The Snatam Experience: A Tale of How Ice Cream and Kid’s Yoga Don’t Mix

Image   In early Spring, 2013, I was on my ill-fated quest of tapering off bipolar medication so I could live med-free.  I was on the verge of hypomania, but I wasn’t too frenetic yet, so no one was overly concerned. I was thrilled to finally have enough energy to do fun activities once again, and  I really wanted to involve my daughters whenever possible.  They had missed out on so much due to months of my depression in which I totally shut down, unable to interact with them in the way they deserved.

One day I spotted a “Kid’s Yoga” flyer on a coffee shop bulletin board.  I took a closer look at it, and to my surprise and delight I noticed that the class would be taught by the singer/songwriter Snatam Kaur.  I had become a major Snatam Kaur fan after listening to her CD “Grace”.  I loved her beautiful, soothing singing performed in the Indian devotional style called “kirtan”.

Snatam, although not exactly a household word, has a surprisingly large fan base, and her most famous fan is none other than Oprah Winfrey.  There is the now-legendary story of Oprah’s birthday gift, Snatam-style. Whatever you may think of Oprah, I think this is a really cool story, so I’d like to share it with you here in Oprah’s own words from her website:

I was hanging out with a group of girlfriends in Maui for my birthday (minus Gayle, who had a previous engagement with CBS This Morning).  I’d just come back from India and wanted to have a spa retreat at my house to celebrate turning 58.  
As girlfriends do even at this age, we sat around the table and talked till midnight.  On the night before my birthday, five of the eight of us were still at the table at 12:30 A.M., worn out from a five-hour conversation that had run the gamut from men to microdermabrasion.  Lots of laughing, some tears.  The kind of talking women do when we feel safe. In two days I would be interviewing the famed spiritual teacher Ram Dass, and by coincidence I started to hum a line from a song invoking his name. 
Suddenly my friend Maria said, “What’s that you’re humming?” 
“Oh, just a line from a song I like.” 
Maria said, “I know that song. I listen to it every night.” 
“No way,” I said. “It’s an obscure song on an album by a woman named Snatam Kaur.” 
“Yes!” Maria said. “Yes! Yes! Snatam Kaur! I listen to her every night before I go to bed. How do you know her music?” 
“Peggy”—another friend who was with us—”gave me a CD two years ago, and I’ve been listening ever since. I play her every day before meditating.” 
Now we were both screaming and laughing. “No way!”  “I actually thought of having her come to sing for my birthday,” I said when I caught my breath. “Then I went, Nah, too much trouble. Had I known you liked her, too, I would have made the effort.”  Later that night, lying in bed, I thought, Isn’t that something. I would have gone to the trouble for a friend but not for myself. For sure I need to practice what I preach and value myself more.  
I went to sleep wishing I’d invited Snatam Kaur to sing.  The next day, my birthday, we had a “land blessing” with a Hawaiian chieftain.  That evening we gathered on the porch for sunset cocktails.  My friend Elizabeth stood up—to read a poem, I thought, or make a speech.  Instead she said, “You wanted it, and now you have manifested it.” She rang a small chime, and suddenly music started to play.  The music was muffled, as if the speakers weren’t working.  I thought, What’s going on?  
And then there appeared, walking onto my front porch…Snatam Kaur, in her white turban.  And her musicians! “How did this happen?” I cried.  And cried, and cried. Maria, sitting next to me with tears in her eyes, held my hand and just nodded. “You wouldn’t do it for yourself, so we did it for you.”  After I’d gone to bed the night before, my friends had called to find out where Snatam Kaur was, to see if they could get her to Maui in the next 12 hours.  As life and God would have it, she and her musicians were in a town 30 minutes away, preparing for a concert.  And were “honored” to come and sing.  It was one of the most amazing surprises of my life. Layered with meanings I’m still deciphering.  What I know for sure: It’s a moment I’ll savor forever—the fact that it happened, the way it happened, that it happened on my birthday. All…so…delicious! “
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How sweet!  I love happy endings!  If you want to read Snatam’s rendition of her experience with Oprah, check this link out: http://www.sikhnet.com/news/snatam-and-oprah
So, as I looked at Snatam’s yoga flyer I thought it would be exciting to bring my daughter Marilla to the class.   Marilla has always been an extraordinarily musical little girl, and she had listened to (and enjoyed) a lot of Snatam’s music in the car!  I felt nervous at the prospect of meeting Snatam, but I figured that we’d be in such a huge crowd that I wouldn’t get within speaking distance of her.
The big day arrived.
There was a new, amazing-sounding ice cream shop that had recently opened ten minutes away from the yoga center, and I decided that we absolutely needed to check it out first.  I thought we could savor a small scoop of ice cream and then we’d wait a while before arriving to the yoga class so Marilla didn’t get sick from her exertion.  Since I wasn’t going to do the children’s yoga, I let loose at the Penny Lane Creamery and I got two huge scoops plus a large dollop of ultra-rich chocolate sauce.
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“It’s a good thing I’m not doing yoga!” I told Marilla as luscious ice cream dripped down both of our chins on the very warm day.
The time came for us to head over to DiviniTree Yoga Stuido.  I made sure we got there extra-early because I was concerned that the class would sell out.  When we arrived, the entrance was locked and not a yoga aficionado was in sight.
“Hmmmmm.” I said.  I thought that despite the fact we arrived early, there would still be a long line of yoga tots waiting outside.
A few minutes later a woman walked by us, said hello, and unlocked the door.  She went behind the front desk and I paid ten dollars for Marilla’s class.  No one else joined us, and it grew closer and closer to the class start time.
“Is the kid’s yoga class still happening?” I asked her.  She nodded yes.  Marilla and I went into the large, dim yoga room and we plopped down on the wooden floor.  The room’s coolness felt wonderful in contrast to the heat of the outdoors.  I felt my stomach ache from my gorgefest of the gourmet ice cream.  “Uggghhhh.” I mumbled.  Fortunately Marilla was feeling fine.
A mother close to my age wearing a large white turban walked into the room with her little girl not far behind.  I instantly recognized the mom as Snatam and the girl as her daughter Jap Preet, who appeared to be three or four-years-old.
“Hello!” Snatam softly greeted us.  Jap Preet stood behind her mom, a bit shy.
“Hi there.” I replied shyly myself.  Despite being borderline hypomanic, I felt completely and utterly tongue-tied in the presence of Snatam.  I just didn’t want to start gushing to her how big a fan I was of her music, or worse: “Wow…what was it like singing for Oprah?”  I was glad that Marilla didn’t “out” me in those respects.
I felt relieved that I could sit on the sidelines to watch the yoga goings-on, but I was still perplexed that we were the only ones there besides Snatam and Jap Preet,  I expected a herd of yoga devotees to rush in at any moment, but that simply didn’t happen.
Snatam waited a few minutes after our start time and then she decided to begin.  She looked at me leaning against the wall, and said, “Why don’t you join us?”
“Uh, okay…” I stuttered. I wish I had the courage to say no, but since the attendance was so low, I felt obligated to join in.  It wouldn’t have been so bad if I didn’t feel like I was going to vomit ice cream all over the glossy wooden floor at any second.  I shared with Snatam of my ice cream indulgence and she laughed.  I felt like an idiot.
It was a yoga class unlike any other I ever took before.  I learned that Snatam was supposed to have a co-teacher whose forte was yoga, but she couldn’t make it at the last minute.  Snatam’s strength, obviously, was music, so she improvised.  She had us pretend we were different types of animals and we crawled all over the floor. She instructed us to run around the room in circles, and it was truly a miracle that I was able to follow along in light of my unnerving tummy rumblings.
I mentioned that I thought there would be a ton of people there and I was really surprised there wasn’t.   Snatam didn’t seem overly concerned with the dearth of attendees.  Maybe she was glad to have a mellow, small audience for a change.  Too bad she only made ten dollars – on second thought, she probably donated her fee to the space rental.
Finally, at the close of the class, Snatam brought out a beautiful acoustic guitar.  She sang a stunningly gorgeous song that I had never heard before, and she blew me away.  I didn’t have the presence of mind to ask her its title, and I’ll always regret that.
I believe it was truly the most surreal yoga experience I’ve ever had, or ever will have.  If you aren’t a big Snatam fan like me, imagine going to a beginning piano class taught by Lady Gaga and no one shows up, or a children’s dance class taught by Britney Spears and it’s just you, your kid and Britney, or a even a bass guitar class taught by Paul McCartney and it’s you, Paul and the bass.  You get the idea…
I live in Santa Cruz, which is chock full of yoga classes of every kind, and it’s populated by yoga fans of every persuasion. There are many young families living here as well who would love participating in a kid’s yoga class taught by Snatam Kaur.  Those are some of the reasons why I thought Snatam’s yoga would be standing room only.
I look back at that afternoon with a smile, although there was nothing funny about my overdoing it with the ice cream.  Marilla thought the class was a little “baby-ish” but she had a good time as well. To quote what Snatam Kaur’s most famous fan often says, “What I Know For Sure” is that sometimes when we try something new, we’re presented with very cool, unexpected surprises.
Despite my ice cream slip-up, I felt special and lucky to attend a private class with a singer whose music has inspired me so much.  I wish I brought a CD for her to autograph, but maybe I’ll get a second chance to do that someday.
* For more information about Snatam Kaur, visit her website:
http://www.snatamkaur.com
* The following song “Ray Man” was the very first Snatam song I heard on her “Grace” album, and I thought it was awesome – her music is great for listening in the car; it even reduces my tendency for road rage:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4dJHtI6TNvg
* To listen to one of Snatam’s most beautiful songs “Azure Salver”, please visit this link:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fUL679-8Zv4

 

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Triggered Once Again…

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A photo from the hospital’s website…my room looked nothing like this.  

The words “dreary”, “desolate”, and “sterile” sum up my room’s decor.   

It was eight months ago when I was last locked up in the loony bin for bipolar depression/suicidal ideation.  The relapse occurred during my tapering off lithium, and it was so nightmarish that I asked for bilateral electroconvulsive (ECT) treatments.  The ECT worked in tandem with a new medication combination, and I was incredibly fortunate to have minimal side effects.  While I’m not cured by any means, I’m 360-degrees better.

I know that “loony bin” is derogatory; I’ll use the euphemistically named “Garden Pavilion” at Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula instead.  I suppose I should wipe the snide tone out of my words at the get-go, and give this hospital much more credit.  C.H.O.M.P.’s confines and staff did help to save my life.  But the way in which that was done left much to be desired.

For one thing, I was cooped up worse than our three chickens.  We allow them to “free range” every day in our yard, and they truly seem more tranquil after these excursions.  During my lengthy time at the hospital I wasn’t taken outside once with staff for a breath of fresh air and natural sunlight.  As small a thing as that may sound, I believe that staying in an ugly, uninspiring, yucky-smelling, bleak unit 24/7 prolonged my recovery, and worsened my depression.  I’ve always loved nature, and during my deepest depressions getting out in nature gave me moments of comfort and hope.

A few months after my hospital release, I made some calls to Bay Area hospitals out of curiosity .  I learned that numerous mental health units with the same population as C.H.O.M.P. take their patients out for walks or even field trips.  Why C.H.O.M.P. couldn’t do that, I don’t know.  I called the unit about it and I couldn’t get a clear answer.

And then there is the cost of hospitalization.  I manage our bills, and we’re going to be paying C.H.O.M.P. for a very long time.  My hospital visit cost TONS of money not covered by Medicare.  I could have bought several new cards for what my hospitalization cost.  Again, I realize that I sound ungrateful and that my life is worth any exorbitant medical bill, but it still, for want of a better word, sucks.  I would have rather saved up all that money for my children’s college education.

The truth of the matter is that I feel triggered this afternoon..  My husband and daughter left for Los Angeles this morning.  Craig’s acclaimed book Quest for Flight – John J. Montgomery and the Dawn of Aviation in the West is being honored for winning the Regional Literature Award by the Great Southwest Book Festival in Hollywood.  I could have accompanied them, but I chose to stay home to write and relax. The tedious eight-hour-long drive to L.A. and and eight-hour-long drive back for only a three-day-long visit didn’t appeal to me.  (Flying there was too expensive.)  Fortunately Craig is so easygoing that he didn’t mind my staying home in the slightest.  He’s even making time to visit my Mom while there, and she’s thrilled she’ll see her eldest granddaughter.

It’s just that I haven’t been away from either Craig nor Avi since I was hospitalized and that makes me feel nervous and sad.  Memories of prior separations (I’ve had seven lengthy hospitalizations since 2007) are surfacing that I don’t want to dwell upon.  I have no concrete reason to be nervous or sad – I’m in good physical health, way better mental health than I’ve enjoyed in years, and I’ve set up plans for a few fun activities to do while they are out of town.

I am lucky to have my other daughter with me.  Rilla deserves to have me be in relatively good spirits during this one-on-one time.  So what I’ll do to get in a better frame of mind is:

1) Work out on the elliptical – this always puts me in a better mental state 

2) Plan a couple fun, special things to do with Rilla (Our big splurge is going to the famous Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, which she has been begging me to do for ages.)

3) Use my Sunbox (I use this bright light for thirty minutes in the morning when I write or surf the internet. It helps me keep depression at bay)

4) Write 

5) Invest in some good quality chocolate!

and lastly…

6) Don’t be a recluse.  When I stay in the house all day long, it’s very bad for my mood.  Even getting out for a little while makes a big difference.

Time flies by so quickly that the three days will pass by in a heart beat anyway.

I can’t help but have a Pollyanna moment after sharing these thoughts.   I’d rather be home, freaked out, than back in that cold, scary hospital.  All I have to do to feel better is look out my window at beautiful redwood trees and the clucking trio of chickens.  It’s a pretty damn good life.  So I’ll just take the myriad of hospital bills in stride, and I’ll deal with my Garden Pavilion memories that come and thankfully go.  I have my life back in my own hands, and that’s what matters now.

I dedicate this Crowded House song “Better Be Home Soon” to Craig & Avonlea; the lyrics have a different meaning than my situation, but it’s a classic song!

Hitting Rock Bottoms and Dealing with Diabolical Dust!

images-1During most of my life, I’ve needed to hit rock bottom before I’ve been able to make a significant, lasting change.  I hit rock bottom hard last spring in my quest to become medication-free.  I almost completely tapered off lithium and just when I thought I was going to achieve my goal, mania set in, followed by suicidal depression.  I wound up back in the hospital for a good chunk of the summer.  I’ll just say it wasn’t quite like visiting Maui.

After my relapse, I finally uttered out loud that I needed bipolar medication.  I wasn’t simply spouting a Big Pharma party line.  I was truly sincere in declaring that I needed the meds because I finally found a combination that lifted my bipolar depression.

A year later I’m hitting rock bottom in a different, much less alarming way.  I’ve begun to spring clean. It sounds a little ridiculous, not to mention uber-boring, but please bear with me.  The fact that I’ve been able to clean more than a couple of dishes is huge.  A mere five months ago I was bedridden with fatigue a good part of each day due to Zoloft side effects.  I am actually excited that I can eradicate heaps of dust that accumulated in my living spaces during my depression era.  Usually the only thing that can cause that much excitement in my world is a brand-new book or a Green & Blacks milk chocolate bar.

Although Spring, 2014 won’t officially begin until March 20th, last Friday our warm, sunny weather felt it had arrived in full force.  “Springy signs” such as daffodils and blooming Japanese plum trees have appeared over the past week.  That particular Friday I chauffeured the girls to school without too much drama in the car’s backseat.  After I walked them to class, I navigated driving home amongst my fellow parents.  Just exiting the school parking lot has always been challenging, and I needed to be fully alert.  Some of these parents have the driving manners of a felon on methamphetamine and possess the IQ of a squid.  I returned to an empty house where I could write in peace.  But something stirred in my veins besides wanting to write my blog and surf Facebook.  At first I couldn’t quite believe it, but I realized I felt an overwhelming compulsion to clean our decrepit home.  I tanked up on some super-strong coffee and I stood quietly for a moment.

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Due to detritus just about everywhere, I would need to clean in baby steps.  The easiest task to start with seemed like vacuuming.  Little did I know that vacuuming one bedroom and one living room would be so time-consuming, physical, and utterly gross.  Our rat colony, now in Rat Heaven, left droppings galore which they emitted during their time on Earth.  I knew that underneath my queen bed there was a ton of dust.  After moving the bed and pulling a muscle in my back, I discovered that one of our girl’s hobbies was hiding candy wrappers underneath the bed.   There was a huge amount of chunky dust everywhere I looked – so much so that I emptied the vacuum’s dirt receptacle three times in half an hour.  On the bright side, I was happy to have a vacuum that actually worked.  Best of all, it was awesome to experience the gratification that comes from the sweat and toil of cleaning.

I am very fortunate that I don’t live with a Neanderthal-type of husband who demands his wife to keep the house in spotless condition.  Craig has had every right to drop me a hint to clean.  I am a stay-at-home-mom and I have time to do some rudimentary tidying up around here.  He knows I’ve felt too exhausted, depressed and overwhelmed to impersonate Martha Stewart, and I’m forever grateful to him for his understanding.

My daughter Avonlea knows we can’t afford a housecleaning service, and told me she would give me her piggy bank money to pay someone to clean our home.  She explained that she felt embarrassed to have friends over due to the mess.  I felt like I won the “Worst Mom of the Year” award in that moment.  I’ve considered asking for a one-time professional deep clean as my upcoming birthday gift rather than books, a facial, or chocolate.

As a teenager long before I was diagnosed with bipolar, I took good care of my surroundings.  When I attended college, I’d clean whatever room or studio I was renting on a regular basis.  I’ve actually had a stint as a professional housecleaner.  In my early twenties I had the good fortune to visit Vail, Colorado.  While I was there I was hired to clean condos for seventy dollars a day.  I did a reasonably good job and I took pride in my elbow grease.

I expanded my cleaning repertoire when I worked at a gym for a couple years.  I began as the morning front desk greeter, and then I became a certified personal trainer.  My daily responsibilities included cleaning the gym before we opened and throughout my shift.  I cleaned all the gym equipment, the jacuzzi, and the large women’s and men’s bathrooms.  I’ll never forget one morning when I discovered that a female member had left me a disgusting fecal “present” in one shower.  I couldn’t comprehend how a woman could expect another human being to clean up after her in that way.  I think that’s when I started searching the classifieds for an office administration job.

Over the past fifteen years during our marriage, we’ve vacationed at housekeeping-style rentals.  These spots have usually required a cleaning fee, but of course we couldn’t leave the places a pigsty for the cleaner.  We were instructed by the owners to follow basic cleaning checklists before leaving.  Since I knew what it was like to clean professionally, I’d go above and beyond those lists’ requirements; I’d strip beds, remove all hair in the sinks and showers, and make sure that nothing skanky was in the toilets…that kind of thing.

Last year when I became manic during the med-free experiment, I  agreed to housesit for a friend.  As a surprise gift to her family, I decided to clean her home.  I had a tremendous amount of  energy, and I cleaned as if my life depended upon my doing a meticulous job.  I wish I could have been a fly on the wall when my friends walked in the door to see my handiwork.  During that same time period, I also cleaned our own home before throwing a surprise birthday party for Craig.  I didn’t do as thorough a job as I did at my friend’s place, but it wasn’t bad.  At least I didn’t go on a $30,000 shopping spree or do other disturbing and/or dangerous things people sometimes do when they are manic!

I am most definitely not hypomanic or manic now.  My meds are working, knock on wood.  I’m sleeping, exercising, and my psychiatrist is comfortable with how I’m doing.  A few days ago I took it as a good omen that I was asked by the International Bipolar Foundation to be their “Story of Hope and Recovery” which they featured on their website.

Cleaning, although not the most exciting or profound topic, has become a meaningful metaphor in my life.  By removing some of the squalor around me, I feel less lethargic.  Whisking away the nasty grime has allowed me to enjoy where I live instead – I no longer feel guilty for neglecting our home.  My inner hippie also believes that when I clean my small workspace this week, I’ll clear stagnant energy left over from my depression.  I’ve observed some friends wave burning clusters of dried sage in their rooms for purification purposes.  I prefer the smell of orange essential oil, and will dig up my old mini-diffuser in the closet.

Once my workspace is complete, I will finally be able to finish giving birth (pun intended) to Birth of a New Brain.  Some of you reading this essay may be “clean freaks” (lucky you!) and may not relate to letting dirt reign supreme.  For those of you whose depression has influenced you to sully up your surroundings, consider downing a pot of black coffee (even if you don’t drink it) and do just one thing.  Vacuum.  Clean the refrigerator.  (It won’t take as long as you think.)   God forbid I forget to mention the toilet.  If you do any or all of these tasks, I promise, you might end up with sore muscles, but you won’t be sorry.

Good luck, and I can’t resist writing this: May the force be with you.

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“The End of the Day” – Singing My Song About Bipolar Disorder

Aside

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For the past twenty years I’ve been a closet songwriter.  During my first year attending the University of California at Santa Cruz (UCSC), I was a regular at open mike night and I belonged to UCSC’s Concert Choir.  Our final concert was an exotic piece sung in the Esperanto language with an Indonesian gamelan orchestra.  I loved all kinds of music, and I still do!

I wrote the song “The End of the Day” when I was in solitary confinement for four hours in the hospital’s mental health unit.  That unforgettable censure took place during my first hospitalization.  Why was I put in solitary?  You’ll have to buy the book! 😉  Anyway, it was October, 2007, just a couple months after my second daughter was born.  I was diagnosed with bipolar one disorder during my stay at the unit.

In solitary I practiced my song at the top of my lungs.  To my surprise, the unpadded room actually had excellent acoustics!  I remember one of my fellow patients could hear me through the wall and he yelled “Great job!” Another patient shouted something not quite as complementary, but I didn’t care –  I was manic, so I was immune to his criticism.  I sang most of the Beatles catalogue, as well as every Crowded House song I knew.  I couldn’t believe that I remembered all the words, as I usually didn’t have a good memory.  Mania activated a part of my brain that recollected lyrics.

In the accompanying PhotoBooth clip which I recorded last year, I introduce my song and then sing part of it.  I apologize because I’m off-key for half of it, and I’m nervous. Please forgive me.  I recorded “The End of the Day” when I was doing my grand experiment of tapering off my bipolar medication.  It was difficult for me to watch this clip today and revisit that time.  When I sang the song back then, it seemed like I had a shot at living med-free.  I was acting fairly stable.  I had no idea that going off my meds would backfire in the worst possible way.  I wound up relapsing so severely that not only was I hospitalized three times during the subsequent summer, I asked for bilateral electroshock. (ECT)  It was a long, long road back to recovery and took almost half a year.  I’ll be writing more about what influenced me to make the decision to taper off meds soon.

For now, I’m going to keep popping my pink & white pills, be with my family and friends, exercise, be grateful, and write.  I’m going to work on cutting down on sugar, which is unfortunately still my nemesis. At the end of the day, that’s all I can do!

The End of the Day

by Dyane Harwood

I have an illness in my head, I have an illness in my head

And it seems…I go to extremes

And everyone wants me to do it, everyone wants me to do what they say

Although I have my own way….

I don’t know, but I do care

At the end of the day

You can call me crazy and I’ll agree

At the end of the day

I know I’ll be okay

I have two little girls, I have two little girls

I miss them more than words can ever say

It has been five long days, it has been five long days

since I was with them all day…and night, yeah

I don’t know, but I do care

At the end of the day

You can call me crazy and I’ll agree

At the end of the day

I know I’ll be okay

You know I do see how this frustrates you

But I ask you, have you ever been in my shoes?

Have you ever had bipolar too?

‘Cause I do, and now I know what to do…