When I turned 38, I found myself in a bind. The intermittent depression that had haunted me since my teens had become more frequent and severe. I was taking a lot of medications to treat it. Antidepressants, first. When the drugs didn’t relieve my pain,
I pleaded with my psychiatrist for a higher dose, and then to try another, stronger med. And then another. Until I took 12 different meds, 25 pills per day. I’d been a successful magazine writer and editor who’d traveled the world on assignment for the New York Times, Newsweek, and more. I’d been an intrepid traveler to remote and extreme places. The drugs stole it all from me. I disappeared into a fog. The drugs caused me to slur my speech. I tripped when I walked. I couldn’t ride a bike without falling over. It was so bad that my wife hid my bike. I went to bed. For seven years.
And then my life really began to unravel. My 15-year marriage to my journalism grad-school sweetheart ended. My mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer. A dear friend whom I considered a little brother killed himself with an overdose. I was estranged from my real brother and father because of my anger about old issues. The worst part: I couldn’t feel a thing. I was cut off from my heart and couldn’t cope with the quickening changes. What do I mean?
Looking back, I now see more clearly what happened. The child of an alcoholic, I’d grown up to be an addict, too. Instead of drinking, which I feared, I numbed out with prescription drugs. The drugs I took prevented me from feeling the very thoughts and emotions that I needed to heal. The drugs blocked fear—and fear is the gateway to growth. The drugs crushed empathy. I couldn’t feel the pain of others, let alone my own. I blamed everybody for my problems—for my divorce, for my floundering career, for my tough family dynamic. The drugs had become a steel cage around my heart. I thought about ending it all. I bought a gun.
And then I rediscovered yoga, which I had abandoned years earlier. After a months-long pilgrimage to the Holy Land, where I tried to re-ignite the Christian faith of my youth. I realized something big. No external messiah—not a pill, not Jesus—was going to save me. I would have to save myself. So, I decided to reengage with yoga. In my first class back, while standing in Warrior Pose II, I remembered the energy and confidence that yoga had brought me in my 20s. While lying in Savasana (Corpse Pose),
I remembered the emotional peace, the refuge, that a daily practice provided. I wanted that back.
It took a couple of months to reestablish a regular practice. And then I committed big time: six days a week. No questions asked. I made a decision. Every morning I woke up with a single intention: if I got to yoga, it was a good day. Nothing else mattered. I settled into a vinyasa practice. It took a few more months for yoga to begin to really work on me. But flowing moved energy. Sitting in uncomfortable poses caused me to reflect on my own escapism from pain, the reason I had gotten on the drugs in the first place. My yoga teachers’ daily wisdom reintroduced me to the philosophy of ahimsa—not harming others, but especially not harming myself.
I saw the benefits. Yoga regulated my nervous system like no drug I’d taken. The depression and anxiety that had been so prevalent in my 30s lifted. It healed my body, too. The pain went away. More importantly, my heart began to open. Yoga led me to explore other spiritual practices, including meditation. And I found a new way to be in my skin. Today I take a mild antidepressant. But yoga gets the credit for showing me the way.
Sometimes the lost years gets to me. Seven whole years lost forever to a fog. Sometimes I feel sorry for myself and I find myself alone and sobbing. And when that happens, I know what to do. I grab my mat. I get to yoga. In my wallet, I keep a scrap of paper with these words scrawled on it: Get to yoga. Yoga saves.
About our Author
BRAD WETZLER is a journalist, writing coach, and yoga teacher in Boulder, Colorado. Learn more at bradwetzler.com.