I am staying at a friend’s house while she’s away. It is a beautiful, spacious place. It is quiet. I love it here. But after I drop off another friend who can’t keep me company all day, I am indescribably miserable.
It hits me the moment he’s out of the car and I wail all the way back to the house where I flee to the master bedroom. I feel attacked all at once by a thousand different fears: fears about money and failure, the seeming endlessness of my personal crises, about my health and my divorce and my abuser. Most of all, I feel imprisoned in my suffering, which I can’t imagine the end of. My anxiety having reached fever pitch, I think that I’d rather die than be in this much pain. Now I’m wailing, frightened, and suicidal. I climb back into the bed, curl myself into a ball, and cover up with my weighted blanket. I calm down just enough to hold on. In profound agony, I remember my workshop is in a few hours. People are relying on me. I push back simply every time it registers that I want to die: no. I notice the wetness of my tears against my face, turn the pillow over, blow my nose a few times and throw the tissues at the floor, and then I pull the weighted blanket over my head and just lay there until it passes. Cookie the cat climbs up next to me. I scratch her furry head and sigh.
When I’m calmer, I’m also completely exhausted. I amble around Elizabeth’s house, stopping periodically to cry some more. I go to the bathroom and cry. I lay in her hammock and cry. I sit on the stairs by the door and cry. I’m frustrated that I’m alone and I don’t trust that anybody can tolerate my pain; I can barely tolerate it. I have to get it together because I have to teach. I find my iPad and settle in the hammock, scrolling through Facebook. Anthony Bourdain has died–he killed himself. Kate Spade did the same thing earlier in the week. People are talking about it. I’m jealous of them, because they don’t feel this way anymore. I look at the time and realize I’m going to be late.
I drive to the studio as fast as I believe I can get away with, frantic with new additional worry that I’m going to let people down. When I get there, two of my students are waiting. They chatter away; they’re fine. I calm down, centering myself as I set up the room. It’s day one of Yoga For Trauma Recovery. I tell them who I am and why I’m here, then ask if they’d like to share their names and their reasons for coming. I manage the expectation of some awkward silence while they decide if and when they would like to speak. These people are intelligent and interesting; I’m honored to work with them, I like them all. I read a passage from Judith Herman’s book, Trauma and Recovery:
“The core experiences of psychological trauma are dis-empowerment and disconnection from others. Recovery, therefore, is based upon the empowerment of the survivor and the creation of new connections. Recovery can take place only within the context of relationships; it cannot occur in isolation. In her renewed connections with other people, the survivor re-creates the psychological faculties that were damaged or deformed by the traumatic experience. These faculties include the basic capacities for trust, autonomy, initiative, competence, identity and intimacy. Just as these capabilities are originally formed in relationships with other people, they must be reformed in such relationships.”
As I read, I begin to cry again. I’m sitting in front of my workshop group, nearly all of whom are completely new to me. I feel extremely vulnerable, but I continue to breathe and speak, though my voice shakes. When I finish the passage I tell them what it means to me, and several of them talk about what it means to them.
After the workshop, I pick up my friend and we go to a little boy’s first birthday party. It’s crowded and noisy, but I keep my back pressed against a standing cooler of beer and talk to people. I startle at dogs barking and scan behind my friends’ heads when people enter and leave, but I stay and enjoy myself as best I can. I hug my friends. I hold the birthday boy. I eat chocolate cake.
At the end of the day, I’m tired–but I’m alive. This is one of those days when living takes everything I’ve got, where my existence feels precarious. I don’t like that my mental illness leaks out at the seams and everybody sees it. That evening I scroll through Facebook and note the shock and confusion over the two suicides. I know that other people struggle with shame and stigma more than I do, so I take a deep breath and compose a status update. I tell everyone about my struggle and hope that through each small act of courage I can push that shame back until maybe one day it isn’t there; I will not hide.