Forgive and…Remember

Several years ago when I was going through my yoga teacher training, there was a mantra we often chanted that made me cry like a baby every single time. It kind of became my early morning catharsis. The chant was "Guru guru wahe guru, Guru Ram Das Guru". It was sung in a beautiful, soulful, soft chant that got me every time. When I asked my teacher, "What the hell? Why am I such a crybaby?" He said it was a healing mantra, and that the Guru Ram Das was quite similar to Jesus in a way. Then he asked me what Jesus was all about and I sat there and looked at him blankly. I am quite the biblical scholar. "Forgiveness", he said. "No matter who they were, what they did, he forgave." He suggested maybe this resonated with me for some reason. Ok, I actually suspect he knew exactly what was happening, but I'm sure he felt like it was my job to figure it out. So I finished out my training and felt truly changed from the process. "Damn! I've really worked through all my shit! I am wise." I told myself. Fast forward six years. Once again I am crippled by anxiety, depression. Scared, and more than a little pissed off to find that, even with all my tools, I'm still susceptible to this monster. I find myself yet again in the therapist's chair, checking boxes. Anxiety Disorder - check. Depression - check. Changes in socialization - check. Mood volatility - check, and double check. I'm as blatantly honestly with the therapist as I can possibly be. I answer all his questions with as little editorializing and as much truthfulness as I can possibly manage. I want to help him help me. He suggests writing might be helpful for me. I agree, and in the interest of maintaining my truthfulness tell him that I do write, often, to help myself process things. He gives me actual writing assignments, ones that I will not be posting to share with the world. One of these assignments terrifies the shit out of me. I almost decide to tell him I can't do it. I'm not ready yet. But again, I really want this guy to help me. I want to help myself. And besides, it's been twenty fucking years. If I'm not ready yet, when will I ever be ready? So with shaking hands and pounding heart (notice a theme here?), I sit down to write. In a big old notebook reminiscent of the ones I used to use in high school to take the occasional school-related note, but probably mostly to send notes to school, with a plain old pen - I sat down and wrote a letter. Writing this letter brought up so much stuff. Fear, shame (oh, how I hate that emotion), regret...anger. The last two words I wrote in that letter? "Fuck you" What might it do to a person to harbor all that emotion for twenty years? To sort through three pages of stuff (front and back), and sum it all up with those two words? For your final conclusion to be a big, stiff middle finger? Perhaps I'm still holding on to a little bit of stuff. Maybe it's time to look at the possibility of forgiveness. I'm still not ready to forgive the subject of my letter. I might never be. But I wonder if it might be time to look at myself. I wonder if it's time to consider that I might be worthy of forgiveness. I'm really good at telling people stuff. How everybody makes mistakes. How we're all just learning. How we're all brand new at life, and how we're all just figuring things out as we go. How we are all worthy of forgiveness, and kindness to ourselves. And grace. We are all worthy of Grace. I can talk about this stuff until I'm completely blue in the face. And I believe it! I believe all this stuff is absolutely true! For everyone but me. I'm working on it.
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Help for a Hypocrite

I'm a yoga teacher. I specifically work with people struggling with eating disorders and the host of other issues that goes along with an eating disorder. I teach entire classes on using tools to manage stress and anxiety. I have a whole toolbox of techniques for calming the mind, activating the parasympathetic nervous system, calming anxiety. I give breathing techniques, espouse the benefits of the eye pillow, and talk about the therapeutic benefits of synchronizing bodily movements and breath. I love to tell people about how I've struggled with anxiety and depression most of my life, and no medication was ever as effective for me as yoga. I'm a walking, talking testimonial. As I write this, my hands are shaking so badly it's hard to hit the right keys. I find myself, at all times lately, a hair's breadth from either screaming or crying. I try and regulate my breathing and all I can hear is the sound of my breath stuttering over my rapidly pounding heart. I told my gynecologist this last week and she looked at me and said,"I can not help you. We know you don't have goof luck with medication. Anybody else I would tell to do yoga and meditate, eat whole foods. I don't have anything to tell you to do." Lest she seem cold and uncaring, she said all this with tears in her eyes as I sat in her exam room wearing my paper dress, crying. She also suggested I see a psychiatrist, a suggestion I plan to take her up on as soon as I can get an appointment with one. A dear friend mentioned that it would be hypocritical of me to work with people receiving treatment for mental health and not acquire treatment for myself when I need it. Yet, I still feel like a hypocrite. Why, suddenly, are my tools not working? How can I teach this stuff to other people when it's not working for me? How can I tell people to do yoga when I've managed to squeeze in one practice in the last two weeks? When my breath practices send me running to the bathroom to hide? I feel like I'm crumbling under this load. Running a large household, raising a big family - in addition to the chores (cooking, dishes, laundry, cleaning, errands) - carries a huge mental burden. Scheduling. Appointments. Extracurricular activities. Meal planning. Budgeting. Keeping promises to kids. Planning renovations - that we are doing one-hundred-percent ourselves. Worrying. Trying to be everything for everybody. It's like being pressed to death by an invisible board. Some days I just quit. I can't make another phone call today. I can't pretend to be ok to some stranger on the phone. I can't sit somewhere and listen to people make small talk while my board gets heavier and heavier, as more invisible rocks are piled on top. So I go hide in my room. I cry some more. Well this is crazy. Literally, as I typed the period on that last sentence, my phone rang. The psychiatry office I was told two days ago would take seven to ten days to verify my insurance and then call me back - was calling to say they had an opening at 10:30 tomorrow, could I make it? Of course, I burst into tears and was all, "Hell yes!". "Oh, and by the way," they said, "There's no copay with your insurance." So I hung up, cried some more, and am trying to figure out what to do with the little one while I go get myself some help. I'm still not sure how I feel about this, but when my dry, stoic husband looks at me and says, "Please do something. I don't care what, but this is not good," as I sit at the kitchen table crying for the ninety-fifth time for the day, I guess it's time to take action. Am I a huge hypocrite? Am I trying to give responsibility for my health away? Or am I taking responsibility by recognizing when I need more help, and getting it? I'm not giving up on my yoga. I still believe it works. I know it has changed my life, and me, for the better. But maybe I need a little boost to help it. I need a starting point right now. I still believe in the benevolence of the Universe. I'm taking that phone call as a direct indication that the Universe (Spirit, God, whatever you want to call it) is trying to help me help myself.  
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Empath in Distress

I cry all the time. I'm starting to come to terms with this constant state of waterworks, and pretty much cry whenever the urge hits me. But unless you live under a rock, you know - the news is bad. I've been watching the flooding of Houston very closely. I have family there, and my aunt who lost her home to flooding in May 2016 - in fact, only moved back into her beautiful rebuilt home about three months ago - has lost her home again. I want to say that I can't imagine how painful it must be to lose your home, not once, but twice - in less that eighteen months - but I can. I'm a very strong empath, and in addition to absorbing the emotions of those around me, I have a very easy time imagining their pain and heartache. This can cause me to turn away and disengage from the news, or, I'm ashamed to say, occasionally from loved ones who I know are in pain. After all, if you're sharing someone's pain to such an extent, your ability to help is limited. This is called Empathic Distress, when you empathize with others to the point that you are paralyzed by pain and sadness. Those of us who are prone to Empathic Distress have to be very careful about the kinds of media we consume. I used to think I was crazy because every time I watched a sad movie, I would cry for days. Every time I thought about whatever the sadness in the movie was, I would start up again. Now, I just don't watch sad movies. A while ago, there was an image circulating of a little refugee boy who had drowned, and his body washed up on a beach in Europe. This picture haunted me for weeks. Every time I closed my eyes, I saw this picture. I saw it in my dreams. Being so deeply affected by every little thing can be very emotionally draining, making it seem like the best thing to do is to just not engage. It can make you feel anxious (god, there's a lot of stuff that can make a person feel anxious). It can create feelings of depression and hopelessness. So what do we do? I know I'm not the only one out there who has these issues. Yogi and neuropsychologist Bo Forbes coined the term Empathic Distress, so we know there are probably lots of people out there who suffer so deeply with those who are suffering. My first instinct is to turn away, to disengage. It's self defense. I think, "It's too hard," and, "It's too sad, I can't do it." I think that's ok, to an extent. After all, I have to protect what mental health I do have. But no one can do this all the time. Turning away every time somebody is in pain kind of makes you an asshole. Also, your pain and distress is now compounded with guilt for not helping, not doing something when you could. I'm trying to learn to be better, and do better. I'm trying to act from the huge depth of compassion I feel for those who are in pain. First, I do limit the media I take in. I try to stay informed, but not damage myself. If I see an headline that is just too sad, that will be too hard to read, I scroll past. If I feel like I need to cry, I cry. And I do something. It might not be a big something, but it's something. Make the hard phone call. Donate a little. Even if it's not a lot, I have to believe every little bit helps. Focus on the good. I insist, belligerently almost, that people are good. I know that in our deepest hearts, we all want the same thing: food, a safe home, and to care for our loved ones, and be cared for by them. These beliefs I hold true, and refuse to believe otherwise. I know those who deviate from this are the anomaly. They are the wrong ones. My belief transcends all boundaries of race, religion, gender, political affiliation. I don't think for one minute that the helpers, the police and nurses and firemen and firewomen and regular samaritans - the people in Houston who rescued scores of stranded people and pets - asked these people about their political leanings before they helped them. They didn't care who they were. Because in those moments they were all the same. They were human.  
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