Depression: Alone in the Dark

I recently started teaching a weekly gentle Yoga class in the Inpatient Mood Disorder Unit at a nearby Psychiatric Hospital. Because of the way the system works now, people, on the average, only stay in the hospital for ten days or so. What that that means is that I see most of the patients for only one class; My goal has been to make the class as meditative as possible by placing my primary focus on helping people to connect with the power of their own breath. What I’ve seen so far has been dramatic.

Last week the class began with the patients sharing how they were feeling at the moment (facilitated by the Psychology Intern who regularly attends). The intensity of the despair communicated by many of the patients was hard for me to listen to, because I began to feel as helpless as they did. I sat and breathed, allowing for the dark mood in the room, and also wishing that I could get started with the Yoga, partly as a way to escape the darkness but also to help make something different happen for these patients who were in great pain.

The class started and some patients were more into it than others, but there was one particular instruction I gave at the end of the class that had a powerful impact. It was asking them to cross one arm over the other – putting the right hand on the left shoulder and the left hand on the right shoulder so that they were giving themselves a hug. One woman began weeping as we finished the class.

Along with depression there’s a sense of self-loathing and a desperate attempt to get away from this dark place inside. We’ve all experienced this to some degree and our instinct is to run. The spirit of Yoga or any mindful meditation is to move closer to whatever internal experience we’re having, no matter how much our judging mind is telling us what failures we are for having these feelings. When we can allow for all of our feelings, even the ‘bad’ ones like hate, anger, despair, jealousy and revenge, we are truly loving ourselves unconditionally; accepting the dark side as a fundamental part of the human condition.

Everyone longs for unconditional love, every patient I’ve had in treatment talks about wanting this from parents, spouses, lovers, siblings, friends and colleagues. The most consistently available source for unconditional love is our self. It’s not easy to remember this in the midst of the dark places that we go, but it makes the dark place less lonely and a little lighter.

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