Today we're back with another installment of our monthly series of personal essays from members of the YBC Community. I personally love to create content, but I don't want YBC to be the Candace Show. I firmly believe that everyone knows something I don't, and therefore, we can always learn from others. My hope is that through these personal essays, we develop a deeper bond within the YBC Community, connect with one another, and learn from each other. Today's essay is from Lauren Baker of Balancing Imbalance, who writes about mental illness. This essay really hit home for me, as depression runs in my family, and I am so grateful to Lauren for sharing. If you or anyone you know if having suicidal thoughts, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Line. And, if you're interested in writing a personal essay for this series, fill this out.
Hello! My name is Lauren Baker, and I have been committed to yoga for a year and a half. I have two daughters, Lyra and Lux, and they greatest joy of my life. I have a master’s degree in literature, teach freshman composition at a community college, and I write a blog called Balancing Imbalance (and find me on instagram here). My blog is a space to talk about different techniques for mental illness management. My posts are stories of yoga, weird things that happen when you’re living with chemical imbalance, motherhood, and any techniques I use, or have tried, to manage major depressive disorder. Sharing my story has brought me so much joy, and I am committed to doing my part to end the stigma of mental illness.
In 2015 I suffered from the most difficult depression of my life. And that’s saying something; I’ve been medicated off and on for major depressive disorder since the age of fourteen- just over half of my life. Depression is bad enough on its own, but this bout was particularly awful because at the time I was also pregnant with my second daughter, Lux. The result was a chemically charged eight month hormonal breakdown. In other words: complete misery.
For eight months I had more feelings than I knew how to handle. I was excited for our new baby, but she was a BIG surprise so I my plans and goals (finally finishing graduate school- oh yeah, I was in grad school TOO btw) were completely shaken. I was excited but disrupted, and I felt bad for feeling disrupted. I was exhausted all the time. I was simultaneously raising a one year old, taking graduate level classes, teaching two classes of freshman composition (Oh yeah, I was teaching TOO btw), AND growing a baby. In retrospect, HELL YES I WAS TIRED! But I also felt guilty for being so tired. And I was so sad; so excruciatingly sad. My partner of ten years, bless his soul, didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t tell him what I needed because I honestly didn’t know. There was an ocean between us, and that made me mad. I was mad that I was sad, and sad that I was tired, and I wallowed in lonely despair for eight solid months.
Finally, one month before my due date, the last of my strength left me. On August 1st, 2015 my daughter caused a scene in public. I had taken her to a toddler gymnastics class hoping for a fun hour with her. Instead of fun, she had a classically bratty toddler meltdown. And what did I do? I had one with her. I jerked her into my arms, stormed out of the gym, went to our car and dropped her into her car seat, hard. One of the buckles hurt her little back and she looked at me with so much betrayal in her eyes, I actually felt my sanity snap. I managed to drive us home through tears, to my husband who was working from home. I wanted to die. I was sure that my family would be better if I was gone, and I absolutely could not imagine living with that pain another day. I wanted to erase myself from this world- but I couldn’t take my unborn daughter with me. So I drove myself to the emergency room, waddled into the check in desk, and told the woman that “I need to kill myself, but I don’t want to hurt my baby.” I will never forget the size of her eyes. She looked like she had just seen, well, a girl who wanted to kill herself but not her baby. I am willing to bet it was the first time she had heard that one.
What followed was a blur of hospital stays and monitoring, LOTS of therapy, a course of antidepressants, and most importantly- yoga. While each part of my treatment is crucial to managing my depression, the one that I feel I have truly learned from the most is my yoga practice. Therapy treats my mind and antidepressants treat my body; yoga treats them both.
I had been sporadically practicing yoga in 2014, the year before I became pregnant for the second time, but not seriously. I wanted to post cool Instagram pictures and flatten out my tummy. It was a shallow practice. But when I found my way back to my mat just after Lux’s birth, I committed to the spiritual and mental practice. Yes, I need and enjoy the physical practice- but the mental practice is what has changed my life.
Yoga teaches us to feel our feelings. Yoga teaches us to acknowledge discomfort, both physically and mentally, and then let it go. Can’t tuck your legs up in crow? That’s ok. Your dancer looks more like the reindeer than those beautiful Instagram yoga goddesses? Enjoy the stretch anyway. Your mind is making you feel inadequate? Feel it, then let it go. You’re feeling sad, even though you have many blessings? That’s ok. Feel it; move on. Yoga allows us, maybe even forces us, to stop denying what we feel. Experience that discomfort. Acknowledge that sadness. Feel that joy, guilt, exhaustion, vanity, grace, or peace. Feel it. Let it go.
Recently I took a candlelight yoga class. We were flowing and breathing and after a rough three-day duel with my depression, I was finally feeling something other than self-hate and embarrassment. (Oh yes, even after all the therapy, medication and yoga, I still have flare ups. But I am much more equipped to deal with them.) As I was flowing from Virabhadrasana to Baddha Virabhadrasana (Warrior I to Humbler Warrior) I lost my balance and tripped. I didn’t feel bad about it. I didn’t roll my eyes at myself or get frustrated. I giggled, and found my way back into the pose. Once I had settled into my humblest warrior, I felt nothing but love for myself and gratitude for my practice. Then I cried. I cried big, happy, peaceful tears. I went on with my practice, and the tears would flow and abate, just like my breath. I allowed myself to experience each feeling- each muscle contraction and release, each breath of joy and exhale of gratitude. This is the power of yoga. This is what our practice is meant for.
I am happy to say that, while I will always live with depression, most of the time I am thriving. After lots of trial and error I have a treatment plan that works for me, and my life is much more stable because of it. I relish my motherhood in a way I was not capable before. I try my best not to judge myself or others. I experience my life a bit more slowly, and have learned to savor even the most difficult moments. This is what yoga has done for me, and I am so grateful.
Thank you so much for reading. From my light to yours, namaste.