Promising to write a follow up to “Pause and Feel: A True Connection”, I sit here reluctantly sharing my story. I feel I should share it though, as perhaps it can help someone else. There is a stigma against talking openly about mental health and/or the use of anti-depressants. I share my story so to let someone out there they are not alone, and to know that even in the darkest time there is a sliver of hope to hold on to.
Almost three years ago, I was the target of a Panamanian shake-down. I will not go into the details of it, but basically it was a very scary situation involving lots of shady dealings, many lawyers, and a culminating, dramatic trip to Panama City, Panama to fight for my life. My father, back in the States, was advising me to flee the country. To give up my property (my land and custom-built yoga studio/home on it) and basically be homeless and jobless. There was no way I was going to do that, so I stayed and fought. I walked away with my land and yoga studio, but nothing else. My entire life-savings and my truck were gone. I literally had nothing but the clothes on my back and that’s it. Yes, I was scared – physically, financially, emotionally. Everything was in jeopardy and the small-town I live in with all the gossip-mongers adding completely fictional gossip to fan the flames didn’t help. I felt suicidal. I needed help. I started taking anti-depressants and they worked. They helped. I am convinced at that they saved my life. There is no shame in taking anti-depressants if they will indeed save a life. I have battled depression most of my life, and sometimes all the flowery talk of “think positive” just isn’t enough.
It wasn’t until recently in an effort to heal my Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), that I seriously started doing research into the side effects of Prozac, which is what I was taking. I started researching it because I had come across an article saying that Prozac can actually interfere in the brain healing after TBI. After seeing the side-effects of Prozac, and the interactions with other drugs (I would take Tramadol for menstrual cramps), I began to realize that perhaps these drug interactions did in fact play a part in my near-death experience. It is still not known what happened to me that day. It is suspected that I simply fainted in that shallow swimming pool that day, and drowned. No one knows how long I was face down on the bottom of the pool.
Besides fainting being a possible side-effect, warnings included, “Do not take if you have to be alert”. Now, let me be clear, at the time of the legal/financial nightmare, I did not want to be alert. I seriously needed to just be underground and ride that shit out. However, now, after I’ve ridden out that drama, and am now in the effort to try to regain my cognitive function, I want to be alert! The aphasia is probably the most frustrating of all symptoms of the concussion that occurred in the ambulance (aphasia is defined by difficulties in speaking, listening, reading, and writing, but does not affect intelligence). I’ll never forget a friend of mine here, who is in a wheel-chair making fun of my speech after my accident. It was hard to put together new sentences – sentences I had never said before. Thankfully things like song lyrics were in my head, and all the necessary tools to teach yoga – do my job – were in my head, but anything new, was such a vast challenge. Yet I wasn’t stupid. I still had the intelligence, but not able to read, write, or speak as I used to! I thought was a cruel irony that someone who is so obvious-to-the-eye physically disabled was making fun of my admittedly hard-to-understand, invisible disability.
The huge memory loss, as well, I really wanted to improve upon. The more I researched Prozac, the more I was unsure whether my memory loss, aphasia, and chronic need to sleep were the results of the TBI or side-effect of the drug, or a combination of both. Therefore, I decided to go off of the Prozac, as the only way to really find out. After being a month off of it, cold-turkey, and also not taking Tramadol during painful menstruation, I can see a clear difference. I have gone from getting too much sleep to getting not enough – it is my hope this will eventually find a comfortable median.
Thankfully the aphasia has abated to a large extent. One of the most humiliating things has been not be able to read to my former abilities. I can now say I am half-way through the book “Purity” by Jonathan Franzen, a long, deep, hefty book and really enjoy it and it’s like YES – I can read again!!! Read beyond a basic level, and enjoy it! What a gift, never ever to be taken for granted. My speech is sometimes still hard to grasp, but much, much improved – at least it’s not slurred anymore, if sometimes somewhat stilted. Some days the brain gets so exhausted, I just point and say “thingy”, like a child, and I am completely unapologetic about it. Nobody else apologizes for their disability and I will not for mine. I am doing the best I can.
It has not been all sunshine and roses going off the meds. The first major withdrawal symptom that made itself screamingly apparent was vivid nightmares – nightmares of the most horrid kind, one which brought up a trauma that occurred almost thirty years ago that has been buried all this time. Nightmares that go well beyond a normal bad dream. These nightmares would often include my family and my beloved rescued pets, lots of death involved to the extent that I would (just like in the movies) wake up in a panicked cold sweat. Unlike the movies though, I would remain in that panicked state, alone, in the dark for about an hour, my heart racing. Basic Psychology 101 will tell you that dreams are the brain’s way of clearing out the subconscious, so as terrifying as the nightmares were, I knew they were a signal that my brain was awakening and doing it job.
How does one teach yoga when having the nightmares all night? It has been a challenge, and I intentionally decided to undergo this process during “low-season”. Low season as in tourists, which means not many people in class. The ones who do come during low-season are usually ex-pats who live here and have been coming to me regularly, so I feel I could be more myself around them. I will never forget one Monday morning, after a hard night, wanting to cancel class and go back to bed. There is a lot of freedom in being one’s own boss, but there is also a danger, in that if I want to not work, I have the liberty to just go back to bed. However, I feel accountable to my clients, my students. For them, as much as for myself, yoga is a way of loving and nurturing oneself. If I were to cancel class, I knew the guilt of cancelling would keep me tossing an turning, and it would be selfish of me to turn away somebody who made the effort to show up wanting to improve upon themselves. That Monday morning, the “regular” who usually comes Monday morning, I said to her, honestly, “You are the reason I got out of bed this morning.” Tears welled up in her eyes and she hugged me and said that’s the nicest thing anyone has ever said to her. We all have days when it is a struggle to get out of bed. For a yoga student to know that yes, even the teacher has those days makes the teaching more relatable. The following week she declared to the class, “I didn’t want to get out of bed today to come to yoga, but then I remembered I love myself”. That statement, right there is what gives me hope and drive to move forward. That the yoga practice and teaching not only helps me, but others is such a rewarding benefit that one can not put a price on.
The reason this article is in the “Pause and Feel” series is that I am feeling again. There was that time almost three years ago when not feeling was essential for survival. Now that I am feeling again, there have been some noticeable changes, or awakenings if you will. On the weird note, sometimes I have a new nervous tick in my eye-brow. Totally new one, that! I notice it only appears when I think of a certain person. Hmmmm…. something for me to ponder the consequences of. Another awakening is my libido has returned. I have mentioned before that since my near-death experience, my libido has plummeted to near zero. Psychologically, and intellectually, I have always had a massive interest in sex, and over the last 2 years this fascination with human sexuality has been expressed in artistic form of my nude videos – they are truly an expression of my sexuality, they are a personal glimpse into who I really am. These last couple of years, me not having a libido has not been an “issue” since I do not have a lover in Bocas Del Toro (by choice). Having a healthy, functioning sexuality is vital to human existence, so I would force myself to masturbate, out of duty, like, “Okay, Laura, it’s been two weeks since you’ve masturbated, let’s do this just to make sure everything is in working order” and I’d masturbate not out of desire, but out of simple bodily maintenance. How sexy, right? When I did orgasm it was like “eh”. Since going off of my meds, thankfully my libido has returned, I feel human again, and one crazy new feeling is sensitivity in my nipples! Sensitivity to the point I haven’t felt since I was a teenager first exploring my sexuality. Wow, sensitive nipples, the urge to masturbate – I am human again. Now when I masturbate, for pleasure, not duty, I actually have been ejaculating. Not huge gushes – let’s not get carried away with unrealistic “porno” expectations – but ejaculating enough that there is a fair-sized puddle underneath me when I get up. I feel like my sexuality – in terms of taking on a physical lover – has been dormant the last three years, healing from an unhealthy hypersexuality in the past, and my sexuality now is at the dawn of a healthy revolution. As scary and uncertain the future seems, it is exciting to know that I am aware now of so many things since hidden.
Having been alcohol-free since my near-death experience, and now Prozac-free and Tramadol-free. What “crutch” is left? Ahhhh! This is why I referred to this experience as a “white knuckle ride” in my last article. That’s what it has felt like. Just hold on and get through it, experiencing and feeling for good or bad. I do allow myself the indulgence of what I consider medicinal benefits of cannabis. Since my drowning/resuscitation, my lungs are damaged to the point that I can not inhale smoke, I allow myself in a small sliver, only at night, when I am winding down, of pot-brownies. I have to have something, as there has seriously been times during this detoxing from alcohol as a self-soother and prescription medicines that I’ve visualized Trepanation (in ancient times, holes were drilled into the skull of a person who was behaving in what was considered an abnormal way to let out what they believed were evil spirits). Obviously that is not something I would do, but that image is what sums up what the pressure has felt like during this process. Pot brownies help take the edge off in a non-addictive way. For my gluten-free, vegan recipe click here. Remember, you are accountable for what you put into your body. I am only stating what works for me
Other magnificent outcomes of this process has been the ability to laugh and cry again – both are healthy expressions. A couple of times I have found myself in a fit of giggles while teach yoga sometimes and it’s great! I can be cheerful again. Long having been an animal rights advocate, if I come across and article on animal abuse I actually cry again, like I used to when I was a teenager. Now, nobody likes to cry, but I also feel it is inhuman to see images of animal abuse/neglect/torture and feel nothing. That I have the ability to both laugh and cry again, I take as a sign then I am awakening. I am feeling again. Admittedly I am in the range of being bi-polar, so I can not write this and say “Hey, I have got this all sorted out”. Just like I wrote in “Pause and Feel: Volume One” it is an ongoing, life-long process of understanding and getting to know oneself. Of learning to love oneself. Constantly on the quest for self-improvement, even if the biggest thing accomplished is getting out of bed in the morning and facing the world – at least it is a step. Out of all of this, I suppose the biggest word that comes to mind is clarity. There is a clear, sharpness in awareness, for good or bad. Ultimately for the good – I keep faith in that. It feels there is a storm-cloud in my head, yet a clearness in thought processes, if that makes any sense. I have feel a distinct, real dizziness yet my equilibrium is spot-on-balanced. I am coming out of hibernation, with an appetite for life and the sudden inclination to release myself from isolation. There is no support system for me here. No medical care, no family, no boyfriend/husband to calm or soothe me. Everyone says, “But, Laura, you’re such a strong, independent woman”, and now I see that at this point in my life, I am not to proud to say that I am tired of being a rock, exhausted from being an island. It’s been my contention that Spell Check is for suckers, and now I find myself relying on it shamelessly. Let the borders down. Break down the walls. I am not as strong as I look. It’s a front I have had to put up to survive. Underneath I am a sensitive little girl who wants to be held by someone I can trust. The “sweet” in my moniker is just as much to convince myself as it is anyone else.