Don't Follow The Story

A consistent practice of mindfulness through meditation and Yoga has done a great deal to improve my life as a sufferer of anxiety and depression. Most days are good, although the struggle still exists to a much lesser extent. It’s a tough battle to fight even though I feel like I’m better equipped than I’ve ever been in my life.

The fight against anxiety has been a little easier. Once I learned that breath is the enemy of anxiety, I’ve been able to use techniques I’ve developed in my meditation and Yoga classes to breath my way clear of attacks when I feel them coming on. Depression, on the other hand, has been tougher to defend against. I faced that battle on my way to my Yoga class this morning as the feeling of sadness and despair washed over me like a thick fog. I found tears starting to well up in my eyes as I sat in my car, having arrived a little early to class.

While mindfulness meditation has taught me to treat my thoughts with objectivity and a non-judgmental attitude, my first reaction to the wave of negative emotion was anger. “Oh hell no”, I thought. “I’m here to practice something that brings me peace, so fuck you, depression. Get out of my head now!” Well, let me tell you that doesn’t really work. So, I pulled out my phone and started up a short mediation in the 10% Happier app. I closed my eyes and tried to lock in with my breathing.

It was so tough to focus. As fast as I could acknowledge the thoughts whirling around the tornado of my mind, new ones replaced them. It was the same story I’ve heard before. “Why bother with anything? You’re not worth it. You’re broken. What the fuck is wrong with you? You have nothing to be happy about. No matter how hard you try you’ll never get ahead. You should just go home and sit in a dark room. Blah, blah, blah…” Yeah, that voice of depression is real asshole.

I was able to breath my way to some level of calmness but I was still rattled when I went in to my class. I was quivering a little and actually wondered if I might pass out on my mat. Then we started our pre-Yoga meditation. I managed to find my breath under the gentle voice of our instructor. Thoughts were still buzzing like flies in my head as I tried to bat them away. Then my instructor said something that shined a bright light through the mental fog. While talking about acknowledging thoughts without dwelling on them, she said, “Don’t follow the story.” Wow. That’s when it hit me. All the individual thoughts I was trying to wave off were part of the same story.

When depression starts to set in, the truth of the matter is that the asshole voice in my head is my own. That first wave of unreasonable despair and sadness pitches me a plot that my mind latches onto and fills in the story. I start ruminating and pursuing negative thoughts to irrational conclusions. Really bad fiction. That’s exactly what I was doing while sitting on my mat. “Don’t follow the story.” It was like a switch got flipped on in my head. I recognized that all my negative thoughts were part of the same story and I was the one writing it!

That storm of thoughts whirling around in my noggin was due to my allowing myself to explore the story prompt that depression initiated. I was in the storm and I needed to move away to a safe observation point. Somehow my acknowledgement that all those individual thoughts were part of the same narrative made it easier to move away from that line of thinking. It was like I now faced only a single foe rather than an army. I labeled the sum of my mental state “depression” and the instance my mind tried to head down the path of that story, I thought “don’t follow” and returned to my breath. The focus on my breath became locked down and I was able to start checking in with the rest of the body. I was starting to win. It ended up being a peaceful Yoga session.