By Wednesday of the third week, I was a wreck. I felt isolated and alone, physically exhausted and mentally and emotionally inadequate. I was fighting a constant battle in my head of re-examining perceived slights and rationally explaining to myself that all was well. It wasn't.
During morning asana practice tears began to flow. A constant, seemingly endless stream spilled down my cheeks and forced me to spend most of the class curled up with my forehead on the mat in child's pose, my chest flat against my knees with feet and hands flopped behind me. I thought I could ignore it and continue with the day, even the week but the floodgates had opened and there was no way of holding it back.
At breakfast I sought out the house dog, Dragon, a black Belgian shepherd 9-month old puppy. He rolled on his back and allowed me to sit on the floor rubbing his tummy in an effort to soothe whatever was spilling out of me. It was self-doubt, feelings of inadequacy, a constant comparison not to the other students in the training but to my past body, my past mind. Depression is a balloon that creates a vast space of nothingness between the sufferer and others. There is no way of simply talking oneself out of such a deep funk. Likewise, it is hard for others to reach in and pull the depressed out of the bog. Each of my instructors took a turn sitting with me and giving me a pep talk and a hug. It helped but also made me feel so emotionally weak to be collapsing so openly. Other students offered hugs but what could they do or say? The mean girl would only twist it to ugliness or pity.
I muddled through the morning practicum somehow but by the lunch break I felt the darkness suffocating me once again as others swapped yoga clothes for bathing suits and ran to the beach. I wanted to be a part of the group but felt isolated and impossibly distant. I no longer had a roommate as the girl who shared my "room" had been in the advanced program and had only attended for a couple of weeks as a teacher's assistant. This made it easier for me to go to bed early without the temptation of chatting late into the night but also felt like yet another thing that added distance between me and the other girls.
The pace of the program was far more intense than I was prepared for. There was so much to study, homework to do, sanskrit poses and terminology to memorize. I couldn't sleep past 5:30 am so watching the sunrise each morning on the beach was my only real solitude. It was also my only study time. We had a two hour lunch break but that was barely enough time for a quick swim and lunch. And I needed that swim, or more accurately, float. The salty sea absorbed the aches and pains accumulating in my muscles and joints and settled my critical and overly-harsh mind. Floating on my back under the bright noon-day sun each day settled me briefly and gave me the strength to return for afternoon classes.
But that Wednesday I couldn't decide what I wanted or what I needed. When one of the girls asked me if I needed to talk or if there was anything she could do I just cried. I was unraveling and feared I wouldn't be able to finish. I was embarrassed by how emotionally weak I was. I am. Emotional break downs are troublesome enough when there is only you to witness, having near-strangers watching from the fringes can contribute to the paralysis, self-loathing and feelings of defeat. Sophie asked how to help and I wanted to cry and scream about how ostracized and other I felt, how frustrating it was to be trapped in a mind and body that did not work the same as it used to. I wanted to explain how much more interesting, funny and strong I once was. I wanted to find that part of me that easily found a role in the group dynamic. I wanted to be anyone but the depressed cancer survivor with all the complaints, excuses and delusions.
Instead, I let her hug me and talk to me and offer ways to help. I continued to feel embarrassed, small and weak. I brushed away her offerings and carried the bitterness of a trip into the deep, dark hole of depression and self-loathing with me to the beach. I walked into the ocean, turned onto my back and floated. The heaviness ceased. My tears merged with the salty ocean and dried under the sun's rays. I remained emotionally fragile the rest of the teacher training - crying and needing frequent breaks from group time, arguing with myself and others over my own misperceived shortcomings.
I feared I would fail the written exam and the mean girl in my head used up far too much energy criticizing my failure to memorize that could have gone toward actually memorizing. I forgot many things I knew backwards and forwards on the test. But I passed. Actually, I did better than that, I got an A. Even so, I spent the morning before, during and after the test sick to my stomach. Immediately after the Friday morning test we broke into our groups for final preparations for the practicum that had been moved from Sunday to Saturday morning. For the second day in a row I had to take a break from the group to sit on a log outside the yoga deck and talk myself out of crying. It was mortifying how raw and exposed my inner self had become.
Friday night I skyped with my parents and my sweet puppy worked himself into a barking frenzy looking for me. He could hear my voice and see me on the tv and he demanded I come home immediately. I went to bed that night realizing I had to let it all go. There is time to improve and I am doing the best I am able at this time under these particular circumstances. Saturday morning at sunrise I reviewed my asana sequencing and posture cues and then meditated to calm my mind. Cramming wasn't going to change anything at this point so I made myself a small cheat sheet and reported to the yoga deck at 630, a half hour before my team's class was to commence. I focused on reviewing a teammates sequence and gave her the pep talk I was chanting inside my own head.
Before I knew it, we were finished. We all passed. I knew the mistakes I had made but I also knew where I was strong. At breakfast we were given feedback and what stands out from mine is "you are too smart for your own good." Basically, I know the postures, I know how to intelligently sequence a class and break it down for various levels and to build from simple versions of a posture to more difficult. However, I need to open my heart more and allow myself to be more vulnerable instead of fighting to be strong all the time. This is true in so many ways.
At the opening ceremony for the teacher training we had a bonfire on the beach at the full moon and wrote something on a stick we wanted to leave behind. I wrote grief and sorrow. Yet, as fatigue gained the upper hand and my emotions grew raw, I slipped back into the comfortable bed of grief and sorrow and longed for my pre-cancer body and mind. I stopped looking at what I was accomplishing and instead complained about the 30 pounds cancer had caused me to gain, the loss of muscle, the loss of youth, the constant pain. I want to move forward and yet I get in my way more than anyone or anything else does. Grief isn't just an excuse, it is a comfort. Stepping away from grief means acceptance of who I am now and who I will become going forward.
As a closing ceremony on Saturday afternoon, we hiked to a waterfall and pool of cool fresh water. Instead of sticks we selected rocks on which we wrote words we chose to manifest with the new moon. I wrote "Acceptance" but added "openness to love" at the last minute before throwing my manifestation rock into the pond with the others as more tears spilled down my cheeks.
On Sunday when everyone lamented how fast the time had gone and how they wanted to stay, I concentrated on willing the time to pass so I could return home to my dog, my family and my simple life where I can manage my fatigue with pacing and sleep. While others hugged and took photo after photo I continued to feel separate and detached but recognized the detachment came from me, not a deliberate ostracizing from the group.
Monday morning I had a massage before flying to San Jose. Two of the girls flew with me and shared my hotel room for a night. Alone with these two I felt the closeness I had deprived myself of for most of our three week training and was genuinely sad to send them off on their flights on Tuesday even as I wished for my flight to arrive faster.
I spent my time in San Jose exclusively at the hotel and primarily at the pool. I allowed myself to enjoy the last few days of sunshine without wishing the time away. I considered trying to take an earlier flight Wednesday morning to avoid arriving in Salt Lake at midnight but decided to avoid the hassle and stick with my scheduled flight.
And happily on that flight from San Jose to Atlanta I was seated next to a tall, attractive man of about my same age. He kept making conversation and instead of my usual plane persona, I joined in. We watched the movie playing on the screen in front of us with our separate headsets but he frequently leaned over to make comments or share laughter over something funny. As the flight quickly reached Atlanta I learned he is a frequent traveler, enjoys history and quirky, random information about places he visits, speaks Spanish and knows a surprising amount about Mormons. He is a doctor and lives in Ohio and the Ohio part was the biggest down side. We stuck together walking through customs and I even took him up on his offer to carry my way-too-heavy carry-on bag (I bought several books and chocolate souvenirs in the airport). We were both disappointed to part ways as our connecting flights were in separate terminals but he asked for my number and I gave it to him. We exchanged a couple of texts before his flight took off and I am now on my much longer flight replaying bits of conversation in my head . . . like how he complimented my "yoga legs" but seemed to become more interested when I mentioned I am a lawyer. Plus his text said something about meeting a "beautiful, intelligent lawyer."
I can't imagine much coming of meeting a guy on a plane who lives on the other end of the country but it does feel like a good start toward my acceptance and openness manifestation. Plus, I am never sure which comes first - the confidence in oneself that attracts others or the attraction that boosts confidence. Whatever the order, it feels like a beautiful way to end my trip and possibly an excellent beginning of a new future of confidence without the mean girl in my head interfering.