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Playing Again

January 19, 2012

I’ve been dealing with some depression in the last couple months, friends.  Without going into too much detail, I’ll just summarize by saying that I lost sight of inspiration; all thoughts (most of which were negative) seemed completely real, solid, and inescapable; and I couldn’t remember how I make meaning in the world.

Highly unpleasant.  Perfectionism played a large role here, too; I’ll come back to that in a minute.

Fortunately, over the years a number of great people have shared with me their tools and strategies for living with episodic or more chronic depression.  Nothing like knowledge and loving, supportive relationships to lessen fears and ease internalized stigma.

Also fortunately, I have access to many resources for digging myself out — including free time.

What that wound up meaning, for me, was: forcing myself to do a lot of things that I reeeeeeeally did not feel like doing.  Robot-style, I checked off my list.

  • Don’t deny it (in other words, be real with myself and Ryan about how I’m doing, even if I feel ashamed about it)
  • Apply for jobs (seek more structure in my day and more stability in moneyplans)
  • Accept invitations to hang out (even when all I want to do is stay home alone, sit on the couch, and valorize all my thoughts)
  • Seek parental insight on racism (ask my dad what he has done to cope with lifelong feelings of outsiderness and non-belonging)
  • Get under the sky (hike, see some trees, feel some air, find an arboreal newt at Butano State Park)
  • Try therapy (preferably with someone who knows about queer shit, POC shit, political shit, and how these relate to mental health)
  • Practice gratitude (this one didn’t actually work for me — the negative thoughts were just too loud and strong — but I did try)
  • Reach out (talk with friends who know me well, even if they’re far away and “talking” is via phone or email)
  • Exercise (since the bike-to-car transition, the old endorphin crank is getting real rusty)

On this last point, my friend Cat kindly clued me in to a free program through Yoga Journal: the 21 Day Yoga Challenge.  Offering daily vegetarian recipes, guided meditations, and yoga instructional videos, it supports participants’ three-week quest for calm minds, open hips, and better bowel movements.  Ideal for avoiding the crowds at Yoga To The People.  (Despite living in what is probably the white yogi capitol of the world, with studios outnumbered only by Walgreens, I still haven’t found a cozy home base like Mandiram in Barcelona.)  Online videos allow for sweatpants, bad attitude, and slovenly following of computer-screened orders.

The sessions were at first relatively numb and joyless.  Stretch this, bend that, breathe, same-old same-old.

By now, Day 11, I am gobbling all kinds of YouTube yoga videos and practicing extra arm balances on my own.  Falling all over the place, trying to build strength in my shoulders and core.  One of my goals is to master the pincha mayurasana by the Day 21.  Almost there (hopefully I’ll have a video or photo to share soon), and practicing feels delicious.

B K S Iyengar

In other words, playtime* is back — and that is a good thing.  A very good thing.

What do I mean by playtime?  Giving oneself permission to be curious, try things, make mistakes, and do weird shit that may or may not ‘add up’ to anything, but in the meantime is fun and/or fascinating.  Scientifically, play appears to be critical to healthy childhood development, and among adults it’s vital to creativity. Even the big businesses are catching on, and you know they don’t waste labor costs on pure frivolity.

[Sidenote: I’m not totally sure about this, but I think it might be useful to distinguish between mindful and unmindful play.  For instance, Ryan and I have been talking a lot about video games lately, and how they can become very addictive and life-force-sucking, rather than rejuvenating and relaxing (as one might imagine a “game” would be).  Is it possible to play video games mindfully?  Probably, but for a variety of reasons it seems awfully difficult to me, though I admit I am no expert.  In any case, rather than labeling certain activities (i.e. yoga, music, sports, freewriting) as “mindful play” and excluding others, the main thing might be the quality of play, or the attitude one brings to the activity.  No?]

Now, I’m not too keen on the “allegorical” school of yoga writing: always translating physical asanas into metaphors for everyday life, in a kind of pat, Chicken-Soup-For-The-Soul way — you feel me?  I’m more on the medical/meditative tip (i.e. this posture supports thyroid function; and when keeping the attention on the breath and sensations, yoga becomes a very practical spiritual path).  Therefore, the following observation about my own 11 days of yoga makes me feel a little squirmy.  But I’ll say it anyway.

Remember how I mentioned that perfectionism contributed to my depression?  As we know, perfectionism breeds rigidity.  Failure and mediocrity seem to permeate everything; nothing is good enough.  Except maybe the rare, unattainable genius of other people.  But even then, they are probably geniuses at things that don’t matter very much.  Awesome at yoga?  Who cares; plus, where’s the critique of patriarchyBrilliant writer?  Idealist/individualistic and/or suicidal.  Stellar organizer?  Either too complicit with the state, or too unsystemic in thinking.  Great politics?  Where’s the disciplined application.  This is what my mind said, over and over.  Rigid.

And what’s the opposite of rigidity?

You guessed it: flexibility.  Darn allegories.

So where my depression was closed, stagnant, and neurotic, yoga has brought openness, movement, and grounding in the body. I feel so. much. better.

Of course, it didn’t have to be yoga!  Running, if I could stand it, might have offered similar benefits along the exercise lines.  And it wasn’t only the yoga!  There were hella other factors contributing, too.  (Notably, Ryan’s constant, unwavering, loving support.  Straight-up amazing.)

Nevertheless, there it is.  Yoga helped me be more flexible, let go of rigid perfectionism, and remember how to play.

Hold up — I think I feel that gratitude practice starting to kick in.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

* In light of fucked-up racist stereotypes, I just want to clarify that when I associate playtime and yoga, I don’t mean that yoga is somehow unserious, or that inversions like pincha mayurasana are childish and/or monkey-like acrobatics.  That is some colonial-ass thinking, which is unfortunately not uncommon, hence the need to mention it.  Rather, when I speak of play in my practice, I mean focus, immersion, an attitude of curiosity, ability to adjust, tweak and revise, recover buoyantly from errors, or even let go of the idea of error altogether.  The same applies to the freewriting practice I recently resurrected for myself, called “morning pages”: an exercise from Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way.

15 Comments leave one →
  1. January 19, 2012 7:37 pm

    you are always such as inspiration katie–do you know the book “the depression book: depression as an opportunity for spiritual practice”? i really love it and resonates with a lot of what yr saying. <3

  2. January 19, 2012 7:58 pm

    lydia, your username makes me chuckle because in my head i want to turn it into lydiaphD!

    thank you; it’s really sweet to see you here, and i know you’ve been facing your own challenges lately, so i especially appreciate it. and thanks for the recommendation. sounds spot-on.

    big hugs

  3. January 19, 2012 9:37 pm

    I have spent many gruesome months of my life in a dark hole of depression and it sirely does suck. I am so glad you are coming out of it. Exercise and diet helped me a lot. Apringtime halped too.

  4. January 19, 2012 9:37 pm

    Springtime helped(grrr)

  5. January 20, 2012 1:09 am

    Thx for the honesty in this. I have been doing some mind numbing “play” like watching stupid Tv to recover from burn out:) Some of it has been good:) I wish you the best and many hugs. You are an inspiration to me as well!!

  6. eugeni permalink
    January 20, 2012 8:05 am

    Bueno, compañera, me alegra que hayas salido del estado de ánimo “decaído” así como no haber sabido que entraste.
    Te felicito por tu capacidad de compartir.
    Pero, sobretodo, lo que quiero decirte es que no vayas a olvidarte de respirar : el aire todavía es gratis.

  7. January 20, 2012 11:10 am

    “As we know, perfectionism breeds rigidity. Failure and mediocrity seem to permeate everything; nothing is good enough. Except maybe the rare, unattainable genius of other people. But even then, they are probably geniuses at things that don’t matter very much. Awesome at yoga? Who cares; plus, where’s the critique of patriarchy. Brilliant writer? Idealist/individualistic and/or suicidal. Stellar organizer? Either too complicit with the state, or too unsystemic in thinking. Great politics? Where’s the disciplined application. This is what my mind said, over and over. Rigid.”

    I laughed out loud at the truth of this paragraph. Thanks for sharing Katie :)

  8. Raneage permalink
    January 20, 2012 12:42 pm

    Katie,

    First, I want to say that I’m so sorry that you have been going through a rough patch and I want you to know that I’m always here for you at any time. You are such a special person and this post is so incredibly inspiring to me. I also am struggling with a bit of depression and am having lots of trouble dealing with it or beginning any kind of healing process. I love your emphasis on flexibility and play…so important to a happy and productive life. Anyways, this was very inspirational for me and I wish you all the luck in the world. Although it may not be completely gone, I’m glad you are making positive strides. This is all such an example of your incredible strength, insight, focus and honesty <33333 (lunch date soon)

  9. January 20, 2012 10:50 pm

    Yeah, it’s been hella inspiring to see the way you deal with it….plus finally being on the OTHER side of the depression support equation is cool. <3 <3

  10. January 20, 2012 11:22 pm

    Friends! Thank you. You are all there for me and I appreciate it HELLA.

    Eugeni, siempre me encantan tus e-mails. Cada vez sonrío cuando leo tu nombre en mi inbox.

    powell, you pin down psychological states like only the best writers can, so that is quite a compliment coming from you.

    JM, now that i am feeling better there’s a lot I’d love to talk to you about! also, now you’ve got me thinking about the difference between burnout and depression, if there is one at all.

    raneage, staying with you and playing Taboo and cooking together was a huge help, and you are more than welcome here for a sleepover *anytime,* as i hope you know.

    Roger, thanks for your empathy; it means a lot from folks who have been there. I’m glad you’re in a better place now!

    Ryan, I am about to come in the other room and snuggle-attack you; fair warning. :)

  11. January 30, 2012 5:38 am

    Hi Katie,

    So much of what you wrote applies to me: the perfectionism, lack of inspiration and tendency to compare…

    If it would would be helpful I’d love to talk more about this stuff with you.

    Also, I’ve read a couple good books: The Ten Best-Ever Depression Management Techniques and The Mindful Path to Self-compassion…the second is in the tradition of radical acceptance.

    -Erin

  12. aneeeeeeeta permalink
    January 30, 2012 8:46 pm

    my loveliest. always such a joy to be around you, whether in presence or writing, whether in happiness or sorrow. such an intention to do right for yourself and community. to politicize even that which is assumed by society to be apolitical- yoga; depression.
    you are that third child with that full jar of oil. walking along, sometimes you will trip over the unexpected turbulence of life and some oil may just spill right out. but to you the jar is not just half full, as blind optimism would express. you will push yourself to see reality- the other half spilled in the process- and with this clarity, you work to fill it back up :)

    always learning from you <3

  13. Joel Saxe permalink
    February 1, 2012 9:10 am

    Thanks for your deeply honest musings an insights. Though I know we all have to do what we can as individuals to overcome the demons, including internalized oppression, I do long for more spaces where we can connect in real life (IRL –ugh!), in communal daily forms of sharing, mutual aid, creative stewardship of our communities, children, elders, streets, bldgs… I know for me, the DEEP gets less when I’m hooked up in natural, organic ways — which are ever harder to find as this society so divides us, now even more with all the devices. It makes me angry and sad and wish we could all roar together.

    But that’s a diversion from thanking you again for sharing and reminding us what’s real. I also like your earlier post on classism.

  14. February 1, 2012 2:22 pm

    Many thanks for sharing your thoughts and experiences, Joel. I think you’re so right about the nourishment of mutual aid and the way it’s undermined by structural forces. Reminds me of a pamphlet on self care written by a revolutionary organization, which goes into some of the nuances of individualism, collectivism, swimming upstream politically and culturally, and honoring our human-ness and need of healing while still maintaining strategic effort for our political aims and avoiding the trap of lifestyle activism. Anyway I think I have a copy back in Oakland so when I get back next week I’ll try to find it, in case you’re interested.

    What kinds of spaces have you found that keep you anchored and hooked up? I’d love to hear.

    and LET’S ALL ROAR TOGETHER!!! Love it.

    Stay well,

    katie

  15. February 1, 2012 2:26 pm

    Erin I would love to talk soon. The minute I saw your name on the screen I felt that you of all people would understand stuff like this. I’mma call you, sugar.

    Aneeta I miss you already. Your reminders of Goenkaji’s stories are really doin it for me. :)

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