My Beloved Gurus: Depression & Anxiety

I was a happy kid. I made friends easily. I was athletic. I liked school. Then I went to college at the University of Michigan. I still made friends easily. I was still athletic and excelled in school. But, I wasn’t happy. I didn’t know I wasn’t happy, but the people around me could tell. I slept a lot. I had mood swings. My libido fluctuated. I had bad PMS. I cried or got angry over small stuff. I began to hole up more and more at home. I felt lost and confused about my life. I had a constant feeling that something was wrong, like I was stuck in a bubble, and couldn’t connect to others or to my own joy. Some of this was normal twenty year old stuff. Most of it wasn’t.

I have only shared what’s coming next with close friends. It’s a big deal for me to write about this publicly and honestly it makes me feel anxious, but also incredibly brave. After college, I went to law school at William & Mary, and everything went from bad to worse. All my symptoms heightened until I couldn’t function. Anxiety and depression took over my life. I couldn’t stop crying, I couldn’t concentrate on anything, my appetite diminished, and I couldn’t sleep. This happened at the end of my first year of law school. That’s when, for the first time, I went on medication. I used Paxil, which is an SSRI similar to Prozac, for treating depression and anxiety. It helped tremendously. Within weeks I was feeling better and was able to return to law school. I graduated two years later.

Taking medication was an important step in my healing process, but just as important was my growing awareness that I had a medical condition that I would have to deal with for the rest of my life. While it was hard to accept, it was also a relief to understand what was going on and how to treat it. Treatment would require not only medication, but stress management. So, it was also at this time that I went for my first massage. Imagine me smiling ear to ear right now.

Serendipitously, there was a massage therapy school blocks away from William & Mary law school. As part of their education, students would offer massages at major discounts to practice their techniques. My finances were tight, but I went for one of these massages each month as part of my self-care plan. During the massages I would talk to the students about what they were learning and it fascinated me. I was totally hooked and I wanted to know more.

My first law job was in Richmond. Guess what else was there? A second location of the same massage therapy school, and they were offering a night program for massage therapy certifications. I enrolled immediately and started the two-year process of earning my massage therapy certification through the Virginia Board of Nursing. There’s a story behind how I transitioned from law to massage therapy, as well as into yoga and doula work, but that’s for another day. The point is, thanks to exploring massage as part of my treatment for depression and anxiety, I was on my way to building a profession in the healing arts!

Over the following 25 years, I would live through times of great stability and accomplishment and times of immense struggle and despair. There were times when I would try to get off medication, change medications, and experiment with dosages. SSRI drugs have unappealing side effects. They can work for a while, and sometimes stop working. It hasn’t been a free ride and I still need medication to feel well.

I know now that my experience is not uncommon. That’s one of the reasons I am writing this post. I know it will reach many of you and you’ll identify with my experience. My story might help you feel more understood and not so alone. Maybe my story will give you hope.

What I am going to say next, though, might surprise you.

After 25 living with depression and anxiety, I am deeply grateful for them. I have made friends with them. Right next to these two “friends” live my other two friends, humor and joy. I know now that I am not my depression and anxiety. They are just two experiences of life in a whole range of experiences. I have grown and evolved enough in my consciousness that I can hold space for these two to be present without taking over. I doubt that without these two “friends” that I would have made the effort to delve into the healing arts that I have taken. Depression and anxiety were my motivators, my beloved gurus. They led me to my life’s calling.

What other gifts depression and anxiety have given me?

1. Compassion.

2. An understanding that I am so much stronger than I ever knew.

3. Self love that requires courage and an ability to rise above shame. It doesn’t require perfection.

4. An ability to hold a non-judgmental space for people going through their own dark night of the soul.

5. Absolute confidence and faith in the process of transformation, which often requires falling apart and feeling utterly lost before finding true purpose in life.

6. Gratitude for every life experience.

7. An deep understanding of the nature of life and its impermanence.

8. A profession I love!

Here is the single most important life lesson that depression and anxiety have given me: if I am struggling there is nothing wrong with me. Let me say it again: there is nothing wrong with me.

I know that sounds strange and it requires a broader understanding of why we are here on earth. Life isn’t easy. It’s not perfect; it’s not meant to be. Struggle is part of the journey, it’s how we grow, and it’s necessary. Perhaps I was meant to have depression and anxiety in order to accomplish what I need to here on this planet. I don’t really know. I didn’t come up with the design. Wink! We’ll all experience illness, loss, and disillusionment.

I am not a practicing Buddhist, but I appreciate this quote from Gautama Buddha: “Life’s greatest teachers are old age, illness, and death.” For me, shifting my perspective to align with this wise sentiment has helped me to cultivate peace in my heart and to be able to laugh and feel joy, despite it all.

Stay tuned for my next post to find out how yoga has been an important part of my self-care routine for addressing depression and anxiety.


  • The latest from Sara
co-owner, CMT, e-RYT 200, RYT 500 | Mind the Mat
Sara VanderGoot, CMT, e-RYT 200, RYT 500, is Co-founder of Mind the Mat Pilates and Yoga and Director of Mind the Mat Yoga Alliance certified teacher training program. Sara is an experienced Registered Yoga instructor with Yoga Alliance. She studied Interdisciplinary Yoga with Don and Amba Stapleton in Nosara, Costa Rica and at Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health. Sara is Nationally Certified in Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork, licensed by the Virginia Board of Nursing. Sara has been practicing massage therapy, including specialties Prenatal Massage, Postpartum Massage, Deep Tissue Massage and Thai Yoga Massage, in Del Ray, Alexandria for over 15 years and a yoga instructor for 7 years. At Mind the Mat she specializes in Prenatal Yoga, Postpartum Core Yoga, Mommy and Me Core Yoga, Partners Yoga, and Hot Flow Yoga. Sara frequently acts as a birth companion for many of her clients, doing massage and yoga during labor and delivery to facilitate comfort during both medicated and unmedicated births. Before becoming a massage therapist and yoga instructor, she was a lawyer in the Washington D.C. area and found that the healing practices of massage and yoga brought a balance to her life that she had been searching for.

Mind the Mat Pilates & Yoga was founded in 2008 by Megan Brown, Doctor of Physical Therapy and Polestar Certified Practitioner of Pilates for Rehabilitation and Sara VanderGoot, Nationally Certified Massage Therapist and Registered Yoga Teacher (e-RYT 200, RYT 500). In their private practices as physical therapist and massage therapist respectively Megan and Sara observed that many of their clients were coming in with similar needs: relief for neck and shoulder tension and low back pain as well as a desire for more flexibility in hips and legs, stability in joints, and core strength.

Together Megan and Sara carefully crafted a curriculum of Pilates and yoga classes to address needs for clients who are pregnant, postpartum, have injuries or limitations, who are new to Pilates and yoga, and for those who are advanced students and are looking for an extra challenge.     

2214 Mount Vernon Avenue
Alexandria, VA 22301



  1. Avatar Emily O Kimm says:

    Thank you for sharing your story! So brave.

  2. Avatar Susie says:

    This post is incredible. It’s great to think about compassion, gratitude, and faith in the transformation process as things you can earn through hardship. Thank you for sharing and helping to reduce the stigma around mental illness!

  3. Avatar Farrah says:

    There’s so much truth and hope in this blog. Thank you for talking about the hard stuff!

  4. Avatar SH McCannell says:

    Thank you for that very personal story. Go Blue!

  5. Sara Sara says:

    I am so glad you benefited from it! Sara 🙂

  6. Avatar Mercedes Estevez says:

    Thank you for sharing your story Sara, so inspiring and liberating! xo

  7. Avatar Elizabeth Yingling says:

    A beautiful and brave post! So many people suffer from mental health issues that prevent them from living their best life. By sharing your story, you give them the feeling that they are not alone and that there is hope… and that is a great and transformative gift. Namaste.

  8. Avatar Mary VanderGoot says:

    I admire you so much, Sara. This post is exactly why. You’ve had the vision to create a beautiful part of a flourishing community, and you are so generous with your friends and neighbors by sharing that a life lived well isn’t always easy. Love, Mom

  9. Avatar Loretta Paruti says:

    Sara – thank you for your openness and honesty. I especially like this part: “Here is the single most important life lesson that depression and anxiety have given me: if I am struggling there is nothing wrong with me. Let me say it again: there is nothing wrong with me.” Words to remember for sure… P.S. I love your mom’s comments! You were obviously loved by a wonderful and nurturing mom! 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Get your daily dose of all things fashion, beauty, fitness, and design. Locally sourced and locally styled!