About natasha devalia

Mum of twins, yogi, dancer, living the dream on Koh samui island.

A Hidden Depression

I always feared that I would be called weak if I expressed any vulnerability. So instead, I put on a “strong” face at all times. The stronger I appeared to be, the less anyone guessed at my inner sadness, feelings of isolation, or hopelessness.

Being third generation Southern Africans of Indian Gujarati descent we were pretty well integrated into Zambia. (Yet I still had identity issues which is a topic for another post!)

0F683749-B4F7-4427-B42D-EDD7F24F7646

I was attending the International School of Lusaka, and as a teenager, I was a straight A student, a member of the students council, on the swim team, a Bharatanatyam dance student and performer, a runner and so on. But I was always alone in my thoughts. Generally happily alone, but sometimes suffocatingly.

I developed an eating disorder. I was highly focused on controlling my intake and my exercise. If I ever felt that I overate I would force myself to throw up.

No one knew about this.

I remember thinking it might be good for me to see someone, to speak to someone, about my depressive thoughts and feelings. A fleeting thought. But it wasn’t something that was ever mentioned in my home or school milieu. It’s not usual in Zambia, to see a therapist or counselor, not usual for a South Asian to even mention it, let alone share information about it.

At the age of 15 after some contemplation I tried to take my life. Thankfully I failed. When I came-to that night, I was ashamed of what I had done and decided to move on strongly. I erased the memory of that experience from my mind.

I didn’t share it with a single person until many years later when I told my husband about it.

At 17, after graduating from secondary school, I needed out of Zambia. My parents gave me the opportunity to move to Montreal where I attended McGill university. Like a rather typical South Asian child, I imagined going on to medical school. Little did I understand that such a big move across the world might trigger depression. My grades weren’t good enough for a competitive medical school. I was barely managing to stay afloat. I put on weight. I missed my school friends.

But I trudged on. I never gave up entirely. In my second year I played squash on the varsity team, tried a few dance classes. I felt good that my brother and cousin also moved to Canada. In my third year I met my husband to be, Maher. After the fifth year I ended up with a degree in biology and economics.

After a two year long distance relationship I accompanied my then boyfriend to Lebanon. We then spent a few months in Russia where we decided to get married. After moving back to Lebanon where I tried to do a masters degree and dropped out, we moved to China, and now we are in Thailand.

In all those years of travel and experience I never asked for help. It wasn’t until I was 34, a wife, a mum of prematurely born twins, a yoga teacher, and suicidal again that I finally contacted a professional for help. When I did, I didn’t tell any of my family until I was hospitalized a year later. I was afraid of the reaction, I wasn’t sure I’d manage it if I was called weak, thought of as seeking attention, or if I was told that I was wasting my time.

ABE443C8-C169-45F2-952E-9ADC1AFD05B6

I hope more South Asians and others who grew up in Southern Africa for that matter, will open up and seek professional help from therapists, and psychologists when needed.

Stigma against mental health still runs deeply. I hope for this to change.

In my hope to share some of my stories, at first I was met with resistance, thankfully I didn’t give in to this. I feel that I know myself better for doing so. Since being hospitalized and  opening up and sharing in the last few months I have been received with love and kindness by my family and friends.

I was recently directed to an organization doing amazing work to break the stigma against mental health in South Asian communities. Please have a look at their work, connect with them on social media, listen to their pod casts, share with others.

mannmukti.org

Please feel free to comment, make suggestions, or ask questions.

Because Life is Worth it

What if I hadn’t failed when I was 15 years old? What if I hadn’t come-to that night and immediately realized how precious this life is?

I would never have met my husband, looked into my children’s eyes, spent time with many great teachers and friends.

 

I would never have danced in Lebanon, or taught yoga in my home studio in Chengdu. I would never have been able to support my husband through his strokes, or walk the beaches of Koh Samui feeling the water wash up against my feet.

5514CC14-E427-472F-85DD-10C53E55DB99

I wouldn’t have been able to attend my brothers weddings. I would never have been able to feel the love for those dear to my heart with the intensity I can now. I would not have been able to feel their touch or to hug them.

FE7328B7-5E59-40E0-A4BF-828D3FD621BD

I would not have been able to nurture my quest for self knowledge.

05F12066-2DEF-4E62-8F35-00E01D913C61

Not one person knew. I didn’t want to worry anyone, I didn’t believe in myself enough or trust any body enough.

I was held up on a pedestal.

Me? Depressed? Who could I have asked for help?

In retrospect I wish I had talked to someone – a teacher at school, a good friend, a trusted family member.

And then when the feelings came back many years later and I was contemplating the same action again, I did call for help. Some didn’t get it, but I didn’t give up. I tried different people.

A dear, perceptive friend of mine in Koh Samui drove over immediately and spent the afternoon with me, drinking tea and  chatting, making sure I was stable enough before she left me.

I was.

I wrote to trusted friends for support. I started talking to a psychotherapist.

I have my husband and children to look forward to, to support and help bring up. The last thing I want is to be the cause of more suffering.

Why do I write this? Because by sharing my story, it may reach someone who is feeling desperate or hopeless, someone who needs a push to reach out, to ask for help.

Reach out for help.

You are worth it. Life is worth it.

Suicide.org

The International Association for Suicide Prevention (IASP)

 

Running with my Partner

I started running around the age of ten. My dad would take me with him on his road runs in residential Lusaka, usually in the evenings after his workday. Soon I was old enough to go on my own and it became my thing. I joined the running club at school and on other days I ran outside our home. I wasn’t fast, but I enjoyed being out on my own and feeling free and fit.

2136E10B-AB1C-4F4B-9FA8-F6838663D475

Fast forward to age 17 at university in Montreal. I was depressed and like a fish out of water. At 19 I met Maher. Whenever we ran together, instead of enjoying myself and feeling free, I felt slow, and not good enough. He was an under 3 hour marathon runner. Not a joke. But how? Sheer hard work. Vision and disciplined regular training. I pushed hard trying to keep up and kept getting injured. In Zambia I was a big fish in a small pond. Suddenly I was in a large lake and struggling on all levels including education and friendship.

Instead of training differently or learning from the expert in Maher I was comparing myself to him and I was too closed to ask for advice or to do my own research about the subject, my fixed mindset played up and a few years later I quit running altogether.

I did find yoga though which is now an important balancing aspect in my life.

I was jealous. As much as I respected and loved Maher, I couldn’t get over myself. Running was only one aspect where I felt that. I felt the same way with education, with cooking, with working and so on. Over the years something was holding me back and I put the blame out there, but didn’t look within. What if I had asked “How can I change myself?”

I only started to realize this not long ago. Thankfully for us and our family we worked through it in the big scheme of things, and on the level of running I am now back at it.

I started last December on a trip to Zambia. It felt natural for me to run over there on my familiar streets. The red earth and the majestic trees are energizing and deeply grounding at the same time.

273708DC-1582-4F0E-8E77-C3F91B9F8E0D

At first I would only run when Maher would accompany me. I was slow and did very short runs. It felt almost hopeless! But now a year on, I go on my own, the distance has improved as has the speed. Maher always advices me to simply enjoy the runs. I feel relaxed and free out there.

6F991D8C-59E5-4DAC-B753-1CB735C1D8FD

I try to have a yoga practice day after a run day, I try not to push past a healthy point or be too lazy and not show up, and I am supported and cheered on by Maher and some of my old school friends who also took on running lately.

Keep looking in!

Rest, Time, and Therapy

An aunt of mine wrote the most beautiful email to me after reading some of my blog posts. She talks of her own experience with depression and hospitalization, as well as her partner’s story with medication, hospitalization, and recuperation.

What surprises me is the number of people who have been through this kind of experience with mental health. I had no idea before I started to reach out.

6CD01CDC-79B3-40F6-BD5C-DF414CA8ED85

I’d like to share three of her points which can be useful for anyone ready to take care of their mental health, not only for those who have a diagnosed mental illness.

Prioritize Rest
One is not to feel guilty to take the rest that you need. If you sense some nervous system excitation take the time out to rest, prioritize sleep, even do a ten minute savasana in the middle of the day! This was key for me. During my paranoia I didn’t sleep for days. After being hospitalized I had to take sleeping pills and I really struggled with that. I came from a place of not taking any medication unless I was in dire need for it. Rest and recuperation is of utmost importance.

Take your Time
Then, allow time for recuperation. Things won’t get better overnight. It’s takes consistent work in the right direction, it might take time to find the diagnosis, to have the correct balance of medication if it is needed, and then consistent follow up and fine tuning of all of the above. It took me months to get out of the paranoia, to accept that I had a mental illness, that the medication was helpful, and now I have gradually reduced the follow up with my doctor and therapist to once every 2 months.

Therapy
Connect with a good therapist. The skilled, neutral, outside eye is invaluable. It was important for me to be able to feel that I could talk to someone who wouldn’t judge me. I judged myself enough that it took months before I could express much honestly, even to the therapist. And back to the second point, it can take a long time to change old patterns of thinking and belief.

ED6B16A2-54A7-44F0-AD2A-1DB6556DEF84
Thanks again for reading, commenting, sharing personal stories, giving suggestions, or asking questions. I appreciate it greatly. I see this blog as part of my healing process. Connecting with friends and family is a big part of that at this stage in my process.

Trusting the Breath

In my last post I was quite general and told my overall story of paranoia, how I reacted, and I gave suggestions on how to help.

Continuing on the thread of how to help someone, with anxiety in this case, there was one important moment I would like to elaborate upon. It was a real moment of connection and trust in the midst of fear and anxiety.

At the height of my paranoia, I took the sleeping pill and anti psychotic pill that I thought were meant to kill me. I was anxious, afraid of everybody around me.

We needed support. Maher reached out to our friends for help.

Our neighbour and friend Paul, came over to our place within minutes. The nonexistent gas that only I could smell was all over my house and on everyone I came in contact with, including him. I was suddenly sure that he was in on it too, also in the “plot” against me. I tried to keep my distance.

However, at his suggestion that I sit and breathe with him, I did. I deeply trusted the pranayama practice, and Paul in that moment. I asked Maher to come along. He did.

We sat cross legged on the floor. Paul was across from me, my eyes almost closed. I breathed in and out. I focused on one point, his finger on the floor in front of me. I remember trying my best to stay connected at my pelvic floor, to stay grounded. Paul sat with me like that, guiding a simple in and out breath through the nose, until I laid down and then fell asleep right there on the floor.

He later told me that we sat there breathing, for one hour before I fell into deep sleep.

It had been days since I had slept.

The next morning I was hospitalized.

————-

Maher and I are deeply grateful that both Jutima and Paul came over within minutes of being asked for help, and continued to be present and supportive after I was hospitalized, both in Samui and Bangkok, and still are.

——————

Today, after 10 years of dedicated pranayama practice, I have slipped. I’m waiting for the right moment to get back into it, taking my time and wanting to go back with different insight.

Digging into this memory is inspiring me to start my practice again. But I don’t want it to be out of habit, out of a fear of losing out on something, or out of pressure of living up to the teacher’s expectations. I’m waiting for it to come from a sincere, internal place.

73D89A68-3EDB-4402-90DD-4277C9391C1B

If you have a bout of anxiety try this:

Breathe with attention and intention.

Lay down or sit up.
Put your hands on your belly.
Let the abdomen fill your palms on inhale.
Let the exhale be long and complete.

Repeat.

It is a simple, yet powerful tool.

But from my experience, in my opinion it is not a substitute, but a good complement for the professional help that might be needed in the case of severe anxiety.

Thank you for reading. I appreciate the comments, thoughts, suggestions, and questions.

——————

Paul Dallaghan is a senior yogi, educator, and researcher in the fields of stress management, breath, and overall well-being. He is the owner of Samahita Retreat in Koh Samui Thailand.

 

 

Thoughts on Helping Somebody with Paranoia

I received the following comment and question on my FB page after my last post on Being Open.

“Natasha this is so amazing. It is so little discussed yet it is far more common than anyone realises. All of us need to be aware as we can never guess when it will happen either to ourselves or someone we love. I have seen it happen with a number of students who I work with. My question is how do you help someone in this position to get them help without adding to their fear.”

(Please please please seek professional help from a psychiatrist if you think you might be having paranoid thoughts and are clear enough to realise it.)

F2BA5209-3C1F-4AD0-BDFF-2B7FAF80324B.jpeg

What a pertinent question. I can only answer it from my experience, which may or may not be helpful.

Over a period of time I was mildly paranoid. Had I gotten professional help in person then, I might have overcome the more heavy paranoia. In fact I was having psychotherapy sessions with someone over Skype at that time. She had suggested that I consult a psychiatrist and even better, a facility where I might have a team of experts to help me handle the situation. I didn’t.

That was the first time I had heard the words schizophrenia referred to me. I thought nothing of it, and we were on our way to the airport, during and after an emotionally stressful period due to the loss of a good friend.

Family and friends adviced that I couldn’t go by a Skype diagnosis of a mental illness, that I needed a psychiatrist to diagnose me. I didn’t see one.

My paranoia was gradually getting worse.

During that period I sent strange messages to many people. Many I would rarely chat with given more normal circumstances. One or two of my friends thought to reach out to Maher to tell him about the bizarre messages. In retrospect they wish they had.

I stopped sleeping much for a few days. I began to smell something threatening (that was not real), and when I felt that my children were subjected to this smell – drug/ poison, I flipped. I became relentless in trying to protect myself and them from everyone including from Maher.

Maher was beginning to realize that I needed professional help. He convinced me to go to the hospital.

The moment we walked into the hospital I felt as though everybody there, from the nurses to the cleaning staff to the man behind the counter at the coffee shop to the psychiatrist, all knew exactly what I was doing there and were all in on the plot to drug/poison me and my children. All eyes were on me. I was terrified and alone.

The doctor gave Maher a sleeping pill and an anti psychotic drug for me to take. I refused to. Maher kept the medication. That was the second time I heard the diagnosis schizophrenia. It was all part of the plot to undermine me was what I thought.

A few hours after that first trip to the doctor I flipped and acted out of character. I made a scene at school. I reacted out of fear. Instead of protecting the children, I scared them, Maher, and other teaching staff that were around us. I was even more afraid and isolated. “Not a single person around me was on my side.”

Now that I look back, what worked well for us was that Maher stood firmly in his truth. He didn’t enter into my world of crazy stories. He also didn’t try to correct my version of them. I was defensive when he slipped and tried to reason with me.

After I took the pills on our way home from school, that I believed was medication to kill me, to protect my own children from me, I did an hour of deeply focused breathing, and I soon knocked out.  Deep sleep after days of almost none.

At this point Maher started to reach out for support. We had invaluable help from neighbours.

The next day we took the kids to school and then Maher drove me to the hospital to see the doctor again. This time they hospitalized me. I had no say in the matter.

E0F8421E-4230-4D9F-BB72-17C2ACCE070C.jpeg

So how does one help somebody with paranoia without increasing their fears?

I am not sure it is possible in an ideal way. My fears were heightened around everybody. I didn’t trust a single person. Perhaps had I got help earlier on I might not have gone through the severe paranoia phase.

My thoughts would be:
(These are only suggestions from my experience. If you face paranoia or someone who has paranoia please please please seek professional help.)

Contact the person’s closest family member or friend and mention that you have noticed some strange behavior.

Suggest to the person directly that they seek professional help. They may be open to it depending on the stage of paranoia.

Stand clearly in reality, don’t play along or agree with any of their delusions.

Comfort the person, ask questions like “How can I help you feel safe?”

Call for emergency help if needed, in order to hospitalize the person, especially if they might harm anyone or themselves.

Thank you for reading, for sharing your thoughts, suggestions, or questions.

 

 

Being Open

After writing about my experiences regarding my mental health this last week, a friend of mine here in Koh Samui asked me a great question. My last post on paranoia had left her hanging. She knew everything that was going on during and after my crisis, but never talked to me about it out of respect, probably not to put me in an uncomfortable position.

She wants to understand how I began to see more clearly, to accept that I was paranoid.

I am trying to understand that myself.

I spent a few months after being hospitalized thinking that Maher, the rest of my family, and the doctors were conspiring against me, that saying I was mentally ill was part of the “plot” against me, to control me.

I was in denial.

Some of the most important moments of change and acceptance happened gradually, as I started to open up. I talked to some close friends about my situation and I assumed they knew what had happened to me because in my mind, in my paranoia, they were in the “plot” at first supporting me, and then going against me.

But, the more I saw the looks of surprise on their faces, their shock that I was hospitalized, on medication etc, the more I started to realize that most people around me actually had no idea. Even those I considered close.

So they couldn’t possibly have been in any sort of plot.

“Maybe it is mental illness?”, I began to doubt myself.

Thankfully with Maher’s encouragement that I open up, be more honest with my trusted friends, now more broadly, I am able to see more clearly.

5465B6F6-5DA3-4557-B047-4E1808B7E779

Another important point was that Maher stood firmly on his ground. He never entered into my paranoia when I shared my wild thoughts with him. He remained rational and in control. That gave me a strong boundary.

I am grateful to a friend of mine who once told me how she lived her childhood guarding family secrets. Now that she has her own daughter she has chosen to break the family pattern and decided to be more open to herself, to her daughter, and to friends. She inspires me to have more sincere friendships, to share my experiences, thoughts and feelings openly.

AS I said in my last post, being open and direct is part of my healing process.

Thank you for continuing to read, for the support and for helping me understand all of this better.

I appreciate the thoughts, comments, and questions.

Paranoia

Thank you for reading my last post and for taking the time to comment on my FB page if you did. I am overwhelmed by the support and love I have received.  I do feel it is important to share this story, even if there is sometimes a little voice in my head that says,  “this is a way to seek attention.” That’s my social anxiety flaring up.

I choose to move past that and write openly.

Writing about this is a way of digging deeper into myself, trying to understand what happened during the psychotic episode that led me to a mental health ward, connecting with others who have similar stories to share, giving permission to those who are too shy to speak up or seek help yet, and also thanking those who have held me throughout and who continue to do so.

3ABCFC78-66CC-4128-A454-98AF09428A14

A year and a half ago I was paranoid to the point that I thought I was being followed and targeted. Initially, in my mind, everybody around me was trying to teach me something, to help me grow, that quickly flipped into “everyone is plotting against me”. Thankfully there is no more paranoia left, except the slight lingering wonder of who knows and who doesn’t know what happened to me!

By opening up about all of this publicly that fear has dissipated.  I feel free. What a relief. Being open and direct is part of my healing process.

Thank you again for reading, for your thoughts, comments, or questions.

Balancing Yoga

A year and a half ago my mental health crashed. I needed a medical evacuation out of Samui and a hospital stay in Bangkok of half a month, followed by a gradual unraveling of symptoms and a continual healing process.

My yoga practices slowed down over this period of time for which there was guilt involved, but I feel that now I have found a healthy balance of activities.

For the moment.

What brought me to yoga initially was the thought that I might get closer to Indian culture, the realization that it could heal my body from injury, and the more I got into it, that it was a powerful tool to help me know myself.

I immersed myself in yoga practices for the last 13 years, and just as I can easily do with anything else I was obsessed, closed, and started believing in it as if there was not much else outside of yoga. I was defensive. I dropped my other activities one by one over the years.

I learnt yoga from senior teachers from all over the world and what I have come to realize is it doesn’t matter anymore, where they or I come from, yoga is yoga is yoga. It is a practice as any other.

Since my mental health broke down, I am taking medication, learning about myself by seeking professional help from psychiatrists and psychotherapists, leaning on and opening up to family and friends. The support and love I have received is the most important element in my healing process, along with my commitment to my husband and children to be the best I can be. I feel determined to live a clear life with them.

I am balancing activities, reintegrating some that I dropped years ago due to injury, such as running and finding some new ones such as Muay Thai – it amazes me what insights I learn about myself by being a beginner seeing things in a new way.

A569581E-7B91-43EA-94E0-8B6B4B6F0C9D

In reintegrating more active practices into my life, the yoga asana thread that I carry with me keeps me balanced and in check, both physically, and mentally. It has a powerful place in my life, but no longer does it have a power over me.

I am feeling more alive and connected than ever before. We all have to find our own dosages of activities just like we might do with medication. It takes time to see what works, what is supportive. I continue to play with and fine tune the balance of too much of something whatever it might be, to too little, and I can only hope I will continue to do so.

Thanks for taking the time to read!20BA8C6B-2576-43F1-A3F1-1EE8B60B4278