“When we deny our stories, they define us.
When we own our stories, we get to write a brave new ending.”
In July 2015, I was lying in the hospital bed of an emergency room for having attempted suicide (for the third time in my life). After the tears wore off and I regained a general sense of my surroundings, my first instinct was that I needed to check my email. I had been away from my phone for too many hours and I didn’t want anyone at work to know where I was or what had happened. I was denying my story and I knew how to do this well. I have lived with depression and thoughts of suicide since I was 9 years old but very few people in my life have really seen me in the depths of my depression and I intended to keep it that way. Sure, I had lots of close friends and family over the years and some of them knew that I would “get depressed” from time to time but I never really got into details, certainly not about my thoughts of suicide. I was afraid, like most people living with mental illness, that I would lose my relationship with whomever I shared these stories. I was afraid that it would just be “too much” for someone to understand or even listen to and then I’d be left alone and feel ashamed. I especially did not want anyone from my work life to know about these things – I wouldn’t want to be perceived as “weak” in the workplace.
So the next day I forced myself out of bed, found an appropriate sweater to cover up my bruised arms (when I got to the hospital I had been very dehydrated and the nurses could not find a vein to take my blood, they pricked me so many times all over my arms and hands that I looked like someone with a serious drug addiction) and I went back to work as though nothing had happened. I denied my true story. I pushed through the pain like so many of us are forced to do on a daily basis and I hoped that eventually my depression would just fade away. But it didn’t. As Brené Brown explains, “when we
push down hurt or pretend that struggle doesn’t exist, the hurt and struggle own us.” Depression owned me. I did to a certain extent try to grapple with it in private, in the comfort of my home or in my therapist’s office where no one would ever find out, but the process of hiding my struggles on a daily basis was exhausting and it only made my depression worse. I was tired of denying this part of me; tired of pretending that I was “fine” when I really wanted to die and I was tired of worrying about what people at work would think of me. It took enough energy just to get myself out of bed some days; it didn’t seem fair that I then had to spend my waking hours concealing such a big part of who I am.
Meanwhile, when I had time to myself, I read books and articles about living with mental illness. I also spent many hours of introspection with my therapist and on my own and I even met a couple of amazing ladies online (through Instagram of all things) that were bravely sharing their stories of similar struggles and I slowly, somewhat quietly, started to accept myself as a person “with mental illness”. Accepting who I was and sharing it with others meant that I would no longer be “owned” by my struggle and I realized it was time to write a new ending
Seven months later, I got on a plane to New York for an intensive Strala Yoga training. I no longer wanted to work in an industry where I had to deny who I was and how I was feeling. I wanted a career where health and wellness was a priority, where I could share my story without shame and hopefully help others to heal. And somehow, literally one year to the date that I was in the hospital trying to answer my work emails after having swallowed a large quantity of sleeping pills, I was opening the door to “my” yoga studio. I had become the new owner of Viveka Yoga, I was writing my own story, and I had nothing to deny anymore.
I’ve made it my mission to ensure that the studio be a safe space for all people to be who they are, to feel however they feel and to never have to hide their story when they are practicing yoga with us. The way that I practice and guide my yoga classes is all about creating this space of self-awareness and self-acceptance and I have learned so much from my training in New York, to my experiences guiding yoga classes all over Montreal, from the people who have bravely opened up to me and shared their own stories of struggle and from the 20 odd years that I’ve lived and grappled with mental illness and I’m looking forward to sharing all this with you. So this is what you can expect from this little blog of mine: honesty and openness about what I’ve been through and how the practice of yoga has been a key tool in my healing process.
It’s no secret that yoga can have a huge impact on a person’s mental state, but in my opinion, it’s not as simple as just showing up to any random yoga class and following along with the poses. As explained in the Al Jazeera documentary Who Owns Yoga, “The ancient practice of yoga has been packaged and commercialized in a myriad of different ways over recent decades. But while this has enabled it to reach millions of people, it has also brought with it the pitfalls of operating in a modern capitalist world” and if we don’t recognize some of these “pitfalls” we can easily find ourselves practicing yoga in a way that hinders, rather than heals. So I hope to use this blog to not only share my experiences grappling with mental illness but to also share my thoughts and opinions on the role that yoga can play in maintaining and creating a healthy and happy mental state as well as insights on how to get the most of these benefits out of our own personal practices.
I will be writing a lot in particular about the type of yoga that I guide, Strala Yoga, and how it has transformed almost every aspect of my life. One of the Strala Yoga “mantras” that I love and live by is “Make Your Own Rules”; the idea being that each person is unique in this world and therefore each person needs to create their own set of rules to live by – this is one of the fundamental concepts behind my yoga practice. I love this idea of accepting and embracing our uniqueness because it forces us to also accept and embrace our own personal stories of struggle and recognize that we truly are the authors of our own lives – we are our own best healers, we are our own gurus, and we have the power within to create our own best versions of ourselves.
Thank you for sharing in my story as I continue to write it. More soon!
References from this post:
Brené Brown (one of my favorites!)
Dr. Brené Brown is a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work. She has spent the past thirteen years studying vulnerability, courage, worthiness, and shame. I highly recommend her book Rising Strong and here is one of her many articles about owning our stories: http://brenebrown.com/2015/06/18/own-our-history-change-the-story/
Who Owns Yoga (a super interesting documentary that you can watch online for free!)
Check out their website www.stralayoga.com for lots of info about the practice and these books (we have them a the studio if you want to borrow!):