Prozac Yogi. ~ Lance Griffin

Via Lance Griffinon Jan 23, 2014

Prozac (2)

There’s a story from the Buddhist tradition that you may know: the one about the guy with the arrow.

Basically, a guy gets hit with an arrow and it hurts like hell. Some people show up to help. “How did it get there?” “Who shot the arrow?” They start asking questions. “Look at that, I wonder if that arrow was made by so-and-so, he’s a great arrow maker.” “I don’t know, the markings aren’t characteristic of so-and-so.” Meanwhile, our poor friend is screaming. “Just pull out the damned arrow!”

I started thinking of suicide when I was eleven years old.

Depression was my arrow, only no one could see it. It was a blessing in that I started my spiritual journey at a very young age. Even so, the illness remained a dull throb through adolescence. I practiced yoga, fasted, read spiritual texts, and that eased it and made it manageable. Then the arrow rusted and the wound infected.

When I turned 21, I was so agonizingly insecure and depressed that I could no longer live with myself—I had to seek help, or die.

Let me go into detail: I graduated with a weighted 5.0 GPA from high school, and attended the flagship university of the state with tuition covered. I did not lie in bed all day or sink so deep that I couldn’t eat—I carried on.

From the outside, I had everything that ‘makes you happy.’ Underneath my façade, I was drowning.

It was in the evenings when I would reflect on ending my life. I held fast to the promise of relief from yoga and other spiritual pursuits, without much luck.

To give you an idea, this was my routine: I woke up and meditated for two or three hours in the morning. I devoured book after book on every spiritual topic and self-help subject I could find throughout the day. I practiced yoga for at least an hour, six days a week. I was also a practicing vegetarian and bought mostly organic.

Sometimes I would find that rapture, where everything in the world was perfect, and for a few minutes, the pain left.

Then it was back.

I did everything those famous spiritual speakers tell you to do. You know who I mean—everybody and their mom has some spin on depression nowadays.

At a dead end, I went in to see the psychiatrist and therapist. They were markedly friendly and compassionate. They diagnosed me with dysthymia, or chronic, low-level depression. Bottom line was that I was clinically, scientifically, medically depressed.  And I’d received more compassion from clinical professionals than anywhere in the spiritual world.

Yes, I went there.

It’s a disease…it’s an arrow and it makes you bleed.

To be precise, it’s a malfunction of serotonin and dopamine in the brain. As much as the yoga magazines promote it, staying in wheel for ten minutes is not going to give you tons of energy and renew your life. I had fought medication for years, largely due to what I had read from fellow seekers. Skip medication: just eat kale! Depressed? Try this new yoga sequence! I tried therapy first, because I was still resistant. When it failed, I knew I had no choice. I started on medication.

A month after I started taking it, I could only ask why: Why is this such a big deal?

It occurred to me that there is a taboo in our culture, and it exists especially in spiritual people. We believe that we deserve to suffer. We believe that suffering has some mystical lessons to teach us, or that it’s our karma, or that we can just meditate out of it. Let me ask you this: if you are shot in the arm, are you going to do bridge pose to alleviate the pain? No. You go to a fucking doctor.

Shortly after I started taking anti-depressants, my life changed.

I suddenly wondered why I’d been in so much pain all those years. I couldn’t figure it out. Instead of wanting to murder myself every evening over a nice Chianti, I was going out and dancing.

Two months after I started, a romantic relationship fell into my lap. I joined a community service group and became a voice for those in need. I started coaching my peers at the university. Life had flavor again.

I became more spiritual than I ever had been. I was more mindful during yoga, as my attention was not consumed by a mysterious unholy pain. For the first time in my life that I could remember, I was actually happy.

About six months after I took the plunge, I had another kind of rapture: this is what life is supposed to be like. This is what it’s like for normal people!

I’m taking meds now and I don’t plan on stopping. Why would I? Whenever someone admits, with a guilty glaze over their eyes, that they take meds, they’ll say: I’m taking them, but just for a short time. Why are we ashamed? Imagine a type 1 diabetic obsessed with eventually going off insulin. Just a few more weeks of shots, then I’m back to myself again! It’s a little silly. My family suffers from depression; it’s a genetic issue that affects me at a biological level. If this is resonating with you, then chances are, you’re in the same boat.

Then you get the hecklers: “Sometimes you just gotta pull yourself up by the bootstraps!”

I like to tell those people, “Sometimes, the horse tramples you and breaks your legs and ribs. You’re lying in agony, and your goddamned bootstraps are broken. Please shut up and help.”

So let’s start pulling arrows out.

Get help—and stick with it. Stop trying to be a hero. There is a lot of snake oil and a lot of shame.

There’s absolutely no reason for it.

 

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About Lance Griffin

Lance Griffin: Student, yogi, coach, and many other things. The one that matters is passionate.

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19 Responses to “Prozac Yogi. ~ Lance Griffin”

  1. Paula says:

    Thank you for your raw honesty. The spiritual world can be so harsh on depression and you expressed it beautifully. Depression is serious business and the spiritual world certainly does a disservice to those suffering by adding guilt for not being able to cure it naturally. Thank you for bringing light to this important topic

  2. Karen F2 says:

    This is a beautiful and much needed article. Thank you for writing it. Yoga is a beautiful thing, but it is not the end all be all for everything. I'm glad you found your path. Namaste.

  3. Lauren says:

    Ok, this is such an awesome article. Seriously awesome. As a fellow yoga practitioner, and believer in some of the snake oil, but a traditional pharmacist, meds are sometimes necessary- and a combination with yoga is just amazing. I mean being depressed and then being faced with your flaws and limitations in a yoga practice could just be so detrimental. Psychotherapy is a must. I wish more people would take the step and see a physician like you did.

    Good luck with everything!

  4. Boo says:

    So grateful for this. Thank you.

  5. Isabelle says:

    This is actually exacly my story, except for the fact that i was on anti-depressants and went to see a psychiatrist before i got my connection with my spiritual path. Buddhism/Dharma helped me off my meds (5 years i took those), but i'm not so sure if i'm happier now then i was when i was on them. But what i can assure, is that when i went to see the psychiatrist, and started taking the meds, at that time it was the best thing i ever did for myself, although i know others sometimes disagree. There is no shame whatsoever in seeking help when things get though. Like the U2 song that quite greatly inspired me says: "sometimes you can't make it on your own".

  6. Linda says:

    Congrats on your new life! People need to learn to "blur the line" and understand that there is good in both Eastern and Western medicine. Everyone needs to find their own path to maximize the joy and health in their own life, and stop worrying about what others might think! We are all unique!

  7. Louise says:

    Thank you so much for this essay! I too have suffered from depression and anxiety for many, many years. I can remember anxiety attacks as far back as age 11. Throughout my twenties I relied on psychotherapy and meditation. By my early thirties it was evident that medication needed to be added to the mix. At 49 I am a fully functioning human being thanks to my meds especially and to a lesser degree yoga and meditation. I taught yoga for 4 years in the mid 2000s and regularly encountered the "anti-meds" yogis. I"m not sure why there is such a hostility to medication for anxiety and depression in the yoga world. We wouldn't tell someone to stop taking insulin but yet many yogis think nothing of dissing the use of meds. Yogis are not medical professionals yet feel qualified to tell students that depression and anxiety can be managed by yoga, pranayama and meditation only. Where do they get this? Additionally, a diatribe about the "evils" of big pharmacy are often hurled my way as well. They don't seem to be able to separate the good that medication can do from the extreme overuse of meds that can sometime happen.

    • yogalance says:

      You're welcome! There is definitely a silent culture of suffering. I'm happy you found your path! I know what you mean about the teachers as medical professionals. I experienced that, so I decided to work on a graduate degree in exercise science to see what yoga actually does. It's been great, but it's also put into light the fact that a great majority of claims are word of mouth home remedy type stuff.

  8. Lisa says:

    Wow! Brilliant! I'm sooo spiritual'd out right about now. I'm draining myself by expecting everything to be this big lesson all the time. I feel this insane pressure to find the "reasons" for things and that's freakin impossible and exhausting. So, I try to just be. Just live. Just breath. Just observe. But somehow I end up feeling guilty.
    What's worse is I've created by whole life to be this way. My relationships are built around it. My day is built around it. My everything is built around it. And I'm exhausted from it all.

  9. Ellie says:

    Thank you for writing and sharing your experience. . . you are not alone. I have had almost an identical experience and find it reassuring that some of us just have to accept the medication IS the only alternative. No amount of yoga/kale/vitamin B12/ meditation/etc. will eliminate our depression and/or anxiety. Namaste.

  10. Debbie says:

    This is brilliant…thanks so much for taking the time to write this. We are currently working on a film integrating western psychiatry with ayurveda, and it indeed involves taking medication if it is deemed necessary. Here's the link to our Facebook page if you're interested: https://www.facebook.com/healingthemindayurveda?r

  11. Serena says:

    Thank you! I could have written this myself. To be honest, I wish I come out to my fellow yoga teachers that I’m on meds.

    It took me over 25 years of struggling on and off, holding on to yoga, exercise, alternative therapies, countless hours of counselling until I realised how much I was lying to myself and how much damage I was doing to my kids.

    I recovered once I embraced my depression and was serious about seeking for the medical reason. God knows I had tried everything else. Cannot tell how much I cried when I started the treatment. My ego was so trampled and defeated. As it turns out, it runs in my family (both sides) as far as anyone can remember. It didn’t skip me.

    Today I’m so much better. I don’t have to put so much effort into being me, into functioning. I just feel free, sunnier inside and a huge sense of relief.

    I still have hangs up about my depression around the yoga crowd over here. I just don’t want to see the reflection of my old self in them.

  12. livicus says:

    I want to mirror some of the comments above. When I saw this article a moment ago my heart stopped. I teach yoga and I recently went to my doctor to ask for prozac. After over 25 years of trying to manage my emotional state of anxiety and depression from a natural and spiritual perspective, I finally had nothing left. I am two months in to my medication, and I feel like I am able to be myself for the first time is YEARS. The light has been let back in to my life and I can finally get on with fulfilling my life's purpose, instead of silently beating myself up for being such a looser and being griped with fear of everything, whilst simultaneously trying to life with a facade that I am in control and everything is fine. However, since taking the meds, i have become acutely aware of how uncomfortable the subject makes people. So a heart felt thank you for sharing your story. It has put that demon to rest that I am not alone and this is just part of what makes us who we are. And just incredibly grateful to live in a time where there is the science to help people like us. x

    • yogalance says:

      You are most welcome! I wrote it to try and touch at least one person out there, so I am very happy to hear that it helped. So happy that your demon has been put to rest.

  13. David says:

    Great article, thank you. I take anti depressants for my anxiety and have also had clinical depression in the past. A combination of anti depressants, cognitive behavioural therapy, yoga, mindfulness and a loving and supportive wife help me live a "normal" life. I was initially resistant to medication and would wean myself off every time I was doing okay but always end up back on them. It runs in my family and I know now that I will probably have to take medication all the time but I'm okay with that now.

  14. CLRichard says:

    Thank you, Lance. I walked with my Dark Passenger for over twenty years until I landed in a psych ward which, blessedly, was staffed by some excellent psycho-pharmacologists. It wasn't so much as starting medication for me as finding the right ones and the right dose. Some made me feel zombified, others so jumpy I could barely sit still, others just . . . dull. After a year and a half of therapy and trying this and that med combo, I found one that worked. I was able to function again, and not long after started working as a job coach for adults with developmental disabilities. I have not experienced Depression for the last nine years. After hellish chunks of 22 years just hanging on, the right meds are a gift beyond measure. The combination of having the damn arrow removed and having something worthy to aim for myself has saved my life. I hope everyone reading this who is tormented by Clinical Depression finds a really good doctor and begins finding the med combination which works for them. Again, thanks for a great article.

  15. amphibi1yogini says:

    I am dysthymic, too … but I also have read the books by Peter R. Breggin (including Talking Back to Prozac). And the book Prozac Backlash. Now, if I were in a more high-powered type of career, there is no telling what I would have done; so I am not condemning use of drugs across-the-board. All I know is I allowed my career to take a hit when faced with a crisis boss/situation, ignorant of how my age and structural unemployment would impact it. Underestimating what I'd had to lose at the time. In the face even of ridicule by my family at times.

    Then, up against the wall; having been chronically unemployed/underemployed for years I reinvented myself and my skills.
    Don't like what I do very much; but I was told, point blank: " You do what the market pays for. I know you will feel stifled and bored and may find the work dull and unexciting. If you want excitement, you can go to the gym after work."

    But, hot damn, a LOT less chronic overwork and stress than my earlier "career" that I hadn't wanted to walk away from.

  16. I am dysthymic, too … but I also have read the books by Peter R. Breggin (including Talking Back to Prozac). And the book Prozac Backlash. Now, if I were in a more high-powered type of career, there is no telling what I would have done; so I am not condemning use of drugs across-the-board. All I know is I allowed my career to take a hit when faced with a crisis boss/situation, ignorant of how my age and structural unemployment would impact it. Underestimating what I'd had to lose at the time. In the face even of ridicule by my family at times.

    Then, up against the wall; having been chronically unemployed/underemployed for years I reinvented myself and my skills.
    Don't like what I do very much; but I was told, point blank: " You do what the market pays for. I know you will feel stifled and bored and may find the work dull and unexciting. If you want excitement, you can go to the gym after work."

    But, hot damn, a LOT less chronic overwork and stress than my earlier "career" that I hadn't wanted to walk away from, because all that (physical-health-impacting) high-impact real estate management and commercial real estate brokerage administrative support had been exciting (and I'm not being facetious) …

  17. amb says:

    a friend posted this on her FB wall, i read it, and have had to look it up again… i am currently in a depressive/anxious state, trying like hell with yoga, eating well, praying, taking supplements anything… to fell better, I have an appt. with a Doc. in 2 weeks… I pray they can help and help me find a good combination of something… I thank you so much for this article… and… for making me laugh… "if your shot it the arm… you need and effing doctor"… ;)

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