Last Christmas

Last Christmas day was terrible, it was a really bad day and I felt awful and my family felt awful. And it was all because of my depression and my parents attitude to my depression. There is no getting around it. The worst Christmas of my life so far.

It is strange because at the time I considered myself *getting better* and would be able to avoid such meltdowns. But it came like such a bolt from the blue I had no chance.

Briefly what happened was I had offered my help for the Big Christmas Dinner. My mum and my sister were to do everything and I would cook a lovely red cabbage dish. Except when it came to it mum decided we had too much food and told me I wasn’t needed anymore.

Cue meltdown.

I felt so worthless, so useless, so surplus to requirements. I am a good cook, I enjoy cooking. I cook everyday for myself and my boyfriend (if he wants it) and I love it but what I really want is other people to cook for, people to provide for, to receive my gifts. Sally Kempton did an article in the last Yoga Journal about the importance of being able to give, I wanted to give but no one wanted my gifts.

My mood worsened and worsened, made a million times worse by my parents ignoring the weeping, silent mess at the dinner table. I began hyperventilating, I couldn’t speak, I moved at my glacial depressed pace. Still they said nothing. I went away to cry, my boyfriend trying to coax me back to myself.

Later dinner was ready, we all ate in miserable silence. Suddenly my sister burst into tears. She told my parents she hated the way they ignored me, they weren’t helping me. She was worried about me and they weren’t trying to help me get better. They said the usual things “she won’t let us help her, don’t know what to do, make things worse” etc etc but my lovely sister wasn’t having any of this. It was fantastic, someone was on my side! After that night things did improve a bit with my parents, the effect did wear off eventually though, but the knowledge that my sister cared warmed me for a much longer time.

And this year I am making the Christmas dinner. The whole Christmas dinner.

SAD? What’s that?

As long as I can remember I have suffered from the winter blues. Someone once told me that babies born in winter are more likely to suffer, my birthday is 27th January. I’m also a sensitive person and a painter, and, as it turns out, a person with depressive tendencies.

Sometime around when the clocks change in late October I get that strangled, misery feeling. It peaks around dusk and fades away as the night draws on. Like I’m resigned to the darkness by then. Some years it was ok, some years it was terrible. Life was pointless if everyday was dark. October and November became hated months for me, December and January had some redeeming features and February brought redemption. I would go through a slightly manic phase in February when the light returned where anything was possible and everything was fantastic. The future was bright! Spring! Summer!

Then autumn again.

When I became depressed full time and not just part time the peak of my winter misery would be the end of December, October and November were relegated. They lost their bite when I began to appreciate the beauty of dying light and falling leaves. But no manic happy phase happened no matter how much I looked forward to it. I just felt a bit better come spring.

Then this year, nothing. I have had no winter blues, no dusk dread, no enforced late night walks by my boyfriend to show me that the dark is nothing to fear. I haven’t needed those walks. The sun goes down and I feel ok. It’s dark, so what? Night is inevitable. I want to examine why this is but as the saying goes: never look a gift horse in the mouth.

If this is recovery, I’ll take it.

Quietly Committed

I’ve been exhausted recently. This time of year does that to me, what with the darkness, the pressures of Christmas and the impending lazy days ahead. I think I’m in lazy day mode already, been spending a lot of time in a funk. I’ve been making use of my subscription to yogaglo, mainly using Jason Crandell’s classes. I think I’m obsessed. I love his calm, focussed manner. Everything is so deliberate and thorough and unhurried. When I grow up I want to be just like him.

I’ve been thinking recently about commitment. Mainly because I realised that I am now committed to mindfulness practice, to meditation and cultivating it in daily life. I was talking to my boyfriend about the bewildering speed at which its given me clarity and peace (we’re talking a couple of months) and I said “I guess this is me for life now”. I realise that mindfulness is something I have to practice, not something to only pick up when I’m feeling lost or overwhelmed. I have to be awake all the time and that takes daily practice.

It’s not so much that that got me thinking as the way in which I decided I was committed. When I said “I guess this is me for life now” I already was committed, I was just saying what I already knew. But I never sat down and consciously decided that I would always have a mindfulness practice. I just knew I would in this very quiet accepting way.

It was the same with yoga. When I started I loved it, I took to it like a fish to water. I learnt all I could and had no problem starting my home practice and sticking to it. At no point did I think that I would stop and this wasn’t daunting, it was exciting! And not in an obsessed uncontrolled way, in a way that realised that there was a yoga that was appropriate for me at every stage in my life so why should I stop? I’ve found this great thing, I’m sticking with it.

The only time I’ve ever felt anything like the tight panic grip of “til death do us part” was a month or so after I got together with my boyfriend (we’ve been together now for 5 years) when I was talking to my friend about our long-term-serious-grown-up relationships. I told her the thought of breaking up made me feel sick but then that would mean we would have to stay together… forever! She looked at me with a knowing look in her eye and said: “You don’t think I think about that all the time?”

That vague panic soon passed and I shrugged and thought I did want to be with him until death takes one of us. Commitment done. Makes me wonder what all the fuss on Friends was about.

So I’m committed, to my relationship, to yoga, to mindfulness, to painting too. I don’t want to shout it to the rooftops and I don’t have to. I feel secure that these decisions are good for me and me alone.

Embracing my outsiderness

I meant to post this last week after last Wednesday’s yoga class but then I woke up the next day and it didn’t seem so important anymore. But then Wednesday’s class happened again and I felt the same again. Now it seems important again.

I have never felt like I belonged to any particular group of people. As a child I would often wander around on my own with no one to play with. Friends have come and gone in my life, sometimes I have a few and sometimes I have little to none. Which is strange because I like people and I like having friendships. A lot of my childhood was taken up by me feeling somewhat ‘out of it’, I had no friends at the orchestra (but I felt I had to go because I was told I was a good violinist), I had no friends at my dance class (ditto dancer) and I was such a nice little girl that I was frequently taken up as a best friend only to be later dumped by less kind hearted, more manipulative little girls.

But in some ways I accepted this feeling of outsiderness, I understood that not everyone could have friends all the time. I did things because I was interested in them, people I could take or leave. I have never been one for small talk. Strangely enough despite all this I am actually a really good friend and I have had a lot of close friendships. I’m always the confidant, the agony aunt, the shoulder to cry on as well as the one to mess around with.

This feeling has carried into my adult life, I felt it at university and I feel it very much in my yoga classes. The first class I went to was full of 30-40 something year old women complaining about how terrible they were at yoga and how glad they were to be away from the kids. As a depressed 23 year old with no kids who had an earnest desire to do yoga I could not relate. I just smiled and did my yoga. And stopped going.

Now in my new class I’m amongst mostly 30-40 something year old women who complain they’re not better at yoga, that they can’t do handstands or they can’t balance in this or that pose. The air of competition and performance is overwhelming. It’s one of those non-stop flow classes which I enjoy and I do practice at home but then at some point in the class it’s time to get the big guns out. It’s time for handstands, or arm balances, or big showy backbends (which we haven’t prepared for). Inevitably everyone watches everyone else at this point and if they “achieve” said pose they get clapped. I do yoga as a form of mindfulness meditation, they seem to be treating it as some kind of gymnastics competition.

I hate it and I feel uncomfortable knowing I am being judged. But I love learning new things in yoga and I think it’s good to at least try to be part of a community. Long ago I adopted the attitude “get what you can out of a situation because nothing is going to be perfect for you” and I live by that. But by god it’s lonely. I do not want to be a part of that group but I do not want to be so outside it that I get upset. Within my body when I am doing yoga I am home and I am whole. In a yoga class I am an outsider. I will have to learn to accept that.

All I can take from it for now is when I teach yoga I will try hard to make sure that everyone is welcome, that no one feels they are not ‘good enough’ or they are not able to be a part of the group. That is my promise.

Mindful Yoga and Meditation

My Active Recovery marches on. Week 5 of Full Catastrophe Living finds me meditating for 45 minutes one day and doing 45 minutes of a planned gentle yoga sequence the next.

45 minutes sitting still and being aware of my body and breath vs 45 minutes gentle mindful yoga. The past 3 years I have regularly done more than 45 minutes yoga every day but I have never meditated for longer than 25 minutes. Can you guess which one I’m having trouble with?

Surprisingly it’s the yoga! My stubborn body knows these moves and it wants to go faster, stretch more, do more exciting things! The most strenuous pose is probably vrksasana (tree pose) which is a pose I do after headstands or arm balances to calm myself down. Even keeping my bottom leg bent in a lying hamstring stretch is annoyingly gentle, does Jon Kabat-Zinn not know I can do the splits?!? Oh how these puny poses hurt my mightily ‘advanced’ yogi ego!

So I’ve found myself actually getting quite down during this sequence. Bored. Dull. Sad. It’s become an exercise in how to make myself depressed. I am committed to this programme though so I feel the feelings and I do it anyway. I feel the slight reluctance when it comes to do the sequence and I think “it’s just a feeling”. It’s not the most ideal sequence for my body but so what? I have my whole life to do my yoga.

The meditation has been wonderful. I was terrified of sitting for so long and the first time my leg did go completely dead but it’ll be worth it. I’ll prop my knees up more. Yesterday I found myself going into such an aware, unreactive state. I felt like I was sitting watching myself, smiling gently. Strange how people say meditation makes them go outside themselves, because I felt more inside myself. I know I cannot cling to this feeling, I have to accept each sitting as I come to it but it was so good. The feeling, the awareness lasted for at least an hour afterwards. I coped better with my parents stressing over unimportant things, things seemed more vital and real. My advent calender chocolate tasted fantastic! (or maybe I was just really hungry) All from concentrating on my breath and body sensations for 45 minutes.

So I took that idea and I applied it to the yoga. I really felt my breath in my body in all the poses. I was less sad this time. Breath is the key.

Full Catastrophe Living: the first month

I’m currently in my period of Active Recovery. A time where my mental health comes first and everything else second. The cornerstone of this time is the book: Full Catastrophe Living by Jon Kabat-Zinn, a wonderful book about the miracle of mindfulness. Living in the moment. Fully experiencing each moment. Returning to our inherent wholeness. Breathing.

This is not my first experience of practicing mindfulness but what I realised quite quickly is even though I read the book last time, I didn’t really commit to it wholeheartedly. I did some of the exercises, some of the time, took weekends off etc. etc. To be fair on myself I was very energy-depleted and unsure. This time there is no compromise, I am doing all of the exercises, all of the time. No excuses! It’s quite a big commitment, especially when your cat dies. I’m up to week 4 which is over an hour of mindfulness exercises. Every day I do a 15-20 minute mindfulness of breath meditation where I sit on my zafu and feel my belly moving with my breath, when my mind wanders I bring it back again, and again, and again. So far it’s been untraumatic, I haven’t had any terrible moods where I want to jump out of my skin. I’ve just sat there and breathed and my mind has wandered here and there and I’ve said “oh no you don’t” and brought it back to my breath.

For the first two weeks I did a 45 minute body scan 6 days a week. Briefly this involves being aware of each part of your body in turn from the toes of your left foot, to up your left leg, to up your right leg and then up your torso and arms to your head. You breathe into each body part, being aware of all the sensations in that part before releasing it and moving on to the next one. This body scan has made me aware that I have no pain or tension in my body at any time. My body is so at peace that I only have to deal with falling asleep, not coping with any pain. In fact the only tension comes from a stiff neck from holding it for still so long doing the body scan! It almost makes me glad because I get some pain practice but it’s frustrating because it’s so easy to remedy I have to stop myself jumping up to move it.

The other practice that’s been introduced is mindful yoga. I think I’d like to do a whole post on this because this is right up my alley, being a yogi and all.

So all in all the mindfulness part of my active recovery is going well. I’ve got the formal practice down and I’ve found that it is easier for me to be mindful of my body and my mind at other points during the day. Now what I need to work on is informal practice, being mindful of mundane parts of my day. Jon Kabat-Zinn suggests picking one routine- eg. cleaning, washing, preparing food and staying mindful within that activity. I will try preparing food mindfully this next week.