I have a life preserver in the form of a little pink pill. I started taking it about four years ago when I began to understand the extent to which my illness was becoming a family affair. While I was willing to let myself drown in Lyme disease, anxiety, and depression, I couldn’t bear to watch my husband and son go down with me.
And it worked. It worked like a charm. Within weeks I found myself floating up to the surface of my illness and bobbing around like a red buoy on a sunny day. I was still in the water but I could wave to my family toweling off on dry land. We could call to each other, tell jokes, sing songs, and make plans for the future.
I don’t know how the pill works, but I do know that when I’m taking it regularly I feel blessed, safe, and at ease. I wake in the morning and think, “I love my life. I have everything I’ve ever wanted.”
When I miss a pill I notice it immediately. Do you remember the Dementors who guard the wizard prison Azkaban in Harry Potter? They feed off human happiness. When you’re near a Dementor your body goes cold and you feel like nothing in the world can ever be good again. That’s me without my life preserver.
At first I worried that the pills were distorting my reality. If I needed a pill to make me feel at ease, could I trust that feeling? Was it real? With my doctor’s help, I tried going off the pills by reducing my dosage gradually over time, but it didn’t work. I noticed that my family had stopped singing, had stopped waving happily to me from the shore, and the water was getting rougher…
So I take the pills. It’s not the only thing I do. I also practice yoga, meditate, and nurture positive relationships with people I love. I count my blessings every day. I ride my bike. I call my mom.
I used to keep my life preserver secret. I swam around with it hidden beneath the surface of the water. I let others assume I was staying afloat all by myself. I let them believe it was the yoga and meditation that made me such a good swimmer.
Then I noticed other swimmers with life preservers. Some, like me, had them hidden beneath the surface. Other, braver, souls held them up for anyone to see. I drew courage from their courage, strength from their strength. I decided to let my life preserver be seen too.
I’ll always credit yoga with being a huge part of my healing from Lyme disease, anxiety, and depression. Through yoga I’ve learned, and continue to learn, how to listen to my body, honour my intuition, and ask for help when needed. I used to think that needing
a life preserver antidepressant medication meant that my yoga practice wasn’t strong enough. Now I believe that without yoga I never would have had the self-knowledge and humility to ask for and accept this kind of help.
To my students who are challenged by anxiety and depression: know that I am too. To my students who think it’s yoga that keeps me buoyant: know that it is yoga, inasmuch as yoga allows me to approach my life with compassion and honesty.
Let’s chip away at this stigma surrounding mental health issues. Let’s do it together.
Image © 2015 David Blair