I’ve made it no secret on here, on social media, or privately among friends, that I’ve struggled with depression most of my life. I was diagnosed with situational depression when I was 18, then re-diagnosed with bi-polar II and ADD only a few years ago. I’ve struggled with multiple suicide attempts. Two major ones were February 27, 2000, and this past New Years. I’ve struggled to find joy in things I once loved: pro-wrestling, comics, exercise, yoga, etc. I felt like a burden on everyone around me. I’d lost hope of a future for myself.
Feeling like an unaccomplished loser was my breaking point last New Years. Turning 40 this year didn’t help matters, either. Any time I made any headway in recovering, something pulled me back down. Even though I continued attending the yoga teacher training at Therapeutic Approach Yoga Studio (TAYS), I still couldn’t get my hopes up on anything. I hadn’t been doing my homework and as the final weekend loomed, I hadn’t done any practice teaching of my own. I dreaded teaching the final practical class. My friend and classmate Alesia helped me put together a great sequence. So that upcoming Friday still caused anxiety, but not quite as much.
However, something more interesting happened that same Friday, June 22, 2018.
Since moving to Halifax five years ago, I’d sometimes go for long rides on the BLT biking trail. Along the way, right beside the Bluff Wilderness Hiking Trail, I saw Cranberry Lake. Like many lakes, large rocks were scattered around it, including some rather flat-looking ones. And for years, I thought, “It would be so cool to hike over to one of those rocks, roll out my yoga mat, and practice yoga in the sun.”
But I never did…until that Friday, June 22. I don’t know what finally motivated me to do it, but I packed up my stuff, including a yoga mat, and biked out to Cranberry Lake. After finding a path through the woods, I explored the lake’s shoreline to find the rocks I’d spotted from a distance. I climbed up to the rocks and saw the view. It was…amazing. It felt so tranquil.
I rolled out my mat and did a 30-minute sequence, mostly taken from the sequence I’d put together with Alesia earlier that week. The sun felt so warm and the wind cool. It was tricky at first because the rock I’d chosen was a little uneven. And falling off meant a not-too-high-but-high-enough hazardous drop. So I took what I learned from TAYS and ground my feet for a stable foundation. From my vantage point, I saw the odd cyclist zoom by. Once in awhile, one would stop for a break and I think saw me out there, briefly watching me before leaving. I didn’t mind. I wasn’t doing this to show off and I enjoyed the practice far too much.
After I finished, I calmly rested in a cross-legged seated position. Even with the noise of passing cars on the nearby highway, it felt tranquil. So I decided to do something I’ve struggled with for years: I tried meditating.
At first, I struggled. With meditating, I could never keep my focus on anything. Meditation always frustrated me. I’d shift, fidget, and couldn’t stop my mind from wandering. We meditated often at TAYS. One of our first times, all my insecurities bubbled to the surface and I broke down crying. Cleo Burke, one of the TAYS teachers (and also a therapist), helped me through that breakdown with some breathing exercises.
I decided to try one meditative technique that TAYS – specifically Mike Munro – taught me: object focusing. Rather than keeping my eyes closed (like I’d always assumed you had to in meditating), I focused on something in front of me. In class, it was something in front of us, like a pencil. On the lake, though? I focused on the lake. I watched the direction of its flow, how the wind might create ripples. I heard the cars drive by. The birds singing. The wind blowing. And instead of focusing on them, I merely accepted they were there and went back to my breathing.
I felt like…I actually got it. I was meditating! I was totally meditating! Meditation City! Population: Nick!
But then, as often happens when I try meditating, negative thoughts seeped into my head. “Why didn’t you soon this sooner?” “You should’ve done this sooner.” “It took you this long to get out here? You idi…”
And then I stopped, frowned, and thought, “No. I’m here. I made it. I’m here now and that’s what matters. I’m here.” Part of me actually got mad at the negative thoughts, like I was telling them to piss off. It was the first time that I recall in my whole like that I was able to actively push away a negative thought. Normally, I could only rethink a negative thought in retrospect.
With that, my meditating actually felt deeper and calmer. When I finished, my head felt clearer than…well, I honestly can’t remember when I felt this good.
Later that afternoon, I started my last weekend at TAYS’ yoga teacher training. Saturday evening, after the whole class went to dinner one last time. My dread and worry grew because I’d have teach my class when we got back. But the class started well, where I talked about how this wasn’t an end, but a transition from students to teachers. Except…I couldn’t hide my nerves. I felt like I screwed up everything, especially speaking any secondary cues (“Lift the arms, pull the belly in”). My anxiety got so bad that I had to ask Mike (one of our instructors) that I had to stop. The girls were supportive, pushing me to finish, but I couldn’t. I broke down. Despite many kind words about the class – especially its structure and transitions – I couldn’t stop crying. Mike even said it was one of the more professional sequences he’s seen from a student. I shook my head and cried, “Nope. Too high. Too high a compliment” because I didn’t believe it.
Despite everything, despite my hardships and struggles, I received my certificate. Our final Sunday was filled with happiness and sadness, but it was a good final day.
But something extraordinary happened ever since that weekend:
I haven’t been depressed. Not once. I can’t even say I’ve been down. Still frustrated with things in my life, but depressed? Down in the dumps? Not even remotely.
In the past two months, things have changed for me. I started working at a call center, which means full time hours, benefits, stability. I started on the keto diet, which means cutting out heavy carbs and sugar. I’ve been getting up almost every day at 5:30 or 6:00 AM and going for runs and sometimes doing yoga, as well, if I have time. Since I started training at the new job on July 8 to today (August 8), I’ve lost at least 12 pounds.
I learned I take great joy in practicing yoga and meditating outside. I’ve returned to “my” rock several times, finding joy and tranquility every time. Twice, I got up before the sun rose, biked out “my” rock, and greeted the sunrise, doing literal Sun Salutations (a warm-up yoga sequence). I did yoga and meditated on a rock at Cleveland Beach. I even did yoga and meditation on the Halifax waterfront, which was good practice for blocking out all the noise around me.
I honestly don’t what did it that suddenly changed my brain chemistry to feel so positive. But I keep coming back to that epiphany on that rock: I am here. My positivity seems to track right back to that meditative practice on that rock. I can’t remember the last time I felt so good about myself. In fact, I don’t know if I’ve ever felt this stable and optimistic. At times, I feel like a completely different person, which is almost scary because I’m afraid of going back to where I’ve been before, mentally speaking.
I don’t feel like the same Nick that attempted suicide 8 months ago. Hell, I don’t feel like the same Nick I’ve been for the past 40 years.
Heh, it reminds me of Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing run. In one of the best moments, Swamp Thing states, “You…have never…encountered…me before,” regarding his own personal epiphany. That’s how I feel these days: I barely recognize myself, but in a positive way.
I like this new person I’ve become or becoming. I like New Nick. I don’t want Old Nick to return. He might. My depression has always been cyclical, but I intend on working damn hard to make sure Old Nick doesn’t return.
You can stay away, Old Nick. You know why?
Because I am here.