My therapist, who I’ve been seeing for anxiety, panic, OCD, and just generally being a spaz, was caught off guard. My normal eager to please, bring-it-on-I-can-do-it attitude was gone. I was a lump. She would make a suggestion and I would swat it away as if it were completely unreasonable. See a friend? I’m sleeping fifteen hours a day and not doing laundry. As if I’m going to “see a friend.”
Soon after this shift she said, “I think you might have bipolar.” I took the inventories, talked to my family, consulted my psychiatrist. They all agreed with her.
Denial, anger, bargaining, grief, acceptance. Damn it. I have bipolar disorder, characterized by looooong bouts of high functioning hypomania and sudden deep depressions.
I’ve learned the hard way that mental illness is not something you fuck around with. So I got to work. For the last few months I’ve been trying different medications, dealing with side effects, and redefining my emotional baseline. I’m now finally balancing out on a low dose anti-seizure medication that for some reason works as a mood stabilizer. No one knows why.
Tomorrow I am going back to work, back to teaching super slow yoga at a drug and alcohol rehab, and I’m nervous. Really nervous. Yoga is different for me now. For the last six years I’ve gained a lot of my identity from yoga. The irony is not lost on me. The whole point of yoga is to strip away the outward identity, our enculturated masks.
But I thought in order to be faithful to the tradition I had to be it. I mean, it’s a lifestyle, right? I lived and breathed yoga. I judged my every thought and action in its framework. I judged other people by it too. I wasn’t practicing yoga, I was enmeshed in it. Lost in it.
Part of my current depressive cycle has been a rebellion against yoga, and it’s been interesting to watch. Yoga is not my life. No one thing is or ever could be. I’m a mom, a wife, a vegan, a writer, and a hundred other things as well as someone who does and teaches yoga. This was a hard lesson to learn. But my “devotion” to yoga falls into a pattern I’ve maintained for decades, a samskara if you like, of throwing myself into things headlong, whole heartedly, in order to hide within them.
A lot of good has come, and will continue to come, from my time obsessed with yoga. I have helped people feel better and learn coping skills. I wrote a book that I hope makes the story of yoga accessible to the average Jane and Joe. And I kept myself physically healthy and emotionally grounded during what could have been some serious manic benders and suicidal depressions.
None of that is erased. The only difference is that I no longer feel defined or confined by yoga, which is its goal!
But now I'm worried that when I get on the mat tomorrow, in front of needful souls in their various stages of crisis, that it will be different, that I may not be able to guide them as well without my manic obsession backing me up.
Even without it though, I do still believe in the practice. No matter how this weirdness that is modern postural yoga came into being and into my life, it works. It changes our brains for the better. I have to continue to trust that when the time comes all my inner drama--all the definitions and ideas I have about yoga and what it is and who I am in relation to it—all of that will fade away, along with everything else, and be replaced with the magic that comes from moving beyond conceptualization and into that quiet attention to body and breath. Into the act of yoga.