yoga corpse poseAMBER LOVE 19-AUG-2014 A week ago I was laid off from yet another job. My work history is scattered and unattractive and there are always a ton of factors like global economy or market dips or simply not liking a boss who harasses me. Whatever the case, it’s always awful to feel discarded and worthless. That’s pretty bad when it happens on a regular basis romantically but when a sterile corporate structure doesn’t want me either, I have to say, that’s a particular type of low feeling. Each time I am discarded, regardless of the situation, I do what’s “right” and tell myself it’s an opportunity that I needed to move on to try something new. That’s why I went from government lackey to corporate shill to massage therapist back to corporate. Door opens. Take a step. Door hits me in the face.

I know that this happens often to millions of people. I’m sorry any of you are going through it. I’m also certain that a percentage of you also suffer from mental illnesses like I do but we aren’t holed up and considered “disabled” even though leaving our houses is traumatic. The world sees us functioning, especially online, and believes our conditions to not be serious. So here we are, feeling like embarrassments to our families while struggling and trying to move on. I’m with you. I really am trying, anyway, to be with you. Honestly, I kind of want to give up on the whole breathing thing because breathing is too damn hard.

Enter yoga.

I used to practice yoga a lot for several years, but I switched to pilates when yoga classes were hard to find. Then I got rather poor again and stopped my routines all together. As soon as I got into a regular full-time paycheck job, I joined a local gym instead of a franchise like Planet Fitness because I wanted a place that offered different kinds of classes. I started going to yoga again. At a separate facility, I discovered the aerial fitness classes and had been taking chair dancing hoping that after six months or so, I’d work my way up to pole dancing and maybe even, if my body was strong enough lyre and silks. Well that didn’t happen. No income meant I immediately canceled all the bills I could as soon as I got the news.

At 10 am last Tuesday, I parked my car and took what had to count for a few breaths. I entered the gym to cancel my membership. The owner, I’m assuming, was the man at the counter of the lower level of the building. I choked out the words, “I need to cancel.” I couldn’t speak any more words. The tears came and they didn’t let up. I was sobbing at the glass counter as people bustled around. The owner asked me if it was a financial matter and I managed to say that I just lost my job. He took out a new membership application and said that it was too important for me not have exercise so he would give me a few months for free. All I had to do was fill out the paper. He said no one would know and that my scan card would work fine like normal. I was still uncontrollably sobbing but I was grateful for his kindness.

I took the week to not think about exercise and just focus on job hunting. Yoga class on Tuesday (today) came back around so I talked myself into leaving the house and headed out. I felt my breath get shallow as I walked down the sidewalk. I rounded the brickface building corner. I kept trying to breathe. “Everything will be fine. He said my card would work and that no one would know I was poor again,” I told myself.

The inside of the lower level lobby is always dark. I pulled open the glass door and saw a young guy at the counter. He couldn’t have been more than 18. He was smiling and looked so happy to be working there. I nonchalantly walked up to the side of the counter with the scanner and held the mini card in the bundle on my keychain up to it. I heard the “sad trombone” noise come from his terminal. I didn’t look directly at him and tried it again. The same pathetic sound came out from the machine.

“LOSER!” the computer was saying with that sad trombone.

The boy asked if I had made changes to my account. I said yes, that I had filled out new paperwork. He kept smiling like the adorable happy male best friend of a Disney star’s character. First, he asked me if I had been charged; I said no. He said, “Good, don’t worry about it then.” And then he seemed to be good at making up an excuse on the fly saying that the paperwork probably hadn’t been processed yet – despite it being a week.

The voices in my head began arguing loudly. One said, “You’ll be fine. Just get through class. You’ll feel better. Everyone says so. Everyone says you need to move your body to help your mind and your heart.” The other said, “You know that shortness of breath outside was only the beginning. You know you cannot get through this class. You know you will suck at this and you should leave.”

Before I ever tried any of these classes at this gym, I had asked one of the young girls at the counter if it was possible for the yoga instructor to call or email me so I could discuss something privately. I got a call from that same young girl an hour later. She explained that the instructor couldn’t possibly call or email me so I was welcome to catch her 10 or 15 minutes before class. I had been getting there anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes early for these classes and the instructor never got there early enough for me to talk to before it was time to start. She’d walk in and immediately get out the blocks, set up her own mat and get us started by 6:33. Her first moments are to introduce herself, explain what vinyasana yoga is, ask if anyone is new to her or new to yoga and then she’d ask if anyone had any health concerns to alert her to.

What? You’re asking in front of a class of people to have brand new students divulge medical history? NO! That is not how it’s done ever! I know enough about the yoga studies to understand that it’s not supposed to be about judging or about our egos but asking for medical information in front of people is poor etiquette. My first time with her, I was in a ton of pain so I confessed that was having back issues. I don’t mind telling a class filled with people that I have back issues.

I also don’t mind telling the faceless internet masses about any of my problems but I am not about discuss a private issue of my mental illness in front of people when I’m not doing it as a public speaking event. This isn’t a bar where you’re unloading your life’s problems or a hair stylist that politely talks to you while working. Those are one-on-one conversations anyway. This is a class.

Since my scan card had failed, my anxiety took the opportunity to creep up faster and stronger. I did not speak up to the class that I was having a panic attack. I chose to keep that information to myself. I considered leaving several times, figuring she had only just begun so it wouldn’t be all that disruptive; people had plenty of time to find their center if I bolted early. The thoughts kept racing and I couldn’t make a decision. I was incapable of deciding so that ended up being my decision; time had passed and I was stuck in there separated from the sliding frosted glass door to the gym by five other bodies on mats. I was against the long wall with the big mirrors. Good, that meant I only had neighbors on three sides instead of four.

The tears were streaming. I couldn’t breathe through the seated opening meditation. I had to let my body breathe however the hell it could to get oxygen and that would have to be good enough. Luckily, she had us challenging our sense of balance by closing our eyes through cat and cow. Good, no one should have been able to see me as I arched my back, lifted my head and cried more.

I periodically paused to wipe my face, cough and take a sip of water.

“Who do you think you’re fooling? Everyone sees you losing your shit. Everyone knows you’re crying. You’re embarrassing yourself and yoga as a whole practice,” the voice inside said.

Child’s pose. Cry some more. No one could see my face with it buried in my chest prone towards the mat. Breathing was too hard. Being curled up like that my body was crushing my lungs. I couldn’t breathe at all.

breathe“Stay calm. You know exactly what to do,” another voice inside said.

I pushed up a little bit and spread my knees far apart so that nothing would be pressed against my chest and folded down into a puppy dog pose instead. That was better. I could take a breath again. Then sun salutations and warriors and pyramids were attempted but another batch of tears decided they need to come out. I was in downward dog and too dizzy to stay there. I dropped my knees and tried to keep breathing. Obviously I was since I was actually alive, but I didn’t feel like it was working. It felt like breath was failing as much as the rest of me that was exhausted and utterly incapable of doing any of those poses.

I looked at the clock. I tried making another decision. “Could I escape from this right before relaxation and not be a disruptive jerk?” No. That was unlikely. You can’t open that frosted glass door without the gym’s light flooding into the dark room. I had to wait it out. The last five minutes are shivasana, corpse pose. Or rather, they’re supposed to be. You lie on your back with relaxed legs and arms and close your eyes. I couldn’t even do that. I couldn’t lie on the floor like a corpse because everything was uncomfortable. I bent my knees, kept one hand on my belly and had to use the other to keep wiping away the tears that I couldn’t stop.

It was an hour that I could not wait to be over. It was supposed to be an hour of inner reflection for peace and centering and distancing from the world outside. Instead it was painful and I could not wait to run out of there. Before the last namasté was said, I was already standing and rolling up my mats to stuff into my bag. Luckily, since I came from home and not my office, I only had to slip on shoes and not worry about laces. Gripping the foam blocks and standing up was hard to do. As soon as possible, I put my sunglasses on even with the room being dark. Then I had to take actual steps in order to get out there but first I had drop the blocks into the box at the front of the room close to the door. My hands wouldn’t let go of the damn blocks. It felt like minutes when it was bound to be only seconds in reality. It felt long though. It felt like everyone was watching me forget how to put blocks into a box.

I was about to be the first one out the door. It was a sliding door and I struggled opening that too. The teacher thanked me for coming and I said thank you in return but without looking at her. “GODDAMMIT WHY WON’T THIS DOOR OPEN?” Finally I put even more might into it and rushed out into the weights area. I nearly smacked a guy with my mat slung over my shoulder. I didn’t care. The exit was all that mattered. Just had to get to the damn exit.

It did not help matters that this building constantly has septic tank problems so when I bolted out the exit door to the parking lot I was punched in the face with horrible putrid stank of human waste. My legs were too tired to run to the car. I did what I could to get to it faster but it was not nearly fast enough. The 15 minutes home in the car was even more crying.

NAMI NYC mental illness infographic

There’s a hashtag on Twitter called #notmymentalillness where people are talking about how they offer much more to the world by breaking the confines of their illness. They sound proud. They sound .. not like me at all. They’re nothing like me. I was born like this. For as long as I can remember, I have hated existing. I have never considered myself what I dream of being. I was never a lot of things. I was never a good soldier for the country. I was never a successful TV news anchor or producer. I was never even a successful blogger, not really. Over a million visits, sure, but I see the analytics behind it and I know 99 percent of the hits are looking for naked women. Hey, you’re lucky that I do provide some of that but sucks for you that you’ll be seeing me and not hot porn stars. So I don’t understand the hashtag because I am my mental illness. Every second of every day that I breathe. I have some mediocre days and even some wonderful days but even then… yes, even then… I believe the world doesn’t need a failure like me in it.

Mind you, I’ve also read all the job hunting advice about not putting anything personal on the internet, scrubbing every single social profile and deleting your life, leaving only a good wholesome presence that any company in the world would want in an employee. It’s not me. That’s not what I’m going to do. I’m not deleting my galleries of X-rated photos or drunken podcasts. If a company doesn’t want a real honest human being working for them, then I don’t want them either. I’m as real as they come. I know when it’s appropriate to fake smile and talk to company visitors like I care about their drive when I don’t. I am the kind of real that knows how to fake it exceptionally well in order to achieve a goal. But this thing here is my website where I talk about comics, writing and modeling and yes, sometimes about how awful depression can be. Nine out of 10 people think it’s not okay to talk openly with coworkers about mental illness (naminycmetro.org).

If you have a friend or loved one suffering and you honestly cannot relate, the best thing is to try and understand how painful this is. It’s not being sad for a while because I lost my job. It’s not being derailed from success and needing to find a path. I have tried every damn path there is and you probably have someone in your life who feels exactly this way. You cannot change how someone feels no matter how hard you pray or wish for it. You can’t magically cure them. What you can do is be the best You that shows more compassion than you knew you even had.

NAMI NYC has a tool on their site for people to pledge that they will listen to their loved ones or even a stranger. According to their research results, one in 17 people in America live with a serious mental illness. There were about 17 people in that yoga class tonight. I got to be the statistic.