Today, in Canada, it is Bell Lets Talk Day, and I have joined forces with them to help raise awareness on mental health issues. Last year, I did a 4 post series on my own depression and my goals towards healing. This year, I will also write, yet I opened up the discussion to some marvelous, brave and courageous women who also have suffered with Mental Illness. Please tag along our journey and help us put an end to the stigma associated with these afflictions. When tweeting our posts please use hashtag #BellLetsTalk … thanks!
When I was 24 my world shattered more literally than if it were a snow globe I dropped on the floor. In the phone call telling me my grandfather had died, the strings forming the net of avoidance I had experienced as my everyday self were severed. I had never told anyone of the wretched things he did to me or the lies he told me, chief among them that I would die if I spoke the truth. That branch of our family is full of petty criminals, so it shouldn’t have taken a little girl to blow the whistle, but I wasn’t the only one not speaking my truth. What’s important is that his death somehow undid the magic of his words, though it would take several years for me to find mine.
In the process I learned about disassociation, flashbacks and hyper-arousal. While gathering the threads of my self I learned what it felt like to have a body I cared for, to experience the world fresh and how to soothe and calm myself. I learned how to live with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, PTSD. I’ve never really understood if you get cured from or recover from PTSD, or if you always have it, but my feeling is that it alters your chemistry and nervous system in ways that pre-dispose you to have disordered reactions to events other people may or may not see as benign. Because of this, I’ve chosen to take better care of myself than I naturally think I have a right to.
In graduate school, phase two after putting myself back together, my best friend loved to see movies and hated to go alone. But she knew my story – the outline at least – as well as my propensity to expose myself to “triggers” and she knew the harm that did me as well. So she would pick from all our choices and present me with the ones she thought would bring the most release and fun, knowing I’d go for the grit left to my own devices. She taught me a lot in this simple act of compassion. She taught me I didn’t have to live in that world and that I deserved to live in a world of simple pleasures; that escape needn’t mean dissociation, sometimes it meant living a different life from the same body for just a little while; and that my imagination wasn’t home only to ghosts and monsters, but was the land of meaning and connection and love.
Although I remember doing yoga with mother nearly before I could walk, I began to understand yoga when the psychotherapist who was helping me find the contours of my life gave me some simple yoga poses to do between visits. They were camel, child’s, gate and forward bend. Simple. My assignment was to breathe into the back of my body. I didn’t understand that assignment fully for nearly a decade. But just beginning to try to understand it was the basis for an entirely different connection to my body and thus to my entire world.
PTSD messes with time and space. You react to things that are long gone because the memory is stuck somehow. Even neurologists are debating about how this actually happens, but what I know is that memories are supposed to move through you, not own you, and when they do, it’s time to get help. You don’t react to things that are present – like pain- the way other people do, because you’re not connected to your body the way they are. I managed to run on a broken leg for long enough to do great damage because I could “bear the pain.” I know now that pain isn’t for bearing and noticing it isn’t weakness. I know what a privilege it is to live in body capable of so many and varied things and that when granted a privilege you show care. I know that when my sleep degrades, frightening dreams repeat or I overreact to simple stimuli, my body is telling me it needs more care.
Over and over again my yoga practice has provided the container for this care. Sometimes the sweaty exertion is exactly what I need to feel alive, others I show up to the mat to realize where I really need to be is in a bathtub of bubbles. Others I follow my intuition that Camel pose or Revolved Side Angle is what would serve me and they open the door to a new series or a feeling I’ve been skirting or an essay or a drawing.
Through practices refined over millennia to soothe the sympathetic nervous system and invoke the relaxation response, practices meant to provide connection and knowledge of the body in a practical, pre-verbal way, honed to give us access to felt-sense and integration, I’ve learned to create balance and safety in a way I realize was natural to my movie-loving friend. Perhaps not everyone needs such in-depth study to take care of themselves seriously, and to all of you I salute heartily. I did and still do and have taken this deep dive into practice as a gift. I don’t see this the “reason” the difficult things had to happen, or my “lesson.” I see the world differently than most everyone I know: it’s underbelly is all too close and apparent. Monsignor Blacet of our childhood church once said that God doesn’t give us experiences he doesn’t also give us the grace to live with. Yoga is my grace.
Christine Stump is founder of Bandlands Yoga. She teaches yoga and guides her clients towards health and wholeness. She is a supplier of inspiration and solid information about how to live life more fully, reduce stress and reveal our clearest selves through movement, breath and present moment awareness. Yoga, meditation, writing, recordings, webinars, retreats, Skype yoga + more! Christine Stump lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
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