I can’t believe it’s 2010, it’s such a futuristic date.
The revelation flower grown from the seed of this month’s despair is (drumroll please)... I belittle my suffering. You knew? Well I didn't realize. And, and if I can change just that one little thing, forget about trying to actually be happy, if I can just respect my pain instead of drop-kicking it to hell, then I can actually find some relief. And when I’m particularly depressed and thinking extra mean thoughts about myself, a little relief goes a long ass way.
Here’s how it happened, according to me, and being depressed, I may not be the most reliable witness, but then again, who is?
I bought a yoga class card at Jai, which is one of the best yoga studios in my part of the burbs. The main difference between Jai and the studio where I practiced before is that the yogis at Jai, yoginis mostly, are mostly beautiful, rich, and in fantastic shape. Right there I start feeling my hairy warts emerge. At the other place I felt hottish, young and able. At Jai I feel ripply and wide and ungainly. I don’t think this poorly of myself every day of the month. Remember, this is me on premenstrual hormones.
The next thing that happens is that I take a class with Erica, one of Jai's owners, and when she presses on my sacrum while I’m balled up in child’s pose, it triggers my weep response. I cry through the entire class, and it has more to do with calling uncle! to my back pain (yet again) than some profound spiritual epiphany, though as I ultimately realize, they may not be too different from each other.
Erica wears her hair blond and dreadlocked to her butt, and bedecks her feet in dark polish, toe rings and a lotus blossom tattoo. With a sparkly Ganesha sticker offering blessings to the rear window of her green Mini Cooper Clubman, Erica is the embodiment of the Main Line yoga scene. She has been practicing yoga and teaching it for many years and there is something under all that mystical bling I find I trust. Her description might make her sound flighty but her voice and persona are direct, all business and no bullshit, plus eye contact galore, which conveys compassion and genuine interest. There's a fearlessness about her that I admire.
My warm and lovely friend Katie is in class that morning. Afterwards, crouching on my mat to chat, I ask her if she can tell that I was crying and when she hugs me, I start all over again. She tells me to get a massage, which I totally should, and take Motrin, that’s what medicine is for you know... But I never really have done that. Why?
Then I let Erica know what all the tissues were about. She says to stop doing backbends immediately. Wheel, bow, flipped dog, dancing shiva, frog, and all poses that require a straight leg kicked out to the side a la doggie at a fire hydrant. She tells me that yoga can in fact worsen back pain and that most of her private clients have all sorts of chronic back pain and let’s talk about it in depth soon. I leave, dazed and joking that I’m going to have to ask Santa for a late Christmas gift, because I know her privates are a hundred bucks.
I cry intermittently for the rest of the day. On my bedroom floor. In the dark. Because isn’t this what arty depressives do? In my muddy fog I catch myself hoping I’m ‘doing it right.’ Depression that is.
I sleep some, and read LIT (I’m finally almost done) until I can’t see by the cloudy sunlight anymore. (I can’t deal with incandescent light. I just can’t.) It gets so that I’m too ashamed to go downstairs and eat even though I’m starving and Bryan’s cooked garlicky scampi which smells so good. I think suicidal thoughts. (Lots of them which I will share with my shrink on Thursday. Promise.) I think I am on track with my depressive behavior. Textbook even.
Mostly I am convinced that I am a horrible mom and wife, leaving Bryan to tend to the kids, too fragile, fundamentally flawed as a mom, professional writer, yogi, daughter, sister, friend, you name it. Flawed to the hizzah. A bed is too good for me.
Finally though I make it downstairs because I remember what Mary Karr told me the night I met her at the library when she read from LIT, she told me to take care of myself, otherwise it doesn’t matter how many veggies I get my kids to eat, how many museums I take them to... So I head into the light and through my hunched squint I can tell the kids are happy to see me by the way they jump up and down smiling and shouting, Mommy!
The salad hits the spot with its Bacos and tangy balsamic dressing but I can barely taste the scampi so I pile it with romano cheese and red pepper flakes, even Bacos, which brings it to life in my dead mouth. I wash it all down with a ramekin of peanut butter ripple ice cream.
Everything’s going okay, I’m even helping to clean up a little but my demons are too many by this point and I snap at no one in particular about a wet towel laying on Hamish’s floor, to which Bryan responds sarcastically, “Sorry, I was kind of busy with something else,” to which I seethe, “Goodnight,” and head upstairs again, slamming the door, setting a horrid example, and stuffed like a blood sausage with the validation of my woeful shortcomings.
I am paralyzed by my odiousness. But not enough to keep me from dropping to my knees beside my bed, clasping my hands and pretending to be Catholic like Mary Karr. Because ever since I started reading her book, I’ve been trying it her way, humbling myself before God, or as I see it, before the wise Elise buried deep down underneath the pile of confused rock, dirt and rubble that I mistake for Elise.
Usually I feel like I know what to pray for: a bestseller, heaps of money, confidence, thin thighs. But I am so wrecked by this day that I realize, who the hell am I to dare to think I know what’s best for me? So instead of the usual I plead, “I have no fucking clue what the fuck I am doing. Help me. Please please help me.” Then I crawl into bed, turn on the lamp, and open my book.
But Stella is wailing. Her lack of pajama cooperation has lost her dessert privileges and she won’t let up. I lay in bed with my Mary, rereading the same paragraph while I keep getting the feeling that Stella will calm down faster in my arms. I try to push it away until I remember Byron Katie's statement that wisdom is as simple as heeding that voice in your head that tells you to go brush your teeth. I’ve learned that this is true for me, so I listen to her and me both and head downstairs, pluck Stella from Bryan’s patient arms (he’s not shooting me hate rays or anything) walk her upstairs (I know, my back!) and hold her and talk to her until she’s calm. I say, Life’s hard sometimes, isn’t it, and she sniffs, yeah.
It doesn’t take much more than that.
I tell her a story about a penguin named Pretzel Nugget and princess named Nothing and how they discover friendship over a dandelion puff after warily sizing each other up, and then we walk downstairs and I get her to sleep. I feel more accomplished writing this than I did living it. By the way.
I fall asleep next to Bryan in front of a Jack Black movie and then head upstairs and fall into bed.
But no of course it's not. This is me we’re talking about. I don’t let up.
The next morning, which is today, I am still fretting and Bryan and I bicker as we herd the kids toward the car for their first day back to school. We don’t even say goodbye to each other. Not typical.
I make it to yoga where Erica is seriously wonderful, admonishing me again to not bend backwards and demonstrates on the boutique floor all the moves I should avoid. I tell her I feel debilitated with so many items off limits, like a sushi bar where I can’t order rice. But secretly I’m relieved because every pose she’s telling me to avoid I hate anyway because they hurt.
What’s more, she asks me to coffee to talk about my issues, for free. She pulls out her sleek little Blackberry while I rifle through my satchel for my calender, a clothbound hardcover book with a black satin ribbon to mark the week, and Erica remarks that my planner is so cute! She doesn’t know anyone who uses a real book! And I feel mysterious, a little English maybe, and dated.
The class this morning is taught by a blond wisp from the Jersey shore, and is for intermediate to advanced students, which before I fully succumbed to my back pain, I thought maybe I was. Intermediate anyway. At the last yoga studio I felt like one of the better students. Here, I feel like the worst. There are about ten of us, all women. A few can pop up into handstand in the middle of the room. A few can do graceful leg-lifts, while standing on their heads. Breezy contortions abound. And they all glow, dewy and polished in the latest most expensive yoga-wear. I struggle through the class, huffing and puffing and hanging out in down dog whenever we are asked to bend backwards. My arm balances, usually okay, languish tarnished in a salty puddle of my sapping confidence. It is a bona fide pity party for yours truly. I tear up again, but only a little.
Afterwards I steal away into the parking lot like wolf-boy during a full moon, wishing my down parka could swallow me whole. This has been the first yoga class I seriously considered aborting. What a loser I feel like.
Over a salty Chinese lunch a little while later I sit hunched over my sleeve wiping away a duck sauce drip and blame Bryan (can you imagine?) for belittling my pain. (Don’t even ask.) Simultaneously I see that it’s me who’s been belittling my pain, by continuing to practice yoga that hurts, by not popping Motrin, and by bullying myself for not being the perfect effortless Supermom, the evil specter who is so real in my head.
I see for maybe the first time that being honest about my shortcomings, not to be confused with the horrible things I think about myself when I’m hormonal to bursting, but simple things like, I don’t love to cook all the time, I get overwhelmed easily, my back hurts, or, I don’t have a live-in housekeeper, that if I can honor the reality of those ‘shortcomings,’ then I can stop torturing myself and be a little nicer to everyone involved. Which would be such a fucking relief.
Bryan might think so too.