I’m a Yogi On Antidepressants & I’m Cool With It.

{Photo via}

{Photo via}

I deal with depression every day.

I have for years. I take antidepressants. However, I have also been a Yogi for years, which means that I tend towards a non-chemical way of living. The irony is not lost on me.

And yet, the decision to go on antidepressants was one of the most Yogic decisions I have ever made.

Because Yoga is part of my village.

What does that mean? Let me begin by saying that depression runs in the family, on both sides. My grandmother, mother, sister, uncle, and cousins all live with it. Some are medicated. Some are not. The difference between the two is drastic.

My journey to depression was gradual. When I turned 18, I went to college and experienced a deep loneliness that, looking back on it, breaks my heart. I had undiagnosed social anxiety, and was beginning my struggles with body image and food.

My parents noticed (they are amazing), and took me to a doctor, who declared I had situational depression, and just needed to try harder to be happy. I was embarrassed. Clearly, those around me were working harder, and I was lazy.

The school year ended and I went home. I decided to start fresh, determined to fill the empty space inside of me that always hurt.

This is when I took up Yoga.

Oh, sweet Yoga. I could write an entire book on my journey within it. Instead, I will simply say that I started Yoga because I wanted a tight ass. However, it gradually became something far deeper for me and became a leading love in my life. It made me happy.

My fresh start took me to another school, a music college across the country. I boarded the plane brimming with life and purpose. For a brief period of time, my life felt full.

Music school was great, and at a new Yoga studio, my practice grew. I did a teacher training. I lost weight. I was known as the Yoga girl on campus, and I loved it. But slowly, small cracks started forming in the veneer.

The feeling of being unfulfilled came back. It was always there, underneath the surface, waiting for the moment that I was alone in my dorm room to flicker back to life. This void, this heavy space, would press down on me and convince me that something was wrong.

It began to physically manifest in my eating. I started trying to fill my vague sense of unease with extra food. A little turned into a lot. I became a textbook binge eater.

Yoga taught me mindfulness and presence, and yet the sense of needing to fill myself grew. In fact, the more present I became, the more the feeling of emptiness became apparent. Nothing could distract me from it anymore.

Things started getting out of control. I’d sneak food from the cafeteria and binge until I was physically sick. I would use laxatives to get the horrible sensation of being overly full out of my system. Then I would diet for a week, eating 600 calories a day.

Eventually, the feeling of unease would increase until, paired with the caloric deprivation, I couldn’t fight it anymore; I would binge again, and repeat the cycle.

Somehow, doing this, I lost even more weight. Suddenly, being skinny became the thing that filled the void. I was 20 pounds lighter than when I started college. I recognized that what I was doing was unhealthy, but I didn’t care.

Rather than getting help, I was proud of the fact that I had cracked the code for being skinny.

Others told me I was beautiful, which filled the void even more. I will never forget when a boy came up to me and informed me I had suddenly become hot.

The mother of a different boy I was dating told me I had a dancer’s body, which made me ecstatic; I was so happy, I didn’t binge for three weeks.

I knew what I was doing did not follow my Yogic beliefs. I felt like there were two sides of me. One side understood the idea of kindness towards myself; I knew the yamas and the niyamas, and believed in them. However, the other side of me wanted to be the prettiest girl at school, no matter the cost.

Skinny made me happy. It made the darkness go away.

It got to the point where I was so calorically deprived that I couldn’t make it through a full yoga class; once I stood up too quickly out of Prasarita Padottanasana and passed out. I subconsciously decided that skinny was better than Yoga; I stopped attending classes.

It couldn’t last. As happy as being skinny made me, the rush that I got from binging filled the void even more. Without the endorphins from Yoga, I found the endorphins from food were too much to control. The binging increased, eventually occurring more frequently than the fasting.

My last year of college, I gained 25 pounds in 3 months. I took to wearing boys’ shirts and baggy pants. The same boy who had told me I was hot now told me that I dressed like a lesbian.

I graduated college in a very dark place, full of unhappiness and shame. The void was there, and bigger than ever. I vowed to myself that it was time to get a handle on my life. No more being emotionally lazy. Other people did not go through life with the constant feeling that something was wrong.

Why couldn’t I?

I turned once again to Yoga.

I practiced. A lot. I worked with a mentor. My sense of self-awareness increased, both physically and spiritually. I began to look inside myself in a new way. I let go of destructive friendships. (That boy and I no longer talk.) I started charitable work. I spent a lot of time by myself.

I meditated, wrote in my journal, and took a lot of long walks by the river.

And yet.

Every two or three weeks, I crashed. I would call into work, crawl into bed, and binge on television and junk food. In a single night, I could eat a pizza, a large bag of chips, a dozen brownies, doughnuts, a pint of ice cream, a block of cheese, and a baguette. Afterwards, I could barely move.

My stomach would extend past my ribcage, and my intestines would ache. I would cry for hours, speak to no one, and wonder how I could possibly go on living.

I was trying so hard. Harder than I ever had before. And it wasn’t working.

My Yoga made me self-aware; aware of the fact that I was miserable.

The effort it took to live was overwhelming.

I tried to go to Yoga class and reach for sacredness, for the contentment that I knew came with letting go and telling myself that I was okay as I am. Sometimes it worked. But often, I would leave with that sinking feeling that something was wrong, that it was not enough. Then I’d go home and binge.

Which then meant I wouldn’t go to Yoga for a week, because my body felt so awful and bloated. I gained more weight. I hated practicing Yoga when I was fat. My body felt like it got in the way. I’d leave class feeling even more horrible.

The guilt was overwhelming. I knew I was a bad Yogi. I could not find contentment in simply living. God knows I wanted to. Why wasn’t Yoga enough to make me happy? What was I doing wrong?

Then, one December, I turned a corner.

I was in the middle of another crash. I couldn’t stop crying. I had spent no less than eight days not leaving my house, ordering five meals a day, and eating until I puked. My stomach was so full that I had trouble breathing, and couldn’t lie on my back. I was lonely, miserable, and so tired of trying.

For the first time in my life, I considered what it would mean to kill myself.

It was too much; days spent struggling to get out of bed, feeling horrible, hating myself for not being okay and hating others when they were, feeling like I had no control over myself, frightening my family… I just couldn’t do it anymore.

Dying was better than living like this.

I called my mother, sobbing. She said four words that changed my life.

Something is chemically wrong.

It suddenly made sense. This wasn’t situational, or because I was weak or lazy. This wasn’t my fault. Some synapse in my brain was firing the message, You are not okay.

I had been battling with it for years, forcing it down as much as I could, but underneath all of the distractions and mental strength, the chemicals in my brain were fighting against me. Like they had in my mother’s. Like they had in my other family members’.

It takes a village to raise a child. Perhaps I needed more than one thing to save me. Perhaps Yoga needed help.

It took a few months to find a psychiatrist and get the courage to go on antidepressants. That tiny voice in my head kept screaming: Clean Living! No Chemicals!

But I meditated, breathed, and turned to that voice with a small smile and told it to grow up. We are put on this earth to help others, and to be helped by them in return. It was time to let go of pride and get some help.

In my time in the Yoga community, I have had two teachers commit suicide. Both suffered from extreme depression and didn’t tell anybody.

Yoga was not enough to fix them, and they despaired at that. I wish that I could tell them that depression was not their fault. I wish I could read them this article.

Currently, I take medication daily. I practice Yoga daily. There are still days when I have trouble getting out of bed. There are still meals that I feel guilty eating. But between Yoga and antidepressants, I have found that I no longer have to try to live; I just do it. I couldn’t without both of them.

Yoga draws a lot of different types of people, and many of us are searching for a way to be okay. Yoga can be part of that solution; it can even be the whole thing. But if it’s not, then it’s not because you’re weak; it just means you need a few more members in your village.

I am a Yogi. I’m on antidepressants. I’m cool with it.


Britt Mahrer
Britt Mahrer is a psychotherapist and author from Denver, Colorado. She specializes in empowerment and narrative therapy. To schedule a private session, speaking engagement, or for further inquiries she can be contacted via her website.
Britt Mahrer