"Be grateful for what you have." "It's not the circumstances that need to change, just your attitude towards them."
I hear versions of these sentiments many times in yoga classes and many times, they actually make me a little angry. I am grateful for the good things that I have in my life. I am grateful for a strong immune system despite having a less than healthy diet. I am grateful for a relatively strong and limber body (despite some chronic injuries). I am grateful for my great new roommates who are quickly becoming friends. I am so grateful for my yoga practice and that I have access to some pretty phenomenal teachers and studios. I am grateful to have a boss who actually cares about the well-being of his employees. I am thankful to live in a city whose mayor reminds people to check on their elderly neighbors during times of crisis and extreme weather; to be in a city where the subway uses professional athletes to advertise being courteous to other riders on the trains. I am grateful to be in a city where it is possible and even sometimes more economical and more efficient to live without a car. I am grateful to be able to live with an animal again. That I have a computer with access to the Internet so that I am able to easily access information and be able to stay connected with friends and family. I could keep this list going on for quite a while. I have no problem finding things in my life for which I am grateful. And I'm fully aware that having a positive attitude can make even the worst of situations better. So, with all that, why is it that whenever I stop moving and/or am not "doing something," I feel nothing but frustration and a strong urge to find a way to escape my life. No; I am not suicidal--I never have been. I'd actually be far more likely to drop off the face of the planet to travel "aimlessly" around the world a pied (by foot); who knows, could actually be what I need, lol. Indeed it's quite the opposite--I want to live!
Limbo. That's how I refer to my life at this point. It's where I've felt like I've been ever since I graduated from college a year and a half ago. It was a major transition for me because I lost two huge elements of my identity: “student” and “runner.” I'd been a student for my entire conscious life: preschool, kindergarten, elementary school, middle school, high school and 7 1/2 years of college. My entire life revolved around being a student: when you go to sleep, when you wake up, when you go to work, what kind of job you do, when you do any sort of extracurricular activities, any sort of social life (which I didn't have)...everything is centered around helping you achieve that one massive goal of obtaining a college degree. So, what do you do when it's gone? For some, the answer might be obvious: more education or going to work in the field of your degree. But what if you discover that you don't want to do either one of those? And what if you lost the ability to do the only other thing in your life that gave you fulfillment? During my last track season I fractured my foot and was forced into a sedentary life for 3 months directly after I finished my last semester in college AND after I had moved into my very first apartment and was living completely by myself. To use a term from Harry Potter, you get to live with your very own "Dementor." For those who have never read Harry Potter, here is a brief description of what that fictional creature is:
"..They glory in decay and despair, they drain peace, hope, and happiness out of the air around them... Get too near a Dementor and every good feeling, every happy memory will be sucked out of you."
That is the best description of what those months while I was in the boot and during the many weeks of physical therapy felt like. So, in more recognizable terms, you end up falling into a deep depression...until a voice inside of you finally screams loud enough, "this is not me!!!" Then you fight like hell to get out.
I didn't start practicing yoga because of the depression. I was already starting to work my way out of it once I was finally more mobile. But I was a bit too overzealous and I ended up injuring my back after embarking on a hike that my body was not yet ready for (it seems I have this tendency to do "too much, too soon, too fast"). I was once again rendered immobile and I said to myself, "I am not doing this again!" Then I found myself doing the only movement that didn't bring pain to my body: yoga. I can see now that it is also slowing helping to give me my life back. My body is finally able to move again and is getting stronger in some areas (while others obviously need more support than just yoga can give). My moods are considerably more stable and brighter than they used to be. And, after almost 3 years of seeing nothing but the bad side of people through my work, my relationship to other people is healing as well.
So why do I still feel the need to escape? Because I still spend 5 days a week at a place I can't stand doing work that I hate, and I need to leave my job? Or is it simply my outlook that needs to change? When is it the circumstances/environment that need to change and not just you? It kind of reminds me of the contrast between sociology and psychology. Sometimes it seems like sociology sees the individual as being completely controlled by his/her surroundings (i.e. society) without any ability to think and act independent of the society he/she is in; while it seems like psychology places far too much responsibility on the individual without taking into account the pressures from the outside world (i.e., media, advertising, cultural traditions, social norms, etc). This could all very well be factually inaccurate, but that's how it seems to me. But that's straying a little too far off on a different tangent...
Either way I have been doing a lot better, but all that came to the forefront of my mind again after someone at work asked me if I had gone through any sort of depression after I couldn't run anymore. I remember thinking, "Oh yeah, you don't know the half of it, lol." Yesterday, Bindu Wiles posted a blog topic on fear. She asked, "What are you afraid of?" For me, I'm afraid that I'll never find my place in this world, and that I'll forever be stuck in this state of limbo with a life that has no purpose. I'm also terrified that there's serious damage to my foot and back (and now also my knee!) and that I'll never recover and be able to do all the things that I want to do. It's still a daily struggle not to fall into that depressive mode, so I do my best to keep looking for healthy ways to deal with it. Yesterday I read an article on Beliefnet.com that discussed what to do if you start falling back into a relapse of any sort (addiction, depression, etc) and there were a couple suggestions in particular that really caught my eye: "With severe depression or a crippling addiction, though, positive thinking can sometimes make matters worse." Which would explain why those sentiments I talked about at the beginning of this post make me upset. As the author also says in this article, people who are depressed or are fighting an addiction tend to have super low self-esteem and feel like they are the worst possible people in the world. So, when I hear people saying "be grateful for what you have; it's not the situation, just your attitude towards it, etc," it makes me feel like I'm weak, even deserving, of the depression because I can't just simply be happy by "changing my attitude." You beat yourself over the head because, "hey, what do you have to be depressed about?! Don't you realize how bad other people have it?!" That's a hard thought to push away because it makes so much sense; until I'm able to pull in the non-competitive attitude I learned through yoga. Our pain and suffering is not a competition. It doesn't matter how small it is in comparison to what other people are going through. The circumstances of each person's life are different and all that matters is that someone is hurting, for whatever the reason may be. The outward expression of whatever it is might be different, but the feelings tend to be similar. Reminds me of a quote I saw on a fellow 21-5-800 member's site: "Be kind. Everyone is fighting a great battle." -St. Athanasious
The article also suggests to "say yes anyways:" "Always say yes to an invitation out. That keeps you from isolating, which is so easy to do when you're grieving or stuck in a depression or off the wagon in a big way." Even though I just read this article, this was a big reason why I took a leap and decided to live with roommates. I finally accepted that, during this time of my life, it is not best for me to spend that much time alone. I know that, sometimes, simply being around caring people (without even talking to them) is enough. I do still need time to myself to process and re-charge and I definitely make sure that I get enough of it.
When I read that suggestion in the article, I took it as a hint to change up my yoga practice for today. I went to 2 classes that a couple of my friends were teaching. The first was a sweet, gentle little class held outside amongst rose bushes, trees, and birds :-) What, I ask you, could be LESS depressing? I LOVE practicing outside: getting to feel the air on my skin, actually getting to see the sky when the teacher says "reach to the sky;" feeling the grass beneath my feet and hands; a dog that has strayed away from its owner coming over to say hello, reminding us not to take our yoga too seriously ;-). The grass hadn’t been mowed, so it was very high and made a tiny wall around our towels (no mats, this was “old-school”style!) that kind of gave me the feeling actually being “held” during savasana. This class was the embodiment of "community" yoga: it was outside in a neighborhood meeting area, in the open for everyone to see and to join; donation only, so it was affordable; and it was a gentle practice, so it was accessible for all body types and levels. We even had a mother and her two daughters stroll by and join us on a whim! Very sweet little practice :-) The second class was also a community class but held inside one of my favorite yoga studios. It's a one-room studio where I literally feel welcomed and accepted as soon as I enter. The class was full of a variety of twists and a few fun standing balance sequences. I also got to see some yoga buddies that I haven't really talked with in a while. I am so grateful that by changing my practice and accepting invitations to go out, I was able to support my friends during the beginning stages of their lives as yoga teacher, and that I was able to receive the best hug that I've had in a while :-)