November 20th I was lucky enough to watch through a window into the delivery room, as my sister became a mother to two tiny twin boys. What I witnessed will forever be one of the most powerful moments of my life. Without even looking into their eyes, holding them or even smelling them yet, it felt like they shattered my heart into a million tiny pieces in the best possible way. I didn’t know I could love that BIG! The world felt like it froze perfectly still and I had this slice of pure joy. I was stunned in awe of life and of my sister, and of all mothers. Just days before Thanksgiving, my family was given the greatest gift of all.
The next morning (and every morning since), the first thought to flutter through my mind upon waking has been, “The boys – it’s real! I’m an Aunt!!” I couldn’t shake this sheer awe and excitement. I felt an unexpected sense of purpose and strong surge of empowerment to take the best care of myself possible for the sake of my nephews and my sister’s new family.
In between visits to the NICU, I snuck in a yoga class. Fitness, specifically yoga, is a big player in my practice of good mental hygiene. In life altering moments, I’ve had yoga classes I’ll never forget. This was one of them.
Tears streamed down my cheeks and onto my sweat stained mat as I moved through my practice that day. With my eyes closed, I moved through each pose and failed several attempts to keep myself from smiling ear to ear. It was the first time I was alone to really pause and sit with the emotions that came with the arrival of our new family additions.
As we settled into savasana I closed my eyes and again felt tears stream down my face. I knew I was crying for all the good things in my life at that moment. I can’t remember the last time I felt that happy, that whole, that complete and peaceful. I wanted it to last forever.
A few minutes in, the instructor offered up a quote for us all to think about as Thanksgiving approached, “It is impossible to feel depressed when you feel true gratitude.” Immediately my gut reaction was resistance. I noticed the drastic switch of emotions swirl up inside me and then started judging myself before even questioning why I was so irritated.
“It’s a simple concept to encourage gratitude, can’t you just move on?” I thought. So I inhaled deeply, refocused on gratitude for my nephews and worked on getting back to my ‘happy place’. Boom, there it was again, right in the forefront of my mind like a giant stop sign I kept seeing and hearing her words:
“It is impossible to feel depressed when you feel true gratitude.”
Next thing I knew we were directed to “bring life back into our fingertips and start waking up the body” – I missed it! I wasted my entire savasana contemplating what was wrong with me that I couldn’t just inhale and exhale the simple message of true gratitude, when ironically, I was feeling consumed with gratitude that day!
Feeling defeated, I rolled up my mat and drove straight back to the NICU to check if the spell of my sheer elation had been broken. I felt like Clara in ‘The Nutcracker’ not wanting the party to end. I was relieved it all came back to me the instant I was in their presence.
Seven days have passed since the yoga class, and I still can’t stop thinking (okay, fine, obsessing) about that damn quote. Finally I did something I should have done about seven days ago. I gave myself permission to challenge my thoughts. Permission to take inventory of my inner resistance instead of pushing it away (God knows that’s an ever present lesson).
Here’s what I’ve come up with:
Undoubtedly, I believe the instructor was well intentioned in offering that quote to her class. An inspirational gesture to encourage her students to embrace gratitude. In my opinion, I have to honor that I found it to be inaccurate, insensitive and a prime example of the stigma surrounding mental disorders. While I see her point in the great impact gratitude practices can create, it cannot completely absolve depression for someone who struggles with it. Her perspective was confusing, conflicting and isolating. Confusing because for me, someone who lives with anxiety and depression, that is not the world I live in. It is imperative to my mental health that I remember, nothing is impossible with depression, or anxiety.
This doesn’t mean we have to be white knuckling our happiness and preparing for disaster around any corner. Though the reality is, for those who struggle with depression, nothing is impossible. Expecting that you can pluck out your depression and ‘solve’ it, is a trigger-some set up for disappointment.
For example, while I was feeling extreme joy for my family’s experience that day and words like depression could not have been further from my mind, it did not change the fact that it was still a part of me. Sometimes it’s present, sometimes it’s dormant, but it’s always there and I am learning to take ownership over it equal to all the other parts of me.
I’ve lived the majority of my life with anxiety and depression. I’ve never embraced it, never spoken about it, never wanted it to be part of my story. Until recently. The truth is, depression and anxiety are a part of my story, and I want to make it one of the great parts! That goes along with all the other wonderful parts I have to be grateful for – including my new nephews. I want those boys to grow up in a world that is honest and truthful about mental health so that they never feel alone and will know how to comfort those who do. I want to create momentum to elicit change instead of staying silent and perpetuating stigma.
That’s why these last few months, I’ve hosted a series of workout classes to benefit BC2M in a campaign I’ve titled #SweatToStopStigma. With partners such as Open Sweat and The Know Collective, we’ve been raising awareness, support and donations one workout class at a time.
BC2M has a difficult task. They are not fighting for something tangible like delivering clean water to underprivileged countries, or building homes for people in need. You can’t necessarily measure the results of this fight. It is a change that has to occur from within and spread and spread and spread until we’ve changed the world.
The last week has given me so very much to be grateful for. It brings me to tears (again) just reflecting on this moment in my family’s life. It’s truly beyond me how blessed I am. And even in that great depth of gratitude, I acknowledge that my depression and anxiety are also a part of me. I won’t take that away from myself. I will learn to work with it instead of against it. I will be mindful that it can always reappear and coexist within other emotions, and that I’m not alone in that.
Just like my interpretation of Clara in ‘The Nutcracker’, it’s possible that we can dance with dark demons and also experience the purest sugar plum moments in the Land of Sweets.
If this post has resonated with you, please join in spreading awareness for #sweattostopstigma.