Please excuse the long absence from blogging… I’ve made it a point to only write when I feel I’ve got something worth sharing; and for the past few weeks I hadn’t been feeling like I had much to offer.
I’ve debated whether or not to write about the cause of my absence—depression, anxiety and shame—feeling that somehow the fact that I experience these feelings in some way makes me a lesser human being and a lesser mindfulness teacher. But I have decided to share with the hope that by bringing this pain into the light, I can hopefully help others who may have had or are going through a similar experience.
Every once in a while I find myself in what I can best describe as a funk—a negative mindset combined with low energy and condescending self-talk. These funks might last a day or two and subside with meditation and exercise. But occasionally, like the last month or so, the funk turns into something more than just a passing bad mood. In these instances a dark pervasive energy takes over my whole outlook. In this most recent experience it sometimes felt like my head was surrounded by a bunch of relentless gnats, buzzing their judgments and anger at me. As the weeks passed, it began to feel like I was staring at a big impenetrable wall in front of me. Negative thoughts kept me from making decisions, and convinced me that the world was out to get me.
I was ashamed and embarrassed. I teach meditation, I’m not supposed to feel this way! Why do I feel so hopeless? Why can’t I think or meditate my way out of this?
I made deals with myself for deadlines to feel better; but with each deal, the deeper into self-loathing and self-judgment I’d fall. It seemed like my 45 minutes of daily meditation was the only respite from the relentless negative self-talk. But once off the cushion that voice would start berating me again. I did my best to bring mindfulness to my time off the cushion, but often the negative energy felt too strong for me to be with.
So I kept pushing it under the surface, hoping that by distracting myself and denying the existence of this shameful hurting it would somehow disappear.
It didn’t disappear. Instead, it bubbled over into some tearful conversations with my husband and then my parents.
I needed help.
In admitting this I immediately felt a huge relief. The shame I’d felt began to subside the more I admitted to myself and to my loved ones that I was struggling. I still felt confused and anxious, but it was no longer compounded by feelings of guilt and shame.
After I admitted that I needed help, my loved ones made sure that I got help. I talked to a professional, I had some bodywork done, and I took some time off. Things started to feel less heavy.
I was reminded to simply experience my pain and fear. I didn’t have to deny its existence or try to ignore it to make it go away. Just like I’ve learned time and time again, I have to be with what scares me with love and patience. I had tried doing that before seeking help, but it seemed like too much to handle. I can be so stubborn in my shame. So rather than ask for help, I was determined to go it alone, even if that meant unending suffering. I often forget that when it feels too difficult or scary to be with these emotions, it’s ok to ask for support. And it is probably a good idea to do so. This latest encounter with my darkness has softened me, and proven to me that holding my pain is far less frightening when I have backup in case things get to be too much.
I was also reminded that the fact I was struggling did not mean that I was any less lovable or worthwhile as a person. I am lovable and worthwhile just for being here (so are you!), regardless of what thoughts or feelings cross my mind at any given instant. My thoughts and emotions do not define my inherent worth, but my character is shaped by how I respond to these experiences.
My struggle didn’t automatically disqualify me from being a mindfulness teacher either. In fact, facing my suffering with compassion and patience has given me more empathy and confidence with which to help others. It’s difficult to show someone the way if you’ve never been there before. I’ve been there, and maybe I can help.