This weekend, I watched Patton Oswalt's new comedy special and in it was my new favorite quote/mantra: "It's chaos, be kind." He attributes this to his late wife, Michelle McNamara, when discussing how unfair and random life seems at times. A statement that I feel could not resonate more for me than it does. When I was school at Washington and Lee University for my undergraduate degree, I was diagnosed with a relatively mild case of Bipolar Disorder. Because I am involved in the yoga community and have had many years of therapy, not many people may know that about me anymore. I feel like it is funny sometimes that some people seem to place yoga instructors on a pedestal instead of realizing that, like a friend of mine and I say, we need this even more than you do! That is why our lives are built around it! ha
The truth is, I also realize how much stigma mood-related disorders carry. I worry sometimes: "Who is going to want a bipolar yoga instructor?" In reality, however, my community has been incredibly welcoming and supportive, no matter the circumstances of my personal life. And the diagnosis has never really held me back. If fact, sometimes it feels like more of a blessing than a curse. Feeling the entire spectrum of emotion, feeling incredibly alive is a beautiful thing. Having to learn your limits and control the natural or sometimes extreme fluctuations of the human responses to life is also a wonderful way to start to understand yourself and the world around you better. And there is plenty already written about the creativity that comes along with a life full of these sorts of challenges....
Another friend of mine and I have noticed that the things you deal with in your own life seem to come up in your students' lives, as well. And I have found that to be true. I work with college students, exhausted mothers, in a recovery center with people with HIV/AIDS and have experience working with people struggling from eating disorders and it seems like so many of them are dealing with anxiety, depression, or just generalized panic issues, etc. We place so much pressure on ourselves to "succeed," to accomplish something great, to be perfect or to have it all together. We fool ourselves into believeing these stories about how stress helps to motivate us, how everyone else is doing better than us, that when we fail, it reflects upon us as an individual, as a failure... and then we wonder why we are stressed, exhausted, uninspired, or feel broken and defeated.
I understand well the taboos and fears around mental health, and also the lack of empathy people tend to have when their only experience with "crazy" is on the street or in a bad experience with a stranger. It is shocking to me at times though that in a day in age when we have SO much information about mental heath and the consequences of ignoring it, and the ways in which to treat conditions and help people struggling, that we are not becoming more open with our own struggles. I don't think it helps anyone or anything to hide the truth. In fact, I genuinely believe the quote from Martin Luther King, Jr. that I read to my clients around this time of year: "Power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love."
All this to say, I was in a Facebook group for yoga instructors, and I read a entry about how scared someone was, or uncomfortable with the fact that they were struggling with their mental health as a yoga instructor and I thought: "I get that, but if WE, the people who are entrusted to help others with their bodies, minds, spirits, are not talking about our own struggles, imperfections, and real life problems, how can we ask our students to confront them with us in class, or on or off their mats?" I am not advocating necessarily for everyone to be as open as I am with their private lives. I think that is an incredibly personal decision. BUT, that being said, I was happily surprised to see so many other teachers reaching out to the person who posted and relating in whatever ways they were able to.
I think we are, as a society, learning how powerful our stories can be with the #MeToo movement, and with politics and current events in our world, and I thought I would share a little of mine. I want you to know that I am not perfect, and I do not expect that of you, my students. I always want you to feel comfortable to be real with me both as students and as friends.
That is my confession for you today.