This I Believe (with apologies to my yogi)
Last night at yoga, my teacher asked the class to assist one another in triangle pose. We were to stabilize our partner’s hip, help him ground himself, and encourage a deeper, more expansive upper body twist by pulling his shoulder back. I assisted my yoga partner first, then we swapped roles. His right thigh stabilizing my right hip, his left hand putting gentle pressure on my left shoulder, my right hand in front of my right foot and my head and closed eyes turned upward, I felt still and spiritual and open…until I crashed with an attention-garnering “thud.”
My yoga partner apologized; He thought my fall was his fault. I reassured him that it wasn’t, and that it was barely a fall. But during the meditation that ends our class, with apologies to my yoga teacher, my mind couldn’t let go of this thought: I believe in falling on my ass.
Five years ago I experienced my first depression. Following the breakup of a relationship for which I’d moved cities I felt lonely, self-doubting, and generally inconsolable. Even my voice changed, from my signature sing-song to the flat tone of defeat. The remedy that I chose – a pharmacological one – made me feel worse, not better. Sure, I felt less malaised. But I actually felt less *everything*. In numbing the pain, I numbed the pleasure. And that was a sacrifice I was not willing to make. Within a few months my optimism returned, and lasted.
Last year’s holiday season found me crying on the kitchen floor again. Again, I was alone and feeling lonely. Again, my future felt unsure and beyond my control. Again, I tried to disguise the apathy in my voice on those few occasions that I actually answered the phone. And again, my fog eventually lifted with time’s circumstantial shifts: work week patterns resumed, my social life picked up again, the sun beckoned my dog and me back to our favorite walking trail.
I am lucky that my episodes of depression have been so occasional, temporary, and permeable that I can choose to wait them out – they’re not a chronic illness that needs maintenance. And although I don’t always remember this when I’m in them, I attribute to those dark periods my appreciation for – my humility to – the joy and optimism that characterizes the bulk of my life.
Ginger Rogers reminds Fred Astaire, in one of my family’s favorite classic movies, to “pick (himself) up, dust (himself) off, and start all over again.” To me, her pert doctrine masks a subtext that now gets me through my life and my yoga class: to really appreciate success, I have to know failure. To revel in ecstasy, I have to taste despair. To touch the sky – in triangle pose or otherwise – I have to be willing to fall on my ass.
It is in savoring life’s highs through the context of its lows, in having faith that the lows will eventually end, and in seeking the balance between, that I believe.
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