A few weeks ago I was asked to cover the Yoga for Dancers class at the University of Minnesota’s Dance Department by someone I admire and respect. Initially I was reluctant. I was reluctant because it’s been a long time since I stepped foot in one of the University’s dance studios. When I was regularly attending classes in that space I was a very different version of my self. I was a sad and destructive version of my self and I wasn’t sure how I would react to the space now.
I agreed to the opportunity, because, let’s be real, I have a hard time saying no to those who believe in me and value what I have to offer. Prior to teaching the class I had to mentally prepare myself. I was going to feel sad to be in the same space where I battled major bouts of depression. It was going to be uncomfortable to teach in a studio where I cried countless times as a young adult. It’ll feel odd to walk through the lobby where I would sit and stare enviously at those who were better than me.
Strangely enough I realized that the day I’d be teaching at the U of M was also Mental Health Awareness Day. It seemed fitting.
On the afternoon of the class I walked into the Barbara Barker Dance Center and instantly memories, both happy and sad, flooded my mind. Late nights were spent chatting with my best friend in that lobby. I walked in late and hungover to that studio on multiple occasions because I was sad, depressed, and thought late night partying on a school night was the answer. These were just memories.
As I made my way to the studio in which I was about to teach I ran into some of my former teachers. It was kind of pleasant to see them. It made me feel like an adult. It made me feel like an equal. It made me feel like I was actually doing something with my life. A feeling I never embodied when I was a student in that space.
I taught the yoga class. The students were excellent. And then I left.
Once I got to my car I sat there for a moment reflecting on my experience. It was not the experience I had built up in my head prior to teaching the class. I thought I would be tormented by the bad choices I had made when I was a student. I thought I would be overly emotional by reliving the darkest days of my depression simply by being in that space. None of that happened. Memories came to me, but none of them truly affected me like I had anticipated. Instead those memories made me realize I’m okay. My present state is quite good. Although my time as a dance student was hard, I survived and became a stronger person because of it.
It felt validating to walk into a space that was once so challenging for me, look at myself in the mirror, and say, “You’ve made it to the other side, Erin.”
This is not to say every person should face their demons years later and they’ll magically be reborn. Trauma presents itself in different ways for everyone. I was able to put myself in a place that represented a lot of sadness for me and walked away grateful for the person I’ve become. I know I wouldn’t be where am, doing what I do if it hadn’t been for those experiences in that space.
One last note on my experience teaching yoga at my former college, not only did I reflect upon who I was while in that space and who I have become, but I became more aware of my current mental health and how it has transformed. My depression is kept at bay most of the time. I now have better tools to cope and an excellent support system to carry me through the tough times. However, I came to the realization that my depression has simply transformed into something different. Anxiety.
I deal with anxiety that keeps me up a couple nights a week. Anxiety that sometimes holds me back from trying new things or challenging myself to make my next move. Anxiety that often flares up when I’m in social situations. But it’s manageable. My yoga practice helps me through and leads me to the other side when I’m struggling. Yoga isn’t a fix-all for everyone. For some it can be a helpful tool to learn, grow, cope, and make it to the other side.
It often feels weird to share all of these details on my mental state, however, I share because I think it’s important to share. None of us should feel alone when dealing with depression or anxiety. It shouldn’t be taboo to discuss our mental states. Just as we might share with those around us that we feel a cold coming on, we should feel just as open to discuss our mental health.