An Open Letter From Your Yoga Teacher With Depression

Dear Student, 

It’s me. Your yoga teacher with depression. How are you? I’m anywhere between 20 and 60 years old, I am whatever gender I’ve told you I am, and I’m reaching out to you about something you may or may not know about. Picture me, your local yoga teacher, at whatever coffee shop you know I like, wearing whatever clothes I wear when I teach your class because, let’s face it, I really don’t wear much of anything else. Depression likes that- you can be a little disheveled and lot comfortable because why not? You’re a yoooooga teacher, a “free spirit, untethered by the normal expectations of society, especially society’s wardrobe.” But I’m getting ahead of myself. 

We met at a yoga studio/gym/community facility. You come to my class occasionally and we know each other.  Maybe you’re the type to stay and chat after class, maybe the most we’ve ever spoken is the “hello” and your name when you check in to practice. Still- this letter is for you. Because there are some things you need to know about me, depression, and how this may affect you. But hopefully not. But probably. Just know I’m trying.

So let’s start with the purpose of this whole thing: I have depression. And it affects my life. All of it. It’s not like I can put it on and take it off like a new pair of leggings. No, think of it more like the sweat smell you can’t seem to get out of your yoga mat no matter how much you wash it. First you try every spray and essential oil there is to clean it, cover it with a towel, soak it,  then you just accept it. Santosha, am I right?

Yes, in this analogy I am the sweaty used yoga mat. 

I’m going to assume you have some familiarity with depression: maybe you have it, have a friend or family member who is afflicted, or perhaps you have just seen one too many commercials of a woman with long hair looking wistfully out a window in pale, morose colors. Everyone experiences depression differently, and I am no exception, dear student. And I want you to know how it might be getting in the way of YOUR bliss. Not just mine. 

Major depressive disorder affects approximately 14.8 million American adults, or about 6.7 percent of the U.S. population age 18 and older, in a given year. (Archives of General Psychiatry, 2005 Jun; 62(6): 617-27)

Major depressive disorder affects approximately 14.8 million American adults, or about 6.7 percent of the U.S. population age 18 and older, in a given year. (Archives of General Psychiatry, 2005 Jun; 62(6): 617-27)

WHEN YOU DON’T NOTICE 

Oh thank goodness. I’ve kept up this veneer well enough that I have TRICKED you into thinking I’m ok! I have done what I perceive to be is the right thing: I am not burdening you with my personal life. After all, you are not here for me- you are here for the yoga! And NO WAY do I want my mental illness to get in the way of that! I feel so good about not letting my depression seep into every fiber of my being that I want to keep teaching. In fact, I want to teach SO MUCH that I spend MOST of my days speaking from the heart and avoiding the crash that is ultimately waiting for me! 

The yoga business (as a whole) LOVES this version of me. The one that doesn’t get sad or tired or irritable. The beacon of health and self love and what seems to be purchasable well being. Because if my yoga teacher is ok, I can be too? Business is business is business, and no business likes melancholy. It’s definitely not marketable, and certainly not sexy. 

So you didn’t notice… Ok, so is my depression really that bad? I start to doubt my own ability to know how I’m feeling. I THOUGHT I was going through a hard time, but maybe I’m fine. I don't feel fine, but what about those inspiring and positive things that I said? What about the good feeling I had when you thanked me after class? Am I cured? Or am I lying?

I don’t expect you to be a mind reader, dear student. I have tried really hard to make sure that you don’t notice. So feel no guilt or shame about noticing because that is exactly what I was trying to do: to hide the real me from you. 

WHEN YOU NOTICE 

Oh God I’m the worst teacher ever. Have I unraveled this much? What was it? Was it that I haven’t showered? That always seems to be the first thing to go for me. Was it my theming? What did I even talk about in class? Did I mention it on social media? 

Or maybe, dear student, you are just a caring and empathetic person. If I react shocked in person when you offer support or concern, don’t be offended. I will be grateful for you, eventually. I really do want to be seen. I want to know we are just two people dealing with life stuff and transparency is important to me. But I also know that my transparency, my openness, my vulnerability can be very triggering. In fact, maybe you were feeling fine before but class brought up some ish and I am sorry for that. But you’ve got to see the ish to clear out the ish, right? 

Sometimes you’ll ask me how I’m doing, walking on eggshells, worried for me to burst and I actually feel fine. Dear student THIS is the thing that scares me the most. The thought that even on a good day, even when I’m doing well, that I can still be seen as broken. As if I’m walking around with a big scar on my face that won’t go away and screams “take care of me! I need it.” This last statement may or may not be true. But, dear student, when you come to my class, I hope you know I’m there to take care of, to serve you. 

Up to 80% of those treated for depression show an improvement in their symptoms generally within four to six weeks of beginning medication, psychotherapy, attending support groups or a combination of these treatments. (National Institute of Health, 1998)

Up to 80% of those treated for depression show an improvement in their symptoms generally within four to six weeks of beginning medication, psychotherapy, attending support groups or a combination of these treatments. (National Institute of Health, 1998)

SO WHAT?

This is why I’m writing you this letter. To serve the collective by saying, “hey, I have depression and I’m still valuable. I’m still doing the things I love. I’m still inspiring.” It does not serve anyone to bottle this up, to conceal, to hide from the truth. I believe it to be in the service of all that I let you know that I am here, that WE are here. There are non-neurotypical people all OVER the dang place, doing every job you could imagine, even one as “inspirational” and “positive” as teaching yoga. (Shout out to my N.N.Bs - non-neurotypical babes.)

This is meant to be a dialogue. I hope you feel like you can tell me, honestly, how having a teacher with depression has affected you. In what ways has it helped or hindered your practice? And can you open the heart of compassion to other teachers with other conditions or life circumstances that they may not want to write about? How about compassion for yourself, depression or not? 

This is not a love letter (boundaries, yo) but I hope you receive it as a celebration. Celebrate the teacher student relationship, celebrate how we all keep showing up, and celebrate that we have this incredible practice to help us survive. 

Sincerely, 

Your Yoga Teacher with Depression

My favorite ways to combat my depression: yoga, small group or one-on-one deep talks, coffee shops, books, baths, getting shit done, MY THERAPIST, supplements (vitamins) and going places I’ve never been before. What are yours?

My favorite ways to combat my depression: yoga, small group or one-on-one deep talks, coffee shops, books, baths, getting shit done, MY THERAPIST, supplements (vitamins) and going places I’ve never been before. What are yours?