My own story about depression and anxiety
I am a yoga teacher who takes antidepressants. Yeah. Those two things just go hand-in-hand like peas and carrots, don’t they?
To clarify, I was taking antidepressant medications for a few years before I started practicing yoga. And I’ve been on them for over twenty years.
Before you judge me, let me tell you my story. My depression started when I was young, around age 12. This was back in the 1970’s, before anyone knew much about it. Back then, the messages I recall getting were: Try harder. Cheer up. Don’t you know how lucky you are?
Depression doesn’t just go away. Instead it gets bigger, more cloudy, more dark. It affects your thinking. I got stuck in “automatic thoughts,” where I would berate myself for not being pretty enough, or funny enough, or smart enough. These thought patterns aways took me on that downward spiral, and there was nothing that could pull me back up again.
Depression can also show up as anger. I remember anger, and being told I should be quiet. I remember hating myself and everyone else. I hated my parents and at the same time I was desperate for them to love me, to help me.
Depression usually brings along its friends, like anxiety. I can remember feeling so anxious before school that I couldn’t sleep the night before. I also had anxiety attacks in the middle of the night, because it was getting so late and I wasn’t asleep yet. I was anxious in school, and unable to function because my anxious thoughts were all about: “I’m supposed to know this, I can’t figure this out, she thinks I’m stupid, it’s taking too long, what’s wrong with me?”
Depression and anxiety followed me to college. They showed up at my wedding, which I was barely able to enjoy because of my anxiety. They stayed with me after my husband and I moved to Virginia.
Then our first child was born, and everything changed. For the worse. Anxiety took over my life. I didn’t sleep for almost two years. I was happy to be a mom, but I was also severely depressed. I couldn’t concentrate enough to read a book. I lost interest in my friends and my favorite activities. I could barely function.
Finally I saw a doctor who wrote a prescription for Trazodone. This would help my anxiety and allow me to sleep. She also put me on Paxil, an SSRI drug. I remember sobbing uncontrollably. Because I had to take antidepressants. I was bad. I was really bad. The doctor thought I needed medication.
My husband had to get my scripts, fill them, and pick up our daughter at daycare, while I cried and berated myself for being so bad.
I took the first dose. I got so dizzy that I had to go straight to bed. In time I got used to the drugs, and my doctor adjusted the dose. I slept at night. Color started returning to my life. I laughed again.
About a year later, I suddenly realized one day that I felt good. That I felt like myself. For the first time in my life, I was myself. And I liked that feeling. I liked myself.
And if it took two drugs to let me feel truly myself, then so be it.
I have been on medication ever since. I still take Trazodone to help me get to sleep at night (albeit a much lower dose). I have switched SSRI drugs a few times, landing on Lexapro, and added another drug, Wellbutrin.
And if that is the price I pay for being myself, so be it.
If it means I’ll never experience debilitating depression and anxiety again, so be it.
I’m a yoga instructor who takes antidepressants
But then I am also a yoga instructor, and yogis live in this purified world. We’re organic and vegan, and we eschew Advil—we take turmeric supplements. We solve our problems through chakra cleansing and Ayurverdic medicine, knowing which foods will help our Pitta constitutions. We wear natural jewelry like turquoise and amethyst, and we drink (purified) water from mason jars (never plastic bottles). We cleanse ourselves by avoiding gluten, sugar, dairy, and alcohol, and by soaking in salt baths. We love being barefoot and outdoors. The only thing we do that isn’t 100% organic is take selfies for our Instagram accounts.
I’m exaggerating, but you get the idea. I don’t have a problem with the “naturalness” of yoga. But I do worry that the “naturalness” has a problem with me. I worry that if anyone ever found out about my drug regimen, I would be ousted. Labeled a fraud. Ridiculed. Shunned.
Over the years I’ve considered going off the medications. One time I asked my doctor about it and she waved me off. “Not now—I never take anyone off meds before the holidays.” The month was October.
Last year I decided to try it anyway, and I started to reduce my Lexapro. Things were going pretty well. Until they weren’t. Reluctantly I went back on the full dose.
Another fun fact about depression: the longer it goes untreated, the longer you’ll need the meds. In other words, if someone is gently suggesting that you might need meds, get them now. My depression went untreated for years, which means I will need them much longer than someone who treats their depression right away.
So this is my true confession. I am an impure yogi. But I am also authentically myself — and that self needs meds. So be it.