Posts Tagged ‘depression’

Over recent weeks, I’ve had the pleasure of visiting with several different friends from out of town, all friends who came from different cities and from previous lives of mine. Not only was it wonderful to catch up with these old friends and reminisce about times gone by, but it was a compelling opportunity to look back on my journey, to see all of the dots that have connected, and to reflect on all of the wonderful souls who have touched and shaped my path along this winding road of life.

Boston, MA

The first of these friends, Simone, was visiting from my home city of Boston. We began working together when I was a mere 23 years old, fairly fresh out of college and wet behind the ears. Looking back on that young age, now 14 years later, it is hard to even recognize the person that I once was. I was just barely beginning my journey into adulthood and I had so much to learn, and so many tough lessons that were still ahead of me. In my wildest imagination (or nightmares!), I could not have conceived of what was yet to come. I was, however, fortunate enough to land the job of a lifetime. For several years we organized student tours abroad and got to reap the benefit of traveling to exciting, foreign lands. This was a professional life filled with wonderful friends, laughter, hilarious travel stories and adventures and simply joyful and rewarding times. These were the days of our lives.

Fast forward five years and I would find myself a new resident of the nation’s capital, Washington, DC, and a newly enrolled graduate student. Having left behind a broken heart and dark clouds in Boston, I was starting over in a new life, preparing to embark on a career of international diplomacy and peace-keeping. However, a semester of confusion, dissatisfaction and feeling like a fish out of water, would eventually lead to my leaving graduate school and landing serendipitously in a job working for an International Human Rights organization. This is where I would meet Lauren, the second visitor to San Francisco in recent weeks.

Washington, DC

Lauren and I would become part of what I coined the “The Sex and the City” foursome of ladies who would get together regularly for dinner and girl talk. These friends were the rocks that kept me grounded during my four years in Washington. Lauren would witness me evolve into my first management role in the .com world, she would see me grapple with the stresses of a high-pressure, long-hour career, and she would see me struggle through a confusing yet painfully beautiful long-distance “relationship,” a relationship which would eventually leave me completely shattered, turned inside out and gasping for air. About to embark on what would turn out to be my “dark night of the soul,” Lauren would be part of the good group of friends that would send me off on my forever-destined journey to the west coast, leaving behind my east coast life and friends, leaving behind a part of myself.

The journey west would take me to Los Angeles, a city that would unwittingly become home to the deepest depression, the most gripping pain and the most intense struggle of my life. But simultaneously, and somewhat ironically, it would become the most bewitching and magical place I have ever lived, deeply connecting with the fibers of my spirit. Filling me up with her bittersweet nectar, Los Angeles would eventually become the gateway to a profound spiritual awakening, a complete transformation and a brand new Jeannie, alchemized by the fire of life.

Magical Los Angeles

Enter Garrett. A childhood friend of the family, Garrett had known me since I was a young girl and he had seen me grow into a woman. He had known me through various lives and several different versions of myself. Upon my arrival in Los Angeles, he was one of the only people I knew and was often the only shoulder to cry on during a very dark time. Garrett was witness to the darkest years of my life, the most profound turmoil through which I have walked, and for this I am grateful.

I am grateful because today when I met Garrett and his girlfriend for coffee in downtown San Francisco, while they were visiting from Los Angeles, I was able to shine brightly and tell Garrett how happy I am, how much joy, wonder and magic I experience on a daily basis. Had Garrett not been there to witness my lowest point, I’m not sure anyone would truly know how extraordinary and powerful my transformation has been, and how grateful I am for all of the trials and tribulations that have led me to this place.

As I look back on these friends, and the many others who have laughed with me, cried with me, fought with me and walked alongside me, I am deeply touched by the indelible marks that each one has left on my soul. It is often said that we should not look back to the past, but I profoundly disagree. There is so much grace and beauty in putting the pieces together and making sense of how the journey unfolded. Some of the most important lessons, and even revelations, of our lives come from time reflecting back on our previous journeys. It is all a beautiful, and necessary, part of our evolution.

It is true that however we might plan and plot, in large part we have no idea where are journeys will take us next, or where each path will lead; but what I am sure of is that there will be beautiful souls along the way, souls who will come into our lives to help us along our journey. There will be souls who help us, souls who hurt us, and there will be souls who crack us wide open, but each one of these souls has a purpose and a powerful lesson to teach us. And as we walk along our path, however much it twists and turns, and however dark, scary and painful it may become at times… we should embrace the journey.

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We live in a society where we are constantly barraged with advertising, whether on the television, the internet, billboards, the sides of buses, movie theaters, airplane dinner trays, you name it. These days it seems that if there is a blank space anywhere, corporations will find a way to place an ad on it! Not only has the number of advertising channels increased ten-fold in recent decades, so too have the types of things being advertised.

One such item is the advertising of pharmaceutical drugs. This still boggles my mind. I’m sure that many of you will remember a time when you would never have seen a pharmaceutical ad on the television, when instead it would have been up to a medical professional (rather than a team of advertising executives!) to recommend a particular drug to you. But now, on a daily basis, we are inundated with suggestions that with the help of a “magic” little pill we can cure all of our ailments, whatever they may be: diabetes, heart disease, high cholesterol, arthritis, and of course the most awkward, and somewhat comical to watch, erectile dysfunction. You name it, there is a cure for it… at least according to the billion dollar pharmaceutical industry. Now, I could write a separate thesis about the problems with that in itself, but I’m not going to go down that road today. Instead I’m going to focus on one particular drug category, one of the most profitable, and one that I can talk about with first-hand knowledge:  depression.

Lately a couple of different friends have told me about hard times, periods of depression that they are living through. As I listen to these friends talk about the darkness around them, how nothing is going right, and how they feel so unhappy and that things will never improve, I am reminded of all of the television ads for pharmaceutical drugs that claim to treat depression. And I am reminded of how upset it makes me, upset because so many people are deceived into thinking that it is the only way, the best way… and in the process are overlooking other, more natural ways that can be just as, and often times more effective, for the treatment of depression. One such way is through the practice of yoga. When I hear a friend talking about their own depression, all I can think to myself is “how can I convince this person to do yoga?” Of course nobody likes to have something pressed on them, including me, but when you’ve discovered something yourself that you know works so well, you of course want to share that discovery with others.

You see, like my friends, I too have lived through dark periods of depression, when my life felt like the bottom had dropped out from under me, when it felt like things would never get better, when I would drown in my own sorrow. And like many people, I have tried various different ways to cope with such periods. The first true depression that I lived through was in my late 20s, when I experienced my first devastating broken heart. I had never loved anyone as passionately as I had loved this guy and we had fought hard to make our relationship work. So when he finally gave up and walked away, I was beside myself. I could not eat for months on end, and as much as it worked, I’m sure you’ll all agree that this is not a good manner of weight loss!

I went to a therapist wanting desperately to be given anything that would numb the pain. After evaluating me, he determined that there was nothing clinically or chemically wrong with me, but rather that I was living through a situational depression, the type of depression that most of us will experience at one time or another in our lives. He determined that such an experience did not call for anti-depressants and that I simply needed to work through it with time, and therapy. Well, I was stubborn and impatient, and the pain was unbearable (and therapy had never worked for me). I needed to stop the pain and I was desperate for a quick fix. I went to my regular primary care doctor and I convinced her to prescribe anti-depressants to me.

The anti-depressants worked… at least in the sense that they completely numbed the pain. I was suddenly able to cope again, I didn’t feel the unbearable anguish that I had felt before then. Instead, I didn’t really feel much of anything, I felt numbness. While I went about my day to day routine, and my life seemed fine on the surface, I was basically stumbling through my life, in an emotional vacuum.

Many months later, when my doctor and I felt that I was better equipped to handle the grief on my own, she began to wean me off of the anti-depressants. However, what happened next, I did not expect. Forget about the awful physical side effects that came from the withdrawal period; that in itself was bad enough. But what was even worse than that, was that the grief, the pain that I had felt prior to the medication, came instantly rushing back… like a tsunami. It was as if the painful event had just happened and I suddenly had to live through the pain and anguish all over again. And I realized that the little “miracle pills” had been no such thing. I realized that all they had done was numb the pain, but they never allowed me to DEAL with the pain. This was a monumental realization for me…

Several years later I found myself in an even more profound heartbreak than the previous one. While I thought I could never again experience anything as dark as that first heartbreak, I learned immediately that that heartbreak had been a walk in the park compared to this one. I was about to enter my first (and hopefully only!) “dark night of the soul.”

Having previously experienced for myself that the anti-depressants (and I had tried various different types, not just one.) were nothing but a crutch and did nothing to resolve the deeper, inner emotional turmoil, I knew that I could not again walk down that path. I knew this time that I had to walk THROUGH the pain, that I had to experience it, live it, breathe it, no matter how difficult… for I knew that that would be the only way to truly process it and overcome it. I knew that the only way out was through. So how would I cope with the day to day pain, the anguish that prevented me from getting out of bed in the morning, the tears that were never-ending, the feeling that my life was useless? One word: Yoga.

Now, there are dozens of scientific studies that I could quote from various medical journals and leading research hospitals, that show the scientific evidence that yoga can in fact successfully treat depression. And I encourage you to google and find them for yourself. But as I am not a scientist and have no interest in boring you, I’d rather share with you my own personal experience.

I had stumbled upon an Anusara yoga studio down the street from my apartment and I started going regularly. As I went through the motions of the poses on my mat, I had to fight back the tears. But thankfully the yoga forced me to focus on what I was doing right then and there. If I was standing upside down in a handstand, I had no choice but to focus on that moment, and nothing else. I could not be focusing on the million emotions and reasons that I had to be sad. So I continued to focus and I continued to breathe. And through the yogic breathwork and the physical asana, I began to notice that the energy inside me was shifting, that the deeper, darker emotions were slowly but surely beginning to work themselves through, up and out of me.

Now I am by no means saying that yoga is a quick-fix for depression. Nothing is (and anyone that tells you differently is lying to you!). It is a commitment and something that takes time. But what I do know for sure, is that if one commits themselves to a regular yoga practice, they too will begin to feel something shift inside them; they will begin to feel lighter, more at peace. The dark feelings that once dominated their days will begin to take up less and less space and time. And little by little they will find themselves feeling better and better, until one day they will find that those dark feelings are “magically” gone, that they have worked themselves up and out.

So I say that if you are human like me and experience a period of depression in your life, don’t be fooled by the television ads. Don’t let the pharmaceutical companies convince you that their chemical drugs are the only solution, or even the best solution. Instead, I encourage you to try a drug of a different kind: the yoga drug. You may just be surprised by what you find.

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