Viviane Khounlavong: Learning how to create motivation out of depression

Published 12:00 am Sunday, May 15, 2022

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is a republish of a piece from April 2018, presented here for May, which is Mental Health Awareness Month

Recently, athletes like Kevin Love and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson have opened up about their struggles with mental health issues and how it has affected their careers and performance. I’m thankful for their openness because it’s given me the courage to share my story and build a platform for dealing with my own mental health issues.

It wasn’t until after I had an emergency C-section did I understand the realness of depression and anxiety. Going from someone who was so active, energetic, and motivated to holding my beautiful daughter and trying to figure out who I was again wasn’t easy. I had the craziest thoughts, and fears in my head that just weren’t rational.

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It still isn’t easy. Though I hid it well, I felt so hopeless. I struggled to get up every morning because I hated my body and I didn’t know what was in store each day emotionally. I was so excited and thrilled to have my child but I couldn’t control my thoughts and fears. How confusing! Add going through a divorce on top of that and life just became unbearable.

Parents go from living somewhat selfishly, coming and going independently, to having a child that depends on us for everything. A little bit of that independence is taken away and it’s hard to have to rely on others for help. Please don’t misconstrue this because, of course, I love my daughter. My life as a mother means more than anything to me. But that’s why accepting you have post-partum depression is so hard. You worry people will think you’re an awful person for even caring about how you look and feel when all you should be doing is rejoicing over creating a new life. You don’t want to tell people you sometimes sit for hours in darkness with unreasonable fears, or have to leave a cart full of groceries to go scream in your car. EVERYONE WOULD THINK YOU’RE CRAZY! Right?

I couldn’t shake it. I couldn’t “just be happy.” I no longer had it in me to be strong. When I finally decided to seek help, I was immediately diagnosed with post-partum depression. Then later found out I’d been dealing with depression and anxiety for the majority of my life.

Months after my initial diagnosis, I realized (or finally admitted to myself) that I’ve had mental/emotional breakdowns like this since I was in junior high.

Instead of talking about it, I secluded myself in my books and music.

I had stretches of months when I hated getting out of bed without ever truly understanding why I just couldn’t be happy.

It continued through college and my mid 20s. Then I started weight training and running. The positive motivation and support form everyone allowed me to open up a little more. I felt connected. It became my therapy. But I still had moments that triggered seclusion. I now understand I’ve been living with depression and anxiety for decades.

The few people who know this about me are completely astounded. “How can someone like you suffer from mental health issues?” It’s simple. I’m human. I have real emotions just like everyone else. We’re all going through some sort of struggle. It’s when we share our stories that we find strength. I find strength in helping others find hope in themselves. It’s easy for me to be uplifting and empowering because it’s something I need myself.

In yoga we are taught to teach and speak to what you know. That’s exactly what I do in my classes.

The intentions and messages I share with my clients and yogis reflect my own experiences. Sharing helps me cope. If I can help just one person with my story, this journey is worth it.

Depression and anxiety are both very real. We are never alone in the battle. Be open. Be helpful to one another. Share your stories with each other. I thank you for allowing me to share mine. Namaste.

Viviane Khounlavong is a personal trainer, health coach and yoga instructor working in Lawrence County.