I don’t write because I want to be admired.
I write because I want to be real.
I remember a minister once telling a story about a lion pack. When the lions go out to hunt, they put the older lions on one side to scare the prey. While these lions can roar loudly, they are slow and old and have no teeth. Meanwhile, the young, quick lions lurked on the other side. So when the gazelle hears the roar, he runs away. And straight into the young strong lions…straight to his death. The idea is we must run toward the roar. Run toward what’s scary. Run toward what’s painful. It’s actually the running away that will kill you.
When I write, I can’t run away from the parts of myself I’d rather hide. And, I share what I write because I have a beautiful life. Oh. My. G-d. What a beautiful life! And people see my well composed photos and believe that I have no struggles. Social media is, for many, a highlight reel.
But, if you were to ask me how I’ve been – let’s pretend, for a moment, if we don’t officially know each other in the flesh, that we’re friends – I’d tell you this story. This story, which I’ve written on folded napkins and in iphone notes and within the pages of beautiful journals and snotty rants, is real.
The words of a former boss come to mind, “Once the toothpaste is out of the tube, it’s hard to put it back in.” This was his counsel regarding my writing. I appreciated it at the time. It’s wise. But, honestly, I’ve never regretted sharing anything I’ve written, unless it was unkind or hurtful. Not all truths need to be told is the point. But, for whatever reason, I can’t hold this one inside any more.
I can remember the moment that Depression first visited me. I was eight years old. I spent a week in the hospital at Christmas. I had some obscure stomach ailment that I now know to be the wreckage that’s left behind in the wake of debilitating anxiety. And, I can recall around the age of 10 wanting to kill myself for no particular reason. I would try a couple times over the next 20 years. Subtly and overtly, slowly and quickly, subconsciously and deliberately. I don’t seek to hurt my family in the way that I have. But, what’s more, I don’t seek to hurt my soul who’s vowed to live.
A couple times a year ever since then, I’ve pulled myself out of the cave of Depression. With the help of God, exercise and meditation, yoga, acupuncture and massage, reiki and sound therapy, somatic therapy, talk therapy, shadow work, recovery groups, essential oils, salt baths, sage seances, visualization, creativity, foxhole prayers and more. This is exhausting just to type…imagine trying all this when you’re depressed. It’s worked, sorta, because – obviously – I’m still here. But I’ve been encouraged my close friends to consider there might be an easier way.
In the cave, it’s cool below and the walls feel safe to the touch, but when I look up or out, I’m filled with undeniable fear and dread. The people closest to me hang back, one at a time – so as not to scare me – and hold my hand and remind me that there’s this big beautiful world out there, a sky so vast it could move me to sing and dance. You are the sky; this is the weather. And in Texas just wait an hour and it’ll change. “I’m ok,” I tell them, “Don’t mind me…I’m gonna lay here on my cool concrete floor curled up in a ball until I have to go to work again.” And then sometimes it’s so bad, I can’t work.
How do you create art when you’re only half alive, when all the energy you can muster goes to getting out of bed? When depressed I can only rarely call forth the energy to move my body on my mat. This last time, I wanted to be relieved of teaching group classes because I’d find myself sobbing five minutes before the students came in. Somehow I’d pull myself together – “That was my favorite class…ever…I think” one student said.
I’m not sure how I remain so high functioning when I feel half dead. Pride, I guess.
Teaching yoga continues to heal me. There’s something about setting my own baggage aside for 75 minutes and dropping into breath and other people’s energy.
But, it got to where I couldn’t eat.
I couldn’t sleep except for every third night or so.
Panic followed me on the vacation I didn’t even want to take. Depression still had me shackled, the death grip so tight I didn’t even want to visit my happy place, where my heart lives. The sight of the California horizon did nothing to quell the compulsion. The sound of the waves did not soften the mania within. The fresh food, I didn’t care to taste. Depression and Anorexia danced hand in hand. Alcoholism could no longer cut in. Except I knew that if I went on like that much longer, I’d drink again. To drink, for me, is to die a quick soul death.
On some level, I knew I was sick and that I needed to eat more. I tried for a couple weeks, and I couldn’t. I can’t explain exactly how I couldn’t eat…I just physically could not bring myself to eat. This TED talk makes a bunch of sense to me. And, while some of the people closest to me were looking at me – to borrow Glennon Melton’s words – like, “You’re jacked up again, Amber,” I also receive a great deal of validation, because I am thin.
There was no reasoning with Anorexia.
There was no reasoning with Depression.
They each held guns to my head. If one laid her weapon down, the other picked it up. I cracked. Wide open. Again. Shattered in pieces. It was the hardest, most humbling experience I’ve had in a while. Maybe ever? And I’ve been through my fair share of life…I guess – so people tell me – when they call as I’m going to bed: “I’m calling you because I know how strong you are.” I want to laugh because I don’t think I’m so strong, just strong willed is all. Sure, I am no stranger to hard spiritual work and deep muddy waters.
I’m not on the other side of this yet.
I’m not sure there is another side to this.
Each time I’ve cracked wide open, God’s pieced me back together again.
But, I couldn’t bear the thought of breaking out of the cave again. All of the action and self care it takes for me to want to live – to live a life I’ve worked so hard to create through grit and Grace with wonderful people I’ve opened myself up to loving and trusting – I didn’t have it in me. I’ve had dark times when I’ve known the panic stemmed from needing my circumstances to change. But this time, there was no “reason.”
“You need life to pause for a while,” my therapist said and I could not meet her eyes which were filled with concern. I could not imagine putting life on pause. I could not stop crying.
I had to get help. And I did.
I will forever remember the moment I first discovered stretch marks and cellulite on my body at a prepubescent age. I will forever remember the moment a boy first made comments about my body. I will forever remember the moment I decided life would be better if I got smaller. And, I will forever remember the moment I went to buy jeans at my favorite local store and asked if they had any smaller than 24″. I will forever remember, at once, feeling utterly ashamed and as if I had finally arrived.
The woman in the dressing room kept going on about how I was so cute and not fat like her. I didn’t have any rolls so I didn’t have any problems. But she and I, we still bonded over our body misery. It’s a female thing.
And, I will forever remember the moment I called a dietician and in the longest run-on sentence of my life said, “I got your number from (insert friend’s name) and I struggled with bulimia in high school and I thought I was over that and I’m not throwing up any more but I’m not really eating and I want to eat butIcan’tandIdon’tknowhowandIneedhelpIthinkormaybenotbutcanyouhelpme.” How hard it was to get those words out.
And she said, “Take a breath.” And I knew we were a good match.
For years I’ve subsisted on 1200 calories each day because I must’ve internalized that number from a “health” magazine or something. The number was so much a part of me I was previously unaware that there might be another way to eat. “That might be enough if you were laid out on the floor comatose,” she told me.
Since that day, I’ve committed to myself that I will not skip meals.I am not counting calories, but I’m eating mechanically every 3 hours, 5-6 times per day. Even when I’m not hungry – which is never… because I’ve overridden my body’s signals for hungry for as long as I can remember. My body says, “Why should I tell her I’m hungry if she’s not gonna listen?” It’s a waste of my body’s energy. And if food is indicative of energy, my body has been at a deficit for years. The day that I feel hungry again will be a huge victory. I will likely get down on my knees and cry tears of joy and relief.
And, my body is changing. “You look healthy,” people are starting to say. The very same people who were saying, “You need to eat a cheeseburger,” and “Are you sure you’re ok?” I know this is a healthier way of living. I’m in far less pain. At one of the weddings I shot this summer, my toes kept curling up at the reception – from gross dehydration and malnourishment, I assume. The dull aches in my joints have ceased and desisted.
Suddenly, there was a day several weeks ago when I felt on top of the world. Do you have those days when all the lights on your path are green, the sun is shining, and the radio’s playing your favorite songs…you’ve got a little money in your pocket? and, beyond a shadow of a doubt, you know you’re living in alignment with your soul’s purpose. I taught yoga all day and enjoyed my students’ company. They were sweet and funny and I remembered, “This is why I am here.”
We learn through contrast. And, maybe the feeling was so potent because joy had eluded me for so long – the better half of the year, I’d been lost in a cave of Depression.
On that glorious day when I felt on top of the world, I taught Jon, who was born at 27 weeks. A brain bleed and a spinal injury have rendered him unable to sit or stand. We do adaptive yoga, and I incorporate sound therapy and breathing. And mostly, I communicate with his soul. It’s rewarding work to see his progress – how relaxed his muscles can become, how improved his control of his extremities is. And when I see him, he leaves me better than I came. I feel so grateful for my able, resilient body. I am more in touch with what truly matters. His mom is one of the most beautiful people I’ve ever met, and she gave me permission to share this pic because she believes his is a story that needs to be told – about defying what’s possible. He’s one of the strongest people I know.
So, after a long heartwarming day, I got home and I got undressed to shower for an evening appointment. And as I was walking to the tub, I got a glimpse of my body in the mirror.
That day when I saw myself in the mirror, I felt horrified. I got in the shower and held onto my hips as if it was for dear life. It kinda sounds like I’m kidding…only I’m not. I wanted to hold them with the same amount of reverence that I hold Jon’s gnarled hands – his hands which are tangled from Cerebral Palsy and calloused because he loves to paint. I wanted to have as much gratitude for my body as I’d had just hours ago before I’d seen myself real naked. I wanted to believe my own words – that what’s on the inside is more important than what’s on the outside, that who I am and what I do matters…matters more than how I look.
But, my identity has been wrapped around being the smallest woman in the dressing room for as long as I can remember.
It took me about 3 hours and a couple phone confessions with trusted friends, who are further along the path than I am, to come down from that experience.
“I want to be less preoccupied by my body,” I explained. The size of my ass should not wield so much power over me that a look in the mirror can ruin an otherwise amazing day.
I want to look across the most beautiful landscape I’ve ever seen without a second thought about how my thighs might look. I want to look in the mirror and see my soul before I see my body. How can I care for my body in such a way that it functions optimally as a viable home for my old soul? This is the question I want to google…not, 8 moves to eliminate cellulite. Don’t check my Pinterest boards. I’m so confused. I’m not really confused. I see it clearly. I’m awakening. As Pema Chodron would say, I’ve been thrown from the nest – yet again.
I’ve devoted a bunch of my life to ensuring that my abs show through and my cellulite doesn’t.
I’ve selected a career in yoga where, for better or worse, physical fitness is often at the forefront – or at least, it feels that way to me.
I’ve adopted blindly the personal food rules of others as universal truths.
I’ve looked at the people around me to validate my body preoccupation and obsession.
And, now I’m choosing to live a different way.
It’s that simple.
And that hard.
But, I can do hard things, with help.
How do we change?
With intention and mindfulness, with practice and the support of experienced people and strong things – this sounds like yoga to me.
I’m dedicating time daily to my own yoga practice. May my body and mind may work together optimally, providing me with enough fortitude to carry my soul through this life for what I hope is many years to come.
I’m fairly certain when I die, no one will make mention of my glutes or inner thighs. No announcement will be made with regard to my stretchy pant size.Please don’t do a cleanse in my honor unless it involves cleansing from self-deprecating thoughts, self-limiting beliefs, or abusive actions. I hope you will celebrate the many ways I’ve been of service to my family and friends, community and world. I hope you’ll greet each other with Peace Be With You or Sat Nam or Namaste. I hope you will share a meal together and eat non-gluten free bread (unless you have Celiac Disease like <1% of the population). I hope this day will be a long way away.
May we run toward the roar together.
May we embrace what’s real.