Michael teaches yoga and meditation, practises bodywork, and does philosophy relating to the mind, body, and yoga.

an important message from a depressed man (myself, a handful of months ago)

The following is an important message from a very depressed man. I wrote it myself, five months ago. Out of respect and a desire to present my contemporaneous state of mind as faithfully as possible, I have edited only for spelling and punctuation. Thereafter, you’ll find a response from where I am now. 

I wrote most of what you have read before on this blog standing up. For this week’s entry, I am reclining in the luxury of my bed.

Even as I type it, I hesitate to use the word “luxury.” In the last several weeks, this bed has felt in turns like a sanctuary, a convalescent home, and a prison. Yet having just taken my first walk through my city’s streets in what certainly feels like far too long, I am reminded that having a warm and comfortable place to sleep (or not, as we shall see) is indeed a luxury that many people simply do not have. Which in some ways makes my current layers of shame and guilt feel even heavier.

As you probably know, I have done battle with symptoms of depression a number of times throughout my life. Unless you are particularly close to me, the reason you probably know this is that I have, in the last couple of years, begun a trend of emerging triumphantly from my states of darkness with exhilarating fearlessness and with and attitude that I hope will be inspiring to those who may themselves be feeling down. Each time I defeat my depressive demons, I recognise that I have essentially been reborn as a stronger, more empowered, more resilient person than I had ever been before. That feeling makes me want to spread all of my extra energy around the world wide web like spiritual glitter. 

I genuinely wish I could present this present story as the latest instalment of my “Back from the Brink” series. Truthfully, I’ve been waiting for it to snap, but this spell has lasted longer than usual. I’m not sure when it will be over. In fact, although the logical side of myself knows that it will be over sometime, I am still mostly in the mode of believing that I will probably end up feeling like this forever. I am certainly not feeling fearless, or even courageous in spite of my fear. In fact, I have been feeling so ashamed of who I am that I have been choosing to hide from just about everyone simply so that they wouldn’t have to deal with me. As for the few that I have actually managed to interact with, I haven’t even been able to bring myself to look at them because some part of me knows for a fact that I would only see profound disappointment in their eyes as they see utter worthlessness in mine. My body is genuinely trembling even as I type these words, because almost everything in me fears that sharing who I am right now and what I am going through will ruin me forever.

If that’s how I feel, then why on earth am I doing this?

To be clear, this is not my way of asking for help. Even as most of my head spins off into the void, there is a part of me that recognises how much help I already have. There is even a part of me that understands how lucky I am to have it. But the very fact that I am able to talk about the various “parts” of myself is the reason I have chosen (in a moment of madness? [In more ways than one?]) to share something publicly from this terrifying place. Earlier this year I wrote about the virtue of valuing the different voices within ourselves, rather than attempting to silence the ones that we found unattractive. Right now, there is some part of me that actually feels that even the melancholy me has something of value to share with the world. Like the Sadness character in Pixar’s Inside Out. And I’m fully aware that I may end up regretting this decision, but I am choosing to let that part of myself speak. I have gone my entire life both hiding it and hiding from it, and it occurs to me that this tactic has simply not worked. So I’m trying something new. Here’s what I’m experiencing:

Although I have probably spent at least as much time in my bed as out of it in the last month, I have probably slept less than half the amount of time I usually sleep. If I have to deal with depression, I really wish I could at least sleep through more of it. But for me, that’s just not how it works. Part of being depressed simply means spending a lot of time desperately wishing I could fall asleep. I’m certainly tired. It’s just not happening. 

Part of the reason for this is that I decided, a couple of weeks into this depression, that it was time to stop taking my antidepressant. I recognise that this seems counterintuitive but I felt as though (a) it had stopped working effectively, and (b) it was a reason that it has been taking me so long to break free from my depression. In the past, I have been able to use certain yoga and meditation techniques to move through my inner grief in a remarkably efficient fashion. This time, however, I could just sense that there was something in my way. So I just stopped the low dose SSRI that I was taking, cold turkey. Which is an apt idiom, in fact, because I took my last pill on Thanksgiving Day. That being said, I’d like to take this opportunity to advise you never to quit your antidepressant cold turkey. While I do feel as though my depressive symptoms are slightly better since I came off it, I’ve now got a rather motley collection of withdrawal symptoms that I wouldn’t wish upon anyone. My insomnia is worse. My ankles and feet start itching something awful every evening around bedtime. I have these horrible “brain zaps” that make me feel as though somebody is shooting a low-voltage Star Trek phaser at my head at random intervals. And worst of all is the nausea. And I’m not talking Jean-Paul Sartre existentialist nausea either, I’m talking about the sensation that my stomach is upside-down and being played like an accordion inside my abdomen. I should have tapered. And now it’s too late.

Sarah Silverman has said that, when she experienced depression, "It was like my perspective of the world changed about three degrees, and everything I saw was different." But I disagree. I’d say it’s more like four degrees. 

I keep asking myself if I have anything positive to share, and I’m really just not so sure. I feel like, in a lot of ways, I’m at maybe the lowest point in my life. I recently made the decision to stop teaching yoga because it felt too overwhelming. Maybe it’s a temporary decision, but I’m not so sure. After all, there are plenty of people who are really great at teaching yoga, but I’m pretty sure there’s nobody in the world who’s as excellent as I am at hiding under my duvet. 

Today, I re-read these words for the first time since they were written, which I believe was right around five months ago, at the end of November. It is obvious that I’d had every intention of publishing this account around that time, and I can’t say with certainty why that didn’t happen. It isn’t a stretch to say that much of what I was experiencing probably would have fallen into the depths of my memory-cracks if I hadn’t written it down. I’m genuinely grateful that I did so—especially as I have begun to recall how doing anything at all felt like the mightiest chore I’d ever embarked upon; writing a thousand words about the intensity of my physical and psychological symptoms was not exception.

For a few months, I’d completely forgotten that I’d even written these words. I rediscovered them when I went back to the file in which I keep all the material for my blog, and as soon as I recognised what it was, I purposely avoided looking into it. I realise now that this was my way of telling myself, “No. You’re not ready yet.” I knew I wasn’t. So I'm glad I waited.

At this point, as many of you have probably noticed, I’m all unicorns and rainbows again. I’m in love with my life, I’m proud of the work I’ve been doing and the progress I’ve been making toward my goals. I live each day with perhaps the most full-bodied sense of gratitude I have ever known. I know that my joy, my productivity, and my good fortune are in no way guaranteed. These things are within the bounds of my control only to a certain, somewhat indeterminate degree; most of what happens to me is down to what some might call randomness, what others might call grace. Either way, it is nothing that responds favourably to being grasped at. I simply need to respond with presence and friendliness to whatever comes my way. The rest of my happiness is based merely on the gratitude I have been working to cultivate through habit. 

During this depression, I was feeling wretchedly and unjustly abandoned by a number of individuals; people of whom, I now understand, my expectations were far too high, if not altogether unwarranted. Nonetheless, I have been brought to tears on more occasions than I could ever possibly count by the kindness and support of my family, as well as the beautiful close friends whom earlier versions of myself had been wise enough to accumulate in my life. 

I feel that it is also important to say that I was indescribably well-buoyed by the words and actions of many people with whom may acquaintance was little more than tangential. Little acts and notes of kindness from folks who I believed, whether rightly or wrongly, had little reason to care. For this reason, I just want to say the following to anyone who is granting me the honour of reading this: never underestimate the power of even the most insignificant-seeming acts of kindness toward somebody who means something to you. It could very well be just the moment that person needs. You have, no doubt, encountered such advice as this before. In all likelihood, if you are anything like me, you have often taken them as mere platitudes and given them nary a further thought. Right now I am imploring you to take them literally, as often as you feel able. 

Finally, I would like to share a few words with this former version of myself. This version of me that, in many ways, couldn’t feel further away from who I am now; yet, temporally, what separates him and me is little more than a blink of the eye. I write these words not simply to be self-indulgent (although there is, of course, at least an small amount of self-indulgence in all of this stuff), but also because I recognise that there might be other people who may find themselves in similar states—currently or in future (including, quite possibly, a future version of myself)—for whom this message may, in some way, be useful. This message is equally for anyone who is or may be suffering:

You describe yourself as lacking courage, but your courage shines through in a way you can’t even help. You indicate that you feel largely beyond hope, yet even your impulse to engage in such self-reflection, along with your recognition that your story might resonate with others, demonstrates that hope is beautifully vital in your heart. You express your fear that sharing your experience could possibly “ruin” you; you cannot be ruined. In fact, your desire to make yourself transparent will only—in they eyes of those that matter most (including, of course, your own)—help you to come more fully into your own power. 

You seem so “sure” that everyone in your life feels nothing but disappointment toward you. I recognise that this is such a difficult one to wrap your head around, but you simply have no idea how proud I am of you. How proud we all are. You are living your journey in a way that only you yourself can do. You’re doing it fiercely, boldly, and yes, bravely. And you are certainly right to remember that, every time you emerge from a depressive state, you come out feeling stronger and more resilient than ever before. This time is no exception. And for that, I must thank you. Your ability to sound those terrifying depths with such presence and awareness is the very thing that has allowed me to perform the soaring song that is my life right now. You are beautiful. You are necessary. And you are so, so loved.

it's time to stop fetishising the yoga-sūtras

how i write {or: a day in the life}