I was 17, in my senior year of high school, when I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. I constantly felt a sense of impending doom, a fear of the unknown. I lost my appetite and I couldn’t sleep well. For the next several years, I was on and off medication and in and out of the hospital.
In 2002, after discussing it with my doctor, I went off medication because I wanted to get pregnant. During my pregnancy, I started yoga. Four times a week, I’d roll out my mat and practice with Shiva Rea’s prenatal yoga VHS tapes. When I finished, I felt like a brand-new person, physically and mentally.
Over time, the depression crept back in. My yoga practice fell by the wayside after I gave birth, and I went back on medication. A friend convinced me to try a local “40 Days to Personal Revolution” program.
Class started with 20 minutes of yoga and 5 minutes of meditation and built from there. Within the first week, I started sleeping better. I realized I was less reactive when I meditated.
Eventually, in 2010, I shifted from seeing a psychiatrist to consulting with a clairvoyant. I was at a place where seeing healers helped me accept where I was on my mental health journey. She helped me accept that it was OK to stay on medications if I wasn’t experiencing any negative side effects. She explained to me that it was my mission to demystify depression and anxiety to empower others, and I knew I needed to share my story.
The very next day, I started another “40 Days” program. I also wanted to share my bipolar diagnosis with the whole group of 30 other participants—something I’d never done before. My heart was racing but I knew this is what I had to do to feel free. As I told my story, outside the studio windows, fireworks lit up our little mountain town. It felt like a spiritual pat on the back for being brave enough to share.
Between 2008 and 2019, I completed 1,500 hours of yoga teacher training. And in 2012, I opened up my first yoga studio.
Today, I can tell when I need to get on my mat, to move energy and shake off anxiety. Yoga connects my body, my mind, and my spirit. And it brings this sense of calm, that everything’s going to be OK and all is well in my world.
— As told to Caitlin Carlson by Julie Kiddoo, author of Bye-Polar
This story is part of Yoga Journal’s Special Report: How Yoga Can Improve Your Mental Health