One year ago exactly, my beloved friend Psalm Isadora took her own life.
It has taken me this long to share these words. I knew I had to—eventually. As with many who loved her, her death presented a journey into the belly of darkness and back, all laced with hard questions and deep wounds. These words did not come immediately; they formed through seasons, cycles, and earthly forces. Grief, like death, is a process.
Psalm was a teacher of yoga, tantra, sacred sexuality, and source of inspiration for many. Psalm was a powerhouse of a woman, an advocate of health and empowerment, an passionate activist, and a prolific creator.
As a community, we were all left asking: How did this strong, driven woman come to that point?
She left us with only shards to sort through… I know that she would want us to look at these shards, tell the truth, and learn something from her tragic departure. She would appreciate the REAL TALK.
I first encountered Psalm as she was just emerging into the seat of the teacher. She was fresh from India, activated, and in love with the path of yoga and tantra. She was just taking root in her own practices and integrating her profound transformational experiences. Still, as green as she was, she was on a mission to heal the sexual trauma of the world, like a juggernaut.
I hosted her at my yoga studio and attended one of her early retreats. She shared sweet practices that were accessible to rushing Americans. She brought in the drums and the Kali chants, she lifted the spirits and provoked the bravery of many beings. She held a potent space for presence, connection, warmth, beauty, and ritual. She taught hatha yoga to sex workers in the slums of India. She founded a non-profit called Courage to Rise, dedicated to women’s empowerment with programs in India and America. She raised awareness about our culture of sex-shaming. She was willing to reveal herself so fully to the world as a sexual-spiritual being. She was not a scholar; she was a lightning rod for Shakti, the dynamic primordial creative embodied energy.
Psalm seemed to be an unstoppable force of productivity. I often pondered how she summoned the force to produce as much as she did: events, projects, photos, writing, media.
In that early Women’s Leadership retreat that I attended, I remember her playing a motivational video of a male athlete training like a beast, encouraging us to generate that kind of relentless drive and momentum. “You can sleep when you’re dead!” she was famous for saying, preaching a regimen of scant rest and long work hours. She was ambitious and wanted to reach the masses. When I asked her about honoring the menstrual cycle, she felt it was something to push through rather than a ceremony to surrender to.
As a facilitator and educator, Psalm’s personal approach was not sustainable for my body, mind, or soul. It left me feeling depleted and disconnected. I needed eight hours of sleep a night if I was to be naturally functional. I needed to retreat into an intentional moon lodge with my menstrual cycle. I valued spaces of silence, hermitage, and non-doing. I decided that I’d rather have a good quality of life than break myself in efforts to produce more than felt organic for me.
Though I remained friends with Psalm and appreciated all that she was, I did not continue to attend her events during the last few years. I followed the intuitive, quiet call of my soul in other directions. I watched from the distance via our connections on social media: her professional output remained remarkable, her beautiful photos were increasingly polished and business professional, and her marketing was ever sleeker, boasting all the answers to sexual fulfillment, financial abundance, and personal empowerment.
However lovely her new persona, I missed that barefoot yogini that I first met, drunk on devotion with wild hair always on the verge of dreadlocks....
Then one day, when she appeared to be on the fast track to all she had desired, I received the shocking news. She had committed suicide. Psalm? It seemed impossible.
Very slowly, I gathered the shards… bits of information from those closest to her in the final days.
I learned that Psalm had at some point started taking Adderall, a highly addictive form of pharmaceutical speed, for productivity during the day. And then to sleep at night, she would take Xanax, a benzodiazepine.
Apparently this pharmaceutical recipe was inspired by other “high functioning” professionals. She took these drugs without professional medical supervision, and began to harm herself all under the banner of serving others.
Taken on a daily basis, each of those drugs have serious side effects, even more so in that combination. The dangers are magnified with the addition of the alcohol, which she regularly had in the mix. Even greater risks are present for people with bipolar disorder; Psalm had been open about her distant past struggles with mental health.
Then one day, she decided to quit all the drugs cold turkey. She was advised against this. She flatly refused professional medical supervision to help with a safe weaning process. Adderrall withdrawal alone can cause suicidal thoughts, anxiety, depression, violent behavior, extreme fatigue, and insomnia. Benzodiazepine withdrawal can also cause suicidal ideation, extreme anxiety, depression, abnormal sensory perception, panic attacks, hallucinations, seizures, psychosis, loss of memory, irritability, sleep disturbance, physical pain, tremors, headaches, palpitations, confusion, and more.
Psalm was up against the perfect storm.
Yes, we can blame it on the Xanax & Adderall. But what led to the drugs in the first place? Let's look at the shards.
“It’s not about me,” she’d often say. She had put herself on a drug induced cross.
Maybe it DID need to be about her, first and foremost.
How do we as facilitators, creators, and women too often over-give, over-work, and sacrifice ourselves to the point of self destruction?
We cannot truly serve others if we are in pain and poisoned. It's essential to have a healthy, grounded, nourished, clear self in order to show up for other beings on the earth plane in a sustainable and genuinely visionary way.
To offer the fruit of wisdom, we must grow it from wise roots... from a balance of giving and receiving.
Psalm’s life seemed to express a microcosm of what's happening on the macrocosm for the feminine—and the earth.
“She stopped practicing,” observed one close friend of Psalm’s. When her personal spiritual practice no longer existed, she had become a symbol of tantra—rather than a vessel.
How can we as healers, guides, and educators put our personal practice first?
A strong personal practice is where all the gold comes from.
The moment that our marketing becomes more important than our morning ritual, we are loosing the essence of what we offer.
Psalm did not want anyone to know what she was going through in the final year, aside from just a couple confidents sworn to secrecy.
How can we support our mentors to be truly human and transparent?
Professional facilitators too often try to portray a false front of perfection and invincible strength. Indeed there may be strength there—for periods of time, but like all living things, we are always changing, growing, learning, shedding, and encountering new challenges.
"Enlightenment" could instead be called “enlighten-ing." The layers of learning are virtually infinite, from my humble glimpses of the Great Mystery in mystical states.
Facilitators, like everyone, need space to continually evolve. And the greatest teachers lead by example: not by showing us how to be be perfect, but by showing us how to be HUMAN. This means falling without trying to hide it, asking for help when it’s needed, receiving feedback, and taking accountability for mistakes.
The “beginner's mind” is not just for beginners.
“I eat people’s pain. Not many people can do that,” Psalm said on a video toward the end. I wonder where this conclusion came from.
She was known to binge on alcohol at times to the point of purging, and she would say this was her way of processing people's pain. This was a dangerous method.
As facilitators, can we really "eat" anyone's pain?
In truth, we can only create opportunities for people to digest their own pain. We cannot save anyone, we can only create opportunities for people to save themselves. We cannot do the work for people, but we can remain present next to people as they go through the fire. All the while, we cultivate our own spiritual immunity—and continually cleanse. We need healthy ways of composting and releasing the energies and stories of other people.
All these reflections come in retrospect, only after carefully examining at the shards.
Of course, Psalm is not here to respond to these words, but I know she would want us to extract some diamonds and blessings from the truth.
There is much we do not know of the dark night when Psalm left or the intimate experience inside her skin. We cannot, after this close look at the shards, reduce her choice to a few simple wrong turns. We cannot fathom the vast and complex nature of an individual’s karma or the broader intelligence that guides our collective evolution.
My intention is not to shame or blame or judge...
My intention to bear witness, understand, practice compassion, find meaning, educate people about the dangers of these drugs, promote balanced productivity, and help prevent similar tragedies in the future.
My intention here is to make medicine… and create a mosaic out of the shards she left behind for myself and the community that loved her.
Love & honor thyself first in order to help heal others.
Thank you, sweet Psalm-ji, for your love. You offered your devotion and facilitation, in the best way you knew how. You offered beautiful teachings that continue to live, though you have transitioned. You have always shared your life so that we may learn from your shadows. It was not easy to play this part, I know. I will walk a little slower through my day in your honor.
Please help to educate friends and family
about the risks of Adderall & benzodiazepines dependency and withdrawal.