‘shame’ attached to yoga teachers who admit suffering from depression, as well as other mental illnesses. Perhaps because they should be ‘sorted’ and well. I am one of those yoga teachers, who is suffering and I too have felt shame.
It’s been a while, huh? You and me together. I first felt your presence when I was 15, like a darkness had come over me. I was anorexic and deeply saddened by things going on around and inside me. You were very real.
At times, you left. I was ‘normal’ again. Able to have fun with friends and laugh without feeling trapped in my own head, overcome with negative thoughts and extreme emotions that I just didn’t know how to handle. Where did you go?
You’re a crafty one! Making me run and swim so fast I couldn’t see you for the trees! Or the bright light, the joy. I thought I had shaken you off, you’d gone and left me. I thought this was possible, to ditch you and do it alone, be strong.
You came back though. Again and again, in a cyclical pattern. That familiar, melancholic feeling returned year after year. You were there with me right through university, my yoga training and the setting up of my yoga business. You stalled me, remember? I had to take considerable chunks of time out of work and life, just to try and make sense of you and your incessant hold on me – why were you in my life? Was it down to my early exposure to mental illness? My genes? Or plain living in an imperfect world? The CBT and Counselling I’ve had has been wonderful in helping to understand where you came from and your purpose in my life. I don’t have the answer as to ‘why’ you’re here exactly, but I’ve learnt to accept you – let you stay. You can kip on my shoulder, and we’ll do things together.
You know, when I went to CBT, it took me until the third session (out of six) to tell my therapist that I was a yoga teacher. Crazy! You had your hold, big time. It was that day I couldn’t leave the house and had to call instead, knowing I needed to reach out. “I’m a yoga teacher” I cried down the phone, feeling shame and alone. I should be sorted, I thought. This depression has been going on for too long! I’ve done everything under the sun to shake it (you) off and I’m in a position of responsibility. You had your grip right, Dee? And I felt weak, like I wasn’t doing my best. I didn’t want people to see you.
I know now that there’s no shame in you being here. Whether you join me on the mat or on the road, I really let you in. I’m one of the four sufferers who has a mental health condition. Label me up! ‘Recurrent depression’ is what they’ve named you, did you know that? Did you know that’s what they call you Dee and why you leave? I’m happy for people to catch a glimpse of you and know your name. I’m not afraid anymore. And maybe you’re not so bad after all… I mean, you’ve taught me great amounts of empathy and compassion for others who suffer similarly. You make me look for the light in things, and in fact, I’m not sure I want you to go.
This isn’t the end Dee. You and me. We’ll travel the road longer together. Only now, I have better insight and more strength. I’m going to help others with “Dee’s” too! I wonder what they call you, I mean ‘their’ Dee… I’ll train in yoga therapy for mental health – and help others who are learning to live with Dee’s too. Yeah, that feels good.
Rosanna Gordon is a British Wheel of Yoga (BWY) Teacher & Freelance Writer. She runs group & one-to-one yoga classes in Liverpool UK & plans to specialise in yoga for depression. For info, visit rosannagordon.com