November 15, 2015

Sense & Sensitivity

Meet Maria, a self-taught yoga student & activist from the UK, balancing life & mental health.

1. Introducing Maria

R: Who are you?

M: That would take a while to explain. Like most people who are born, my life is neither simple nor easily explained. I believe that we are various variations of ourselves throughout our entire live, who I am now is not the same person, literally, as I was a few years ago. Nor am I the same person I was two months ago or even yesterday. The root of me is someone who is trying to get through life without either a) killing myself or b) killing everyone.

R: Where do you live?

M: I live in the UK by the sea in the South of England.

R: What do you do?

M:For a living I work in a creative agency. For myself I am an artist in many forms. I prefer animals to humans as most creative people do and I am trying to come to terms with a lot, which is how we came to this point in time.


2. Balancing Life & Mental Health

R: When did your mental health issues begin?

M: Without going into too much detail I do not have many memories of my childhood. What happens with trauma, well it did with my brain anyway, was that it compartmentalised my memories to prevent any further pain, but one of my first memories was when I was 8 sitting in a corner of a room – this sounds a lot worse in retrospect – holding my knees and rocking while crying. It came and went from then all the way to this moment typing.

R: Does having these issues make you feel different to others?

M: In a way it does make me feel different than “normal” people, but I think everyone suffers from something, whether it’s a mental health issue or something else we all go through our own shit. I do wonder what it would be like to be “normal” but 9 times out of 10 I remind myself that I’m not normal and that’s ok. I have to live my life differently thanthose who aren’t like us, but that’s ok as well.

R: In your own words, how would you describe having depression?

M: It’s like living a dream and a nightmare all at the same time. One day is never the same as the next, you have to really be flexible knowing that. It is also scary as hell. Basically fit all the emotions you can possibly imagine that you could experience over the cocalurse of your whole life and compress them into a day, a week, a minute this how I and many, many others feel. I can go from as blissful as you could imagine, almost angelic to the bottom of a hole and I don’t want to open my eyes in a heartbeat.

“take it slow, try limit the amount of stimuli that I encounter, meditate extra, remind myself to breathe, and let myself cry”

R: Has the symptoms from depression remained constant, or evolved over the years? 

M: I am learning more and more each day, each time I share things about me the more I get to learn, especially from others who also have had similar experiences. We (depression and me) have grown, when I was younger we were very, very angry as I didn’t understand it. I didn’t understand why this was happening, why people didn’t understand, I was scared, I still am to a point. We are slightly different now, less angry, it comes out when I am stressed, tired or over stimulated by the every day noises, smells and frankly life’s ways.


R: How does Depression affect your normal day?

M: My days will never be “normal” it is never not there but the strength of it depends, some days it’s bad some days it’s ok, others its terrible. When it is bad I have to just let it be what it will be. Give it it’s time and give myself space to think about why it is happening. I’d say 70% of the time there is a trigger, something that has happened to prompt it, but sometimes it just happens with no reason so sometimes i have to take it slow, try limit the amount of stimuli that I encounter, meditate extra, remind myself to breathe, and let myself cry. I was raised that being tough and strong meant that you would make it through life. I am now starting to realise that that got me through the toughest part of my life now it’s time to let that go and move on to being the real me and the start is to accept that I am not “normal” and that means that I need to accept that my day sometimes won’t be normal.

R: From the moment you wake, is it immediately present?

M: Some days yes I can wake up just feeling down. I don’t want to get out of bed, all I want to do is stay under the duvet with my cats and just sleep, I just don’t want to face the world. Again it could be triggered by something, lack of sleep is not a friend to mental health but unfortunately insomnia and nightmares can go hand in hand with trauma and mental health. I have had both and it makes everything exponentially worse. I have woken up before and cried because I just cannot bring myself to get out of bed so I take it one step at a time. Step 1) wake up. Strange that that would be a step but to realise that you have woken up is a big step. Step 2) get out of bed. The rest of the steps you just need to take slow and easy. Now I am finding it hard to leave the house, not my bed. The world outside is so noisy, filled with mean people and horrible smells that overload my brain, so I take the same advice. Easy steps. Step 1) leave the house. Step 2) walk down the street. Step 3) Walk onto the busy road and try focus on something other than what’s going on around you… and just make it through the day until I am safe back home.

R: When you go to sleep is it still there?

M: Again it depends. Yes if I have had a bad day then it does have a habit of overlapping into the night, meditation helps clear and focus my mind so if it is very bad I will step into my room and meditate. Having your own space is SO important I cannot stress that enough. We moved our house around and took the time and effort to make sure that I could step away from the world, find peace and stillness without interruption.

“I used to try plaster a fake smile on my face and pretend that everything is fine”

R: If you had the option rid yourself of mental health issues, would you?

M: No. What makes me different also makes me special. I would have said yes when I was younger as I stuck out like a sore thumb, but now I am starting to see it as a gift not a curse. The basics in a fundamental version is that I feel too much. I’d rather feel too much than nothing at all.

R: Do friends or colleagues notice that you have depression?

M: I don’t hide it as much anymore, I used to try plaster a fake smile on my face and pretend that everything “fine” but I also wear my heart on my sleeve, so when I was mad you knew it, when I was sad there was a cloud over my head, when I was upset you can see it in my face so it’s not exactly hard to tell that something is going on. Due to my mental health I don’t like people much and it is hard for me to open up to someone I don’t know, even now a year and a half into my job and I am finding it difficult to work in an office full of people. I don’t make friends easily as they don’t really know how to “handle” me and the stigma of having a mental health issue is still rampant. Employers still fire people because they feel that they are incompetent because of it. I am not incompetent at my job I just need consideration, which ALL humans should have as a birth right anyway.


R: Does it affect your relationship with them?

M: I’d say yes as I said previously, mental health still has a major stigma attached to it, plus a lot of people don’t want the hassle and time it takes to help someone. It’s harsh but it is true, people just don’t want to waste their already precious time on someone who needs a little time and space. It took me a while to tell my boss and in honesty I haven’t told them everything, but they know I’m highly sensitive when before they would say that I need to stop being so sensitive and to toughen up I would like to think that they now understand that isn’t the best route to take, that’s akin to telling an asthmatic to just breathe.

“Highly sensitive people are too often perceived as weaklings or damaged goods. To feel intensely is not a symptom of weakness, it is the trademark of the truly alive and compassionate. It is not the empath who is broken, it is society that has become dysfunctional and emotionally disabled. There is no shame in expressing your authentic feelings. Those who are at times described as being a ‘hot mess’ or having ‘too many issues’ are the very fabric of what keeps the dream alive for a more caring, humane world. Never be ashamed to let your tears shine a light in this world.”
Anthon St Marteen

R: Do you think your life would be different without depression?

M: It would be different, but it wouldn’t be my life. I cannot change it, there is no cure and as much as I would love to think that one day there would be, I do not think its possible through current medical practices. Mine is also genetic so the only way to have stopped it from happening would be to wipe out my entire family.

R: What made you speak openly publicly about your Depression on your blog ?

M: A few reasons. One was that I saw others start to open up and it was inspirational to watch. I came to a place where I was beginning to accept things instead of fight them and part of that means accepting it as a part of you and as a part of me why should I not talk about it. Probably the biggest was I’m tired of hiding. Why should I hide because some people might not like it. I am not hurting anyone by talking about it and the more we talk about it the more people will start to see that it isn’t something to be ashamed of. No more hiding, I’ve got nothing to hide.

“I have dedicated myself to this new life of inner peace, but its crazy to think of how quickly things have changed. I like to believe that is because I have shifted my view on things, the same bad things are still there, they haven’t necessarily gone away my perspective on them has just changed.”
Maria, from

3. Diagnosis & Treatment

R: Were you officially been diagnosed by a health professional?

M: When I was a teenager yes I also sought more help a few years ago from my Dr. who then referred me to the local hospital psychologist who told me quote un-quote “there was a girl here before you who was crying so you’re obviously not as bad as her” and “as you are wanting to move house and get a new job you won’t have time to be depressed” needless to say that didn‘t help.

“It was like I had been put in a coffin and buried alive, it was dark, unknown and completely alone.”

R: If so, what did they say I the best treatment?

M: They prescribed what was the standard then, prozac. Imagine if you will being highly sensitive, not understood, and then suddenly given a tablet that numbs EVERYTHING. It was like I had been put in a coffin and buried alive, it was dark, unknown and completely alone. Needless to say, I went against my doctor and parents and stopped.

R: I read that you use meditation as a shield against depression – it works?

M: It does for me. Though it isn’t perfect I still have a bad day but since starting meditating I haven’t had the overwhelming feeling that I wanted to kill myself. With most mental health issues there are so many thoughts inside your head its hard to get a moments peace, mediation is a guide to help quiet those thoughts and to give your mind a break. Being someone who was exposed to “other worldly” things I am very open to talking to the universe, fairies, angles, spirits, animals and things that most people don’t believe in, so I look to them for guidance and help as well.

“The best treatment for me was to become sober, stop smoking, taking any form of drugs and cut meat and most cheese out of my diet.”

R: Have you sought your own treatment?

M: I did look into lithium as a treatment for bi-polar but the effects of long term usage did not look promising, it basically kills your body, as described here. I used to take herbal belladonna but it became more psychosomatic treatment than actual treatment.


R: Did any treatments work?

M: The best treatment for me was to become sober, stop smoking, taking any form of drugs and cut meat and most cheese out of my diet and I also take various vitamins. Adding some form of exercise is the best treatment.

R: Have you been to therapy for Depression, and did it work?

M: Depends on your definition of therapy? I use drinking as a form of therapy. If you mean counselling then yes I went when I was 8 but that was more child psychology I then went after I had stopped taking medication and found it lets say difficult as I was asked to open up to a complete stranger.

“I found a simple 10 minute meditation to help battle depression, because frankly it is a battle, an every day battle and yoga and meditation were my weapons.”

R: Can you tell us a little about the 40 days of meditation? Does it still work for you?

M: When I first started the 40 days of meditation I thought that I HAD to meditate for an hour, 45 minutes or half hour for it to “work” that I HAD to do it in my room. I was wrong. Meditation isn’t necessarily sitting down in a room, at the same time, every day forcing yourself to sit for an hour, thats not meditation thats a prison sentence. I find it difficult to meditate anywhere other than my room, i do it not because i have to but because I want to. I find solitude and focus in my room, its a place where I can breathe, I can try give my mind space by keeping the noises out. When noises intrude my space it is hard to meditate so I give myself and forgive myself for not doing a twenty minute meditation and give myself ten or even five minutes of mind space. There are no rules to this. There are no take these tablets twice a day and everything will be fine, its a bit of a leap of faith, not only in the universe but also in yourself and even if you have no faith in yourself thats fine too as it will also help with that.

R: Are you finished with it?

M: It hasn’t stopped, I still meditate every day, at least once. At first it was a challenge, and I love challenges but that was my ego talking now i do it because I like it and I know it helps. Once you remove ego from any situation it should naturally become love not ego.

R: How do you best manage depression?

M: It is a combination of no alcohol, no meat, no nicotine, i still have caffeine but i balance it with herbal teas, meditation, yoga and also learning and being open about what I am going through.

R: Do you feel like you’re in control?

M: I don’t think anyone feels that they are in control of their life all the time, but I do feel that I am more in tune with myself more now than ever before.


R: Where do your issues with Mental Health come from?

M: Genetics. Its chemical not character.

R: Did any health professionals explain where they originated?

M: No, they decided that it wasn’t a priority so I took it upon myself to investigate. Again with the majority of mental health we are just a statistic, which is why we need to support each other.


4. Being Proactive

R: Do you tell friends, family and colleagues about your mental health?

M: Those that I class as my friends know about my mental health, so do my family and one colleague. It’s not because I am ashamed that I don’t tell them I just don’t get along with humans so it takes a while for me to open up.

R: Do you know other people who experience mental health issues?

M: I know quite a few people who suffer from mental health “issues”.

“Movies are something that I love to dive into as a release from the world.”

R: How do you stay educated and up to date on mental health issues? Do you read specific blogs, magazines or news articles?

M: I love Instagram for learning about it as its easier to represent what you feel and want to say visually than verbally. I think that because I am also a lover of science I like to stay up to date with any knowledge in regards to treatment, but by spreading and talking to other people in the same situation you can find out so much.

R: Have you read any books on the subject?

M: I prefer to read other peoples stories rather than books as I find it more personal. I have started ‘the highly sensitive person’ by Elaine Aron though.

R: Or seen any movies?

M: Movies are something that I love to dive into as a release from the world, however, I am easily affected by the story-lines so I try stay away from any emotional or distressing films. Horror films are a big no no. My favourite films about mental health are Silver Linings Playbook, Girl, Interrupted and Mad Love. Each one representing a stage of my life and the evolution of my mental health.


5. Yoga as Therapy

R: How did you get into yoga?

M: I started doing yoga in my garden in the morning outside on my patio without a mat, hoping that it would give me some time away from my life. I took the challenge on as a whim, at the time I was pushing hard at the gym trying to be more masculine, to show i was “strong” as that was how i thought i had to be when i grew up, tough. It’s true it helped I made it, but now it wasn’t helping. I started trying the poses and soon became better and better and enjoying it more and more. By posting photos online the community was so supportive that I kept going. I then won a competition when I took a photo of me minutes before giving blood and won a spot on a yoga retreat in bali!! Combined with my meditation it seemed that the universe was deciding that this was my path, and I wasn’t unhappy about that one bit. BUT as with certain personalities I have an addictive personality, whether its alcohol, the gym I soon became slightly obsessed with the challenges taking on more and more, and the universe gave me a readjustment in the form of a back injury. I had to take things down a lot and it realigned me to yin yang restorative yoga, which isn’t about power yoga or how fast or hard you can push but a form that helps your body rest, relax and restore your body with certain poses. I have also started to research mudras to help.

“Combined with my meditation it seemed that the universe was deciding that this was my path, and I wasn’t unhappy about that one bit.”

R: How often do you practice?

M: Every day. Whether its  just half an hour sun salutation in the morning, which i do every morning before work and or two good sessions at the weekend.

R: How has it changed your life?

M: It has changed it completely. Ok so let me just say they daily shit that life brings to everyone is still there, my perspective on it has just changed. I still have bad days, I had one recently, but nowhere near as bad as it used to be. I now look at why it has happened, or what bought it on. I have learnt to speak up when people say those horrible things like “just smile” or “let it go” I don’t work that way, my brain was made differently and that’s absolutely fine.

R: Tell us about the reactions you have received?

M: I haven’t had one bad reaction, even my mother who herself suffers from mental health, has been happy about my new path. Those that I talk to online about it have been so supportive and non judgemental about my journey.

6. What’s next?

R: What are your plans for the future?

M: I plan on taking my teachers training next year for yoga so that i can become a yoga teacher specifically to help those with mental health issues.

R: What are your plans for the future regarding your mental health?

M: Just keep going, to keep learning and to keep growing, cut myself some slack and to help others.

R: Any thing else you’d like to add?

M: Just remember to breathe, take it from me it helps. Oh and to love and forgive yourself.

R: Thanks for shining a light on this Maria, it’s amazingly important people speak out against depression and mental health issues in general. People need to know that great things can still be achieved with the right treatment and care.

M: Anytime

Maria is the author of be-loved and beloved where she shares her insights on mental health and the benefits of yoga and eating healthy.


7. Credits

Rodger Hoefel in conversation with Maz Layley
All images from Maz’s Instagram

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