MENTAL ILLNESS, COMMUNICATION, AND MEDITATION
AMBER LOVE 23-JUNE-2016 Apologies right up front if the words here never form sentences. I’m having terrible allergy problems and took Benadryl last night in order to stop the itching so I could sleep (yes that again). I’m in a haze and basically working on auto-pilot. To sponsor content at AmberUnmasked.com please go to Patreon.com/amberunmasked and add to the monthly tip jar!
Back when I had other means (hint: income), I was able to take yoga classes a few times a week. I became so in love with the practice and two of my teachers that I strongly considered becoming an instructor myself. Every once in a while I research the criteria again and the cost and never do anything. Almost all of the yoga we did was called Hatha yoga. If you aren’t into yoga at all you might not even realize there are different kinds which is probably what a lot of people think about massage therapy too.
Yoga & Meditation:
Hatha yoga classes were 90 minutes. We opened with meditation, then warmed up, then spent the bulk of the time doing asanas or moving fluidly from one pose to the next holding each pose for a while; then we’d end in a corpse pose for relaxation, more meditation, and cooling down. If you think just “standing like a tree” or “sitting in a twist for 1-2 minutes” doesn’t raise your temperature, you’d be wrong. There’s plenty of sweat potential in Hatha yoga though it’s not “hot/Birkam yoga” which is, in my opinion, a dangerous fad created by a man who uses his popularity to excuse his misogyny. Different topic, so research that if you want.
I miss my teachers and those particular classes but I’ve occasionally taken my mats out and done some exercises at home. I also use what I learned whenever I have to model because that work depends on striking a pose and holding it for up to 20 minutes. I can’t do standing poses that long, but in the quick gesture sketches, I always go back to yoga and adjust the poses to look like something people might do naturally (like actions you’d see in comic book panels).
You’d think that with over $200/month going to our cable provider, Comcast, that they’d offer yoga shows On Demand. They do, but they cost extra for that channel. What a load of crap. I had previously found videos on YouTube, but they tend to be short, one pose at a time and not even a decent 30-minute routine.
Recently I checked Hulu and found a show hosted by Maya Fiennes, but it was Kundalini yoga not Hatha yoga. One of my teachers had us do a small bit of Kundalini yoga which focuses on the chakras (energy centers) that go up the body starting at the pelvic base. It involved a lot of breathing too. I figured this show would somehow incorporate the asanas I was familiar with like my teachers had. Well, the Hulu show was so different, I had no idea what I was doing. Not to mention that I’m so out of shape in terms of strength and flexibility (where did it go!?) that I couldn’t keep with the host.
The cool thing about how it’s set up is that you don’t have to go through them progressively from episode one to two to three; you can skip around and it’ll be fine. It was different, quite hard, and I didn’t do the exercises as long as the host because I can’t meditate for 20 straight minutes or do that many sit ups. I worked in some of my old calisthenics (what we called it long before “pilates” was a buzzword) and my back felt a lot better that day. Breathing, not so much improved. Afterward, it felt a little like I had a rapid onset of the flu, but that’s probably still my awful allergies attacking me.
I do think meditation is a wonderful practice, but it’s not the “cure” for certain mental disorders that a lot of people think it is. All the advantages can also be boiled down to what that time for yourself also means: 20 minutes unplugged, 20 minutes without people asking you for thing, 20 minutes not stuck in traffic, 20 minutes not focused on anyone else. If you can other find forms of self care for 20 minutes, the results are probably the same: pet a cat, take a walk, listen to calm music, get a manicure. But you’d have to do that activity while blocking out the distractions just like meditation time. Put your phone down. I know it’s hard. Once it’s down, you probably won’t miss it like that first five minutes of meth withdrawal.
This leads me to the article I read this morning on Daily Zen. At first I was angry at the author, apparently a common reaction to what he got online after tweeting something that was too general in concept.
“I recently upset a bunch of Twitter followers for saying that anxiety can be cured through mindfulness and meditation. Most responses were from thoughtful users who understood the nuances of the statement. But a few people were revolted,” Charlie Ambler said.
Fortunately, Medium is a long format platform and Ambler explained better what he meant about how mindfulness and meditation can help people who suffer from anxiety. Unfortunately, a statement without much backup that goes through Twitter’s short format makes him sound like a snake oil salesman. Believe me, I’ve been involved in “new age” culture since I was in my 20s and I’ll try just about anything especially if the usage won’t cause more harm. I’ll break out the crystals and the herbal tea pretty quickly, but I also don’t think juicing for a week will cure cancer.
Yoga doesn’t cure depression or pill addiction or eating disorders or weight disorders. It’s good for moving your body which in turns gets the blood, oxygen, and lymph moving and hopefully can keep a body’s organs in proper order. It’s good for quieting the chaos in your mind. It can be a vital component of a well-rounded lifestyle. It helps strengthen and lengthen muscles so if you spend hours a day hunched over a desk and slouch in a car and then again on the couch, stronger muscles are going to be a benefit.
I don’t agree with all of what Ambler said in his longer article, but this particular passage directly correlates to my feelings about our new trend to constantly speak out about our feelings which I think gets disguised as efforts to break mental illness stigma:
“Fast forward to 2016. Homosexuality is thankfully no longer a medicated mental illness! But new ridiculous habits in the field of psychiatry have emerged. ‘Anxiety’ ‘depression’ ‘schizoid’ and ‘borderline’, all legitimate diagnoses for severe conditions that, in those who suffer from them in a debilitating way, are actually life-threatening and chemical, also appear in smaller amounts in all of us. They’re buzzwords now. Regular humans are often, by psychiatric standards, thought to be severely ill even if they can function perfectly well in society. It’s like when you go on WebMD with a common cold and leave thinking you have esophageal cancer.” ~Charlie Ambler
There’s something that I have refrained from saying because, like Ambler experienced, I don’t want anyone to take a single sentence and not have context for it and then piss a lot of people off.
Here goes: It’s annoying as fuck when I try to communicate about what my depression and anxiety experiences are and it’s immediately interrupted with “so do I” comments. Even people who know me intimately have cut off my process of communication with either “so do I” or “she has that too” comments. Now, there is a particular group of friends who I know are legitimately speaking about their illnesses and using the internet to cope; we have excellent communication and when it’s not, it’s usually redeemed quickly. It’s relieving sometimes to hear that someone can relate and that you’re not alone. What I’m speaking about regarding “so do I” is when there’s a virtual sea of people claiming to understand your personal struggle with a disease.
Just as Ambler said that not everyone with anxiety suffers a diagnosable mental illness of anxiety disorder, the culture of reducing stigma by everyone raising their hands and claiming to know exactly how it feels, is harming the campaigns that want better treatments and better support. It dilutes the significance by saying “hey look at all these wonderfully productive people in society that don’t let illness hold them back!” It doesn’t allow a light to shine on the people saying, “so I stopped my car on the train tracks and didn’t want to move but now I’m here looking to talk to someone.”
My friend talked me through a particularly bad day as she has several times. This one time though, she said something that finally caused an epiphany. Everyone gets sad when their heart is broken, a loved one dies, when they lose their job, or when something traumatic happens. That’s natural and part of being human. It’s not a mental illness; BUT people like me can’t get to the other side of those moments because we don’t possess the ability to cope with the normal amount of depression or anxiety. For us, it’s being afraid to live life because the mind has convinced us that certain lies are real.
There’s no competition to win. There’s no participation prize. You don’t need to raise your hand and comment “so do I” all the time when you could say, “I’m listening.” It’s like someone with a missing pinky trying to say they understand the challenges of someone without legs. Perhaps you can sympathize, but you can’t empathize if your level of anxiety and depression is just being human.
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