Joy in the Breath

A healthy content life requires balance, and not always easy to achieve back in my 20s and 30s. Looking back, I rarely took the straightforward route, was always hardest on myself and as a perfectionist, I had to do everything myself. Not the best plan, especially if you’re a single mother working full time. Without going into all the details, let’s  just say ‘I lived in interesting times…’

In 2001, my life spiralled out of control, but I’d always been good at brushing problems I had no solution to, under the proverbial carpet–a bit too good! Instead, I lived in denial, ignored my mounting symptoms while trying to plough on through. By the end of 2002, I could no longer ignore the dark thoughts, constant negative internal monologues, and incessant crying for no reason. Somewhere along the way I had turned into someone I no longer recognised or liked. I was desperate to return to my usual sarcastic, independent self, and by then I would have tried almost anything…

I went to see a Doctor, and he confirmed what I already suspected, I was suffering from stress-induced depression, commonly known as professional burnout. I went home with a prescription for Effexor (anti-depressant) and Xanax (anti-anxiety), along with a dose of anger at myself for letting down the side and not being strong enough. Anti-depressants are not a quick and easy fix, just the opposite in my experience. They can take anywhere between 6-8 weeks to take effect. Then come the side effects, some of which are no joke, like ‘… you may suffer from suicidal thoughts…’ I mean seriously!

Anyway, when the anti-depressants kicked in I felt numb and disconnected, a feeling I didn’t enjoy and considering my state of mind that’s saying something. Then one morning I woke up and came to the slow, horrible realisation that I had no memory of the last 3 days, not even a glimmer, and that scared me. I flushed all the pills down the toilet, against the Doctor’s advice, and for a while, I went back to brushing things under the carpet… The problem with the carpet trick is an additional set of self-made issues involving bailiffs, debt collectors, and hiding in the bathroom pretending to be out, start popping up.

Fast forward to May 2010, and everything came to a head in the form of a total mental meltdown in the reception area of my work, not pretty. When I got home, I rang my Doctor (a different Doctor I’d seen for three years) who listened to me for as long as it took to sob out my story. He pointed out that stress-induced depression was the curse of the strong, which turned out to be the first step in accepting that I had not failed at my life instead the circumstances of my life had failed me, and I didn’t have the tools to help myself. My Doctor also gave me a prescription for Sipralexa (anti-depressant), an appointment for the next week and the next two weeks off work. 2 weeks turned into six years, several more anti-depressants and their respective side-effects.

It was a slow process, with a few ups and a lot of downs, and a steep learning curve. Then in December 2012, I started taking Remergon (anti-depressant), and for a time I felt like my old self. However, by August 2013 one of those side-effects kicked in big time. I gained 19 kilos in some unusual places like my knees, elbows, and knuckles to mention a few. Let me tell you there’s something very depressing about not fitting into my jeans because of fat knees! I stopped taking Remergon, and for a few months I was okay, but eventually, I felt myself slipping down that all too familiar slope… So in March 2014, I started on yet another anti-depressant, Redomex, and wondered not for the first time why someone hadn’t come up with ‘Reboot’ pill for the brain – a reset to default settings so to speak.

In March 2015, I fell upon a YouTube video about an ex-paratrooper who’s Doctors told him he’d never walk unaided again. After 15 years of believing them, he started a daily yoga practice and his transformation over the next ten months was nothing short of incredible. This inspired me to go out and buy a yoga box set, and one of the DVD’s was ‘Ashtanga Yoga for Beginners’ with Nicki Doane. The first time I practised, I had no expectations; I unrolled my mat and started the DVD.

That very first Sun Salutation going down into Chaturanga (Four-limbed staff pose) beads of sweat formed on my forehead, on the second the sweat rolled off my nose onto my mat. I had no control over my descent, which was more like a splat into the forming pool of sweat followed by muttering… There was nothing easy about it, I hadn’t moved like this in decades, but I kept the ex-paratrooper in mind and breathed on through! The DVD guided me up to Parshvottanasana (Sideways stretching pose), which took me about 45 minutes, and all the while the pool of sweat on my mat grew. When I sat down for the final 3 poses every inch of my body felt energised, and my brain was silent, no dark thoughts, no negative monologues, just blissful contentment…

For the first time in 15 years, I felt fantastic, and that wasn’t something I took lightly given my history. The next morning, getting out of bed was a challenge. I hurt all over, but I felt incredible. So along with my morning anti-depressant, I unrolled my mat, started the DVD and sweated my way through it all again. That’s when I realised, Yoga was the reset button I’d been longing for throughout my illness, and it was such an easy fix, with no side-effects, only benefits…

Over the next couple of months, I worked my way up to Navasana (Boat pose)–“Half Primary”–and every day it got a little easier. Not to say there weren’t challenges, but by focusing on my breath and doing my best at that moment, I could still flow through the practice and reap all the benefits. I now felt ready for a teacher and a Shala.

Over five years on and I still feel fantastic, I’m no longer on any form of medication, and even better I’m now equipped with the tools–my daily yoga practice – to deal with most of what life can throw at me. After 15 years of searching, it was such an easy fix, and my life is more relaxed, less stressful and far more enjoyable.

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