Qigong in a Darker Shade of Blue

NOTE: I banged this out on Sunday evening. Writing it felt therapeutic. Monday, the day of the Big(ish) Snow, I decided I wouldn’t post it. Qigong is arguably an interesting subject, at least to a minuscule segment of the population. Depression is just depressing.

Today I decided that I should post it, on grounds that I had promised myself when I began writing this blog that I would try to be honest. I don’t promote the blog anymore, and I don’t follow the statistics as to how many people read it. I do know that hardly any of my friends and none of my family do. But a principle is a principle, so I am going to go through this and add a few things, and then I will post it before I can change my mind.


A week and a half ago I decided that the elephant in the room of my life was depression, and that it had no intention of leaving. I had failed at managing my life. I needed help.

I asked my doctor for a mental health referral and was given an appointment with a psychiatrist for Valentine’s Day, almost three weeks out. I did some online research and decided to take 5-htp to try to boost my serotonin levels while I waited to see someone who might have a better idea.

I explored resigning from the board of my residential co-op, because I felt I had become negative and lacking in generosity and was suffering altogether too much anguish over being embroiled in public controversy for being on the board to be good for me. I didn’t care if the whole community thought I was an emotional cripple.

Perhaps not surprisingly, since taking action almost always helps, I am already feeling better.

Yesterday, the day of this winter’s Big(ish) Snow, everything on my schedule was cancelled except for a physical therapy appointment. I decided to take the bus, although once I got down to the street I realized I could easily have driven and it would have taken an hour, instead of four. But no matter. I had a lovely time. I smiled at people and struck up a couple of conversations. I realized that my gaze had turned outward.

However, darkness hovers at the edges of my awareness, and I fear the hopelessness and anguish I felt. Especially I fear the moments when I thought I might be losing my mind into a very dark and terrible place.

A few days ago I read back through the journal I mostly write in the morning, while I drink my first cup of tea. I can see now that around about Thanksgiving, it was as if a switch had been flipped. I was no longer in a good space.

I kept doing all my usual things, and nobody seemed to notice any difference. Indeed, periodically I felt pretty good. But the backdrop of depression was there to emerge when I was alone or tired. Sometimes I’d feel like crying, for no reason whatsoever. Other times I experienced deep self-loathing. I hated myself for being who I was instead of a kinder, more generous, happier person who would give to the world instead of spreading negativity. On New Year’s Day, I wrote a positive post. It was genuine. I felt good that day and resolved to improve my attitude—but the “good” didn’t last.

Doubtless SAD—Seasonal Affective Disorder—was at play. Historically, the winter months have been when I was most likely to be depressed.

Except that I thought my qigong practice had made depression a thing of the past. Anyway, it was supposed to. The idea was that I might still get to feeling low, but I would be able to recognize what was happening and not go as deep and pull out faster. Indeed, this was pretty much true for several years.

I know don’t whether to call this winter’s depression long or short, but I don’t recall ever before feeling that I might be losing my mind, that it might even be disintegrating.

If I look for reasons why this winter I fell so hard, one possibility is that this year, for the first time in perhaps 30 years, I didn’t go to California for seven to 10 days at Christmas. My body didn’t get its accustomed solar reset.

But also qigong, which has been a cornerstone of my life for more than six years, now feels more like a question mark.

Last summer it seemed some interesting things were happening. Then I was told that perhaps those phenomena, and also the “spells” I had had the fall and winter before, were aberrations, either the unveiling of some underlying condition or the result of my trying too hard in my practice, forcing instead of allowing, getting too stressed, and harming my body. I was told—and, indeed, believe it to be true—that I needed to step back, to listen, to let go. I wasn’t told, but nonetheless felt, that wherever it was I had thought qigong might take me, I might simply be too old and physically and temperamentally unsuited to go.

As well, the balance problem that manifests when I am doing taiji has persisted, despite everything I’ve done to deal with it, and I have less and less hope of ever resolving it and being able to do the form the way I would like.

Before and during the time I was depressed, I was seeing a new Chinese medical doctor, getting acupuncture and taking herbs. I really liked him, and hoped that he might become my qigong teacher as well, but then we had a falling out over the herbs he prescribed. I’m not sure if he fired me as a patient because of the way I was asking him questions about the herbs or whether I fired him because of the way he stopped answering.

I stopped taking the last batch of herbs he prescribed because I didn’t see how they could possibly be doing me any good when I had fallen into such despair.

I don’t know whether I will pursue acupuncture or herbs again. It is an expensive pursuit. And now that I have finished reading “The Web That Has No Weaver: Understanding Chinese Medicine,” I doubt I will do herbs again, because I’m not willing to fly on faith and trust in art rather than science. I may go to another acupuncturist. I told a friend that I always felt better after acupuncture but wasn’t sure it produced the lasting change that would justify spending the money. She asked why simply enjoying it wasn’t justification enough. Hmmmm….. Why not, indeed?

So there it is. When I started writing this blog four years ago, I was wildly enthusiastic about qigong and where it might lead me. Now I just don’t know. I continue to practice. I still feel good when I do, and I still have some hope that it will help me understand whatever existence is and live a more satisfying life. But more days go by without my getting to any of my qigong practices, and I intend to keep the appointment with the shrink. If she recommends an anti-depressant, I will probably take it, perhaps forever.

I have found that qigong doesn’t make a person bullet-proof.



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9 responses to “Qigong in a Darker Shade of Blue

  1. Another reader from Norway letting you know I always read your posts and hope you will find back joy! I am also in the process of finding back to doing things just for the enjoyment of it, doing more of the things that make me happy but “will get me nowhere” like singing in the shower or in the woods, dancing in the living room and also when I do “fail in every way” having painted myself into a narrow narrow corner with all my ambition and impossible rules and I find myself violently breaking free by eating candy in front of a movie at 1am (and soaking the Spleen thoroughly with a Pepsi to go with it..) I try to let go, not worry too much about the liver right then, about messing up internal cleansing, having “already ruined the next day” and whatnot but rather enjoying the candy then and there. I can get back on track later.

    I have over the years lost myself so much to the idea of “proper living” to the point of having forgotten at times how to really live at all. By trying to get more in sync with all good things I fell out of sync with everything! If I could just get “a little more diciplined”, add a few more things on my daily to do list, streamline my life a little more and soon! Then I could get healthier, more limber, more free, more unencumbered, stronger in the face of life.

    I was told by Damo at the beginning of my starting practice years ago the importance of intention and how training out of a desperation to “get well” in my case from lifelong depression would taint the practice in unfortunate ways (I cannot remember his exact words on it, sorry!) But for years I’ve been completely unable to let go of this inner sense of urgency to heal myself, “There’s no time, I must get started!” “You have all the tools now, push push push!” and so I decided rather early in the face of this unhealthy inner agenda to put the foot down and through these years not allow myself to practice much at all! Because every time I tried standing or doing sequences I could feel this urgent agenda pop up inside feeling like I had a tight violin string at the core of me that was about to break under pressure, I was run by my desperation and that was not what I wanted as a backdrop for practice.

    Instead I’ve stretched and stretched, worked on my alignments, my breathing, general healthier living, just working on the basic physical foundation of things with a growing trust I’ll get ready for the more energetic stuff some day. And that day has finally come, no more sense of urgency, no stressed out agenda pining in the background, I can finally start practicing!

    But it’s hard to find one’s own way, particularly in a field such as Nei Gong where you meet so many highly skilled, diciplined people, many with health levels I’d concider elite on a world level. They all seem to be going places 😉

    And they got there by dicipline, right? By following rules, right? Not by indulging themselves or embracing freedom, for sure? At least it’s easy to feel that way and fall back into the trap of pushing oneself. I made up such a narrow path far from what the teachers taught, and forgot the joy and freedom that they expressed through their movements and practice. Forgot the love till it was all rules and urgency. Forgot grace.

    I’ve found that giving myself freedom, embracing my own humanity, being loving of perceived shortcomings and indulging in smart ways (indulging is important! 😀 ) helps my practice more than any adding more dicipline or the thinking “I should be able to by now” ever could or did. Be joyous! 😉 ❤

    I apologize for the very long post, I wish you all the best and commend you for consistently sharing so bravely! ❤

    • Oh, my. Thank you. I’ve already confessed to Restless Raven that I am in recovery from my 10-item taiji-and-qigong-practices daily to-do list, made possible by an app for my iPhone but, in practice, rather a straitjacket. I know that you and he are not laughing at me over this, and I am deeply grateful for that. (Sometimes I think one’s to-do list is even more personal than the details of one’s sex life or bowel habits.)

      I really relate to “a sense of urgency to heal myself.” I can sometimes see that I am quite fine just as I am, in this quite perfect moment — until, of course, I can’t, because my mind has twisted itself into a place where the sun does not shine. Fortunately, today the sun is shining, literally and figuratively.

      Again, I thank you — and now I need to check our your blog.

      • I would never laugh at someones to do lists 😉 I have a Daylio app on my phone which brings me more joy than I like to admit! Allows me to track every bit of my life, activities and moods and it’s just too much fun to let go of! In the Premium version it also has yearly stats so I can see how many times I’ve done this or that through the whole year, compare months, see how many times I’ve been in this or that mood etc, what day of the week is the day I most often rate a best mood etc, it’s a listmaker’s wet dream.. But I have stopped tracking “failures” and only track/map the joyous or healthy things I get done. The “wins” of life. That helped a lot 🙂

        You can indeed learn a lot about a person from their to do lists, oh my, mine contains all kinds of things! 😀 But it is in the “letting myself completely off the hook” days I gather the most strength to do things better/healthier the rest of the days. So I’m allowing more of those as well this year, and this year feels more fun so far than the previous ones! 😀

  2. Alan

    This has been a pretty tough winter for most everyone that I know. My own practice has helped, but it certainly hasn’t been a universal fix-it. I don’t have any great advice to you to make it all better. I did think that I would pipe up and tell you that at least one person (me) checks your blog every so often to see if you’ve written a new post. Hang in there, I’m holding out for spring, myself, so I can plant some flowers and get my hands dirty in the backyard.

    • Thank you, Alan, for reading and commenting. I have several pots of daffodils and tulips on my balcony and they offer daily proof, millimeter by millimeter of emerging green, that spring is indeed coming.

  3. TheRestlessRaven

    My teacher forced me to stop practicing for two months.

    I was always training FOR something in my life, always meditating to become more open during form, practicing form to make sure I dont forget it, doing qigong so that my form will improve.

    I was pushing.

    Im not sure if I had ever been doing Tai Chi for the right reasons. I felt it was my escape, that it brought me peace, that it helped with my depression and for those reasons I forced myself to continue to practice everyday regardless of how I felt.

    It wasn’t until I was forced to meditate on how to do something for the love of it, rather than for where it would take me that I feel I truly started to understand what my teacher has been saying for three years. That I must first learn to listen.

    Tai Chi, is the one sport that when you TRY to get better, you cant.

    • Wow. This so sounds like me. I do so need to learn to do things for the love of doing them, and not just because I think I should. Some months ago, how many I don’t recall, I put a program on my smart phone called Clear that allowed me to make To Do lists. At one point I had 10 practices on each day’s list, ranging from seated meditation through taiji and qigong practices to exercises for my knees and other body parts. Around the New Year I resolved to loosen up my schedule, which either I did or it did itself. I try some days, at least, to ask myself: What do I feel like doing in the hour now available to me? Thank you for sharing your thoughts with me.

  4. pattyshells@comcast.net

    Barbara – I read your posts. I also understand how depression can change one’s perspective, one’s life. Know that I care. Know that I am holding you in my thoughts and prayers. x-qigong student of your fabulous class. patti Johnson

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