May 23, 2018

How to Stay Sane on the Crooked Path to Mental Health.

“The bad news is you’re falling through the air, nothing to hang on to, no parachute. The good news is, there’s no ground.”  ~ Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche


There was a defining point of my 20s, and it’s a story I share both as a cautionary tale and a note of inspiration.

Flashback to April 2005: I was 24 years old in Austin, Texas. A bright, blossoming, wounded, made-up girl-person flung far from the bleak overcast of depression and the jagged broken record of anxiety.

I was high and flying ever higher—no one could stop me. I was a rainbow technicolor butterfly emerging from her chrysalis stupor. I was on fire, passionately delusional. I was all over town, dancing on tabletops. Or at least that’s how it felt to me at the time.

In and out of consciousnesses, I was nevertheless enjoying nonstop religious experiences. I felt invincible and acted boldly. I was out of my mind. I was a puppet starlet drama queen going places: India, California, everywhere. I wrote these things down in the height of my mania:

>> This is fiction, by the way. Life is fiction. Maya, an illusion of reality. I need to meditate. Writing is my meditation this morning. I need to sleep. Why can’t I sleep? Dear God, please let me sleep.

>> I am so scattered but I must write. I feel like if it were not for yoga, meditation, and a select few other secrets, I would at this moment be a bunch of particles floating in space with no center, no cohesion.

>> Am i bipolar? It is a distinct possibility. I never knew that mental illness like this could happen to me again and again and again.

>> I have lost my ability to be anything but totally present. Spiritual awakening. Cultivating the power of now. Happy, joyous, productive, exciting. But I seriously think I’m manic depressive. Shudder to think where I’d be without my yoga. Dead or a mother of three, I bet. I need organization. I am in chaos. Things are in complete flux. Everything: job, relationships, friendships, careers, stories, networks, art, life.

>> I have one mission: to live life to the fullest, soaking up the sweet and dark emotions, figuring it out as I go. Never before have I felt this satisfied. I am done with being ruled by a suspicion that sorrow and trouble are lying around the next corner, just out of view. I am done with forcing myself into a shape.

At the aptly named Flipnotics Coffeehouse on Barton Springs Road, the sh*t hit the fan. Long story short, I was taken away in handcuffs by the police and sent to the psych ward, where doctors brought me back down to Earth with a thud and a plethora of prescription psychotropics, tranquilizers, chairs with straps, and staff in white uniforms to do the strapping. Yet, in 10 long days, I was released.

That was 13 years ago.

These days, I am celebrating sanity, but more than that, I am celebrating life, freedom, and yoga. I am grateful for all the people, places, and lessons from those times in my tumultuous mid-20s and since. I am welcoming everything—whatever may come—whether pleasure, success, tragedy, or death.

I am celebrating my choice not to follow the doctors’ orders and “just take two of these pills a day.” I am celebrating my choice to exit the box and settle well outside of it, surrounded by wildflowers, kittens, scattered toys, piles of books and notebooks, coffee trees, three volcanoes, and a sparkling lake.

Our past does not have to define or confine us. We can transcend diagnoses, evolve our lifestyle, and adapt to pretty much anything.

For me, sanity means being in touch with reality. Remembering the simple truths of life: everything changes, be kind and grateful as much as possible, eat things and consume ideas that are wholesome, nourishing, and in alignment with nature.

Sanity comes from being in touch with my breath, taking time each day for a yoga and meditation practice, eating healthily and mindfully, cultivating loving relationships with myself, my family, my friends, and ultimately all beings and things.

Sanity comes from choosing to slow down, shed toxicity, and sit and be patient. Awareness of how our minds and bodies and hearts work is the first step. Acceptance is the next. And, simultaneously, striving to improve, to be more disciplined yet more spontaneous, more natural and open. I know it’s paradoxical to be content with how things are in this moment while also setting goals and achieving them. But life is full of paradox!

Above all, sanity comes from releasing the delusion of “I, me, mine.” As Buddhist teacher Joseph Goldstein says, “Nothing whatsoever is to be clung to as me or mine.” This isn’t easy, since it happens all the time, multiple times per minute. My daughter. My bed. My house. My body. My happiness.

Instead, I watch life as it unfolds and remember that “I” am nothing but a collection of ever-changing molecules in human form who has been given this day to live, breathe, love, and make mistakes.


“The path is like a busy, broad highway, complete with roadblocks, accidents, construction work, and police. It is quite terrifying. Nevertheless it is majestic, it is the great path. ‘From today onward until the attainment of enlightenment I am willing to live with my chaos and confusion as well as with that of all other sentient beings. I am willing to share our mutual confusion.’ So no one is playing a one-upmanship game. The bodhisattva is a very humble pilgrim who works in the soil of samsara to dig out the jewel embedded in it.” ~ Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche



5 Signs an Emotional Breakdown is actually a Spiritual Breakthrough.


Author: Michelle Margaret Fajkus
Image: Sarah Ann Loreth/Flickr
Editor: Nicole Cameron
Copy Editor: Catherine Monkman

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