Chronic Pain + Depression

Three years ago, I had a bad fall down a flight of stairs. One minute there I was, at the top of the stairs, calling goodbye to my husband, yoga mat jauntily slung over my shoulder, mood sparkling, in the best shape of my life – with the muscular curves that four years of belly dance and yoga and hiking on the Yorkshire Moors granted me.
The next moment, I lay crumbled at the bottom of the stairs, my right arm stretched behind me at an odd angle, confused, broken, and unable to agree with my husband that I should go to a hospital (we were in the UK at the time, so it would not have cost us anything).
And I’ve never been the same, ever since.
My yoga practice lessened, and then stopped entirely when my right shoulder developed into complete adhesive capsulitis. I had about 5% range of motion for 18 months and couldn’t sleep for more than 20 minutes at a time due to pain for the first 8 of those months. I had to cancel what would’ve been my first paid belly dance gig and mini-class, thus extinguishing a newly-formed dance duet team before it even had time to properly develop.
My spinal alignment was terrible, and I developed vertebrae problems. I put on weight at an alarming rate, and, to this day, have yet to work it all off. I was terrified walking down the street, for every time I accidentally bumped into an object or a person the jolt of pain starting at my shoulder was so intense that I yelped and nearly passed out on the street. Eventually, I went to the doctor and got some strong painkillers, which increased my appetite and played havock with my complexion. And the doctor told me if I had come in right away after the fall it was possible that something could have been done so that the injury didn’t develop into adhesive capsulitis, and would probably have healed well in 3-4 weeks.
Enter guilt.
Loads and loads of overwhelming, self-perpetuating, pain-driven guilt.
I still feel this guilt.
I still morn the dancing I should have been doing, the deepening of my yoga practice, the beautiful walks in the Dales I missed, the carefree spirit I had felt from just being healthy and strong.
After my shoulder could move again, I begin the long process of rebuilding, and attempting to counteract the extra damage caused by two many hours sitting in bed when I couldn’t do anything else. It was slow. My yoga now feels like it’s at the level it was during my first six months of practice. I never did re-start belly dancing (partly because I moved to an area with NO Tribal Style bd classes).
Then, last September, a car coming the opposite way from me down a busy street decided to plow right into the front of my car. Now I’m rehabilitating a painful back injury and I feel like just when I was starting to re-build another debilitating injury set me back again.
Perhaps it is too obvious to say that none of this pain made it easier to deal with my Depression. And the isolating aspect of Depression is only amplified when people cannot _see_ an injury…. no cast and crutches to make my pain obvious. No big surgery to get flowers at; no end to the pain in sight; no time when I know I’ll be able to work out. Hard. Every day. Because that’s what it’d take to get my body back.
I’m not sure I have any answers here. Chronic pain is exhausting, omnipresent, and quite frankly, depressing. It is apt to make you feel alone in a world of pain, having to push through every day while the rest of the world bounces around able to do things that you cannot. Personally, I have guilt every time I reach out and tell people I hurt, and guilt for not accomplishing more in my free time.
The HOPE here has to be just that. Because you don’t know when you’ll have a pain free day again. Because you don’t know if you’ll ever feel healthy and whole and strong again. And so I say, cling to the hope wherever you find it. If you meditate, build a place inside where the pain is gone and dwell there for a while every day. Listen to the people who say they love you and you can vent to them, and believe that if you do they will not abandon you. Push through and give yourself the patience and grace you need to heal. Because you don’t know when you’ll feel better.
But you also don’t know that you won’t.
Because you don’t know that others are suffering as well.
And maybe they need you to be their light.
Because you know you need a hug and a kind ear.
And someone else you will see today does also.
Because neither Depression, nor Pain
are who you are.

What They Leave Behind + Depression


Compliments are odd things.

A friend of mine was recently awarded the high compliment of her son saying, “Whoa! How did you do that?!?” in reaction to her Lego creation.

Among the odd compliments I’ve received, a few stand out. Once, a friend of mine told me what she liked about me most was that I was “competent.” Considering this was likely one of two compliments she voiced that year, I was honoured. A next-door neighbor of Hispanic roots nicknamed me “trabajadora,” or “hard-worker,” thus creating a ringing contrast to years of being screamed at for being “lazy” when I was a child. A former roommate said that I was one of the few “awake” people he’d ever met. And a friend and former bellydancing colleague once said, “Kat is the most passionate person I’ve ever known.” Another friend, who had been practicing yoga for 19 years, expressed once that I was one of those rare few who actually get yoga.

Friends, and sometimes even loved ones, enter and depart our lives. And whether we know them for a short while or a lifetime, every one of them leaves behind something in our hearts and minds.

I think it’s important when battling Depression to not only focus on the hurt and pain others have left behind. It’s vital to recall the compliments as well, from the little ones that make you look sideways at her, wondering if she’s being sarcastic, to the ones that fill you with a sort of awe and gratitude towards Life and Love. We cannot choose how another person will behave towards us; we can, however, choose to focus our memories. For there is much to treasure in what they leave behind.

Positive Negation + Depression

This morning I woke up with a song in my head.

Rather than listening to our usual dose of Morning Edition, which recently has been making me cynical and sad with its coverage of the plethora of current events choking the life and spirit out of humanity, I played the song I had woken to.  And for the first time in quite a while, I felt something.  Singing along, I was on the verge of tears.  Passion stirred as I belted out the lyrics.  And I realized that even this, a feeling of pain near tears, was better than the dull nothingness I’d been experiencing for quite a while.

Which means I’m not doing as well as I’d like to in dealing with my Depression.  

What do we do, my dear readers, when we come to the realization that we’ve been unwell to the point of numbness for quite a while, and yet were too numb to even realize it?  When we’re not so much Depression Warriors as fighters sitting on the sideline drinking the electrolytes of apathy?


Isolation + Depression

Writing quickly before work, so I’m not promising perfect editing….

When Depression opens its slavering jaws, it can make me want to withdraw from society, friends, gatherings…. everything, really.

Though a typical aspect of Depression, curling up in bed alone can cause the spiral to whirl even faster.

This week and last, I was struggling massively with situational Depression, caused by a sense of helplessness in the face of gigantic medical bills and upcoming gigantic dental bills.  These things have not gone away, and I’m still not sure how long it’s going to take me to pay off the bills, but one thing that’s helped me progress towards the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel has been fighting isolationist tendencies and stepping outside of my problems.

The weather is finally approaching Spring brilliance here in Memphis, and one particularly bad day after work this week I managed to talk myself out of my work clothes, into workout clothes, filled a water bottle, donned my helmet, and went out on a bike ride in the park.  Do not get me wrong – this was hard.  What I really felt like doing was binge eating toast….or yoghurt….or noodles….and then burying myself in the blankets until unconsciousness claimed me.  But being out in public, smiling at other cyclists and joggers, enjoying the warm air and the rush of trees and streams and bridges as I whizzed by them lifted my mood enough so that I made it through the evening without binge eating and also without taking it all out on my ever-patient, non-Depression-stricken husband.  I also sought outside perspective from a dear one back in the U.K., whose input made me realize that all was not lost.  Finally, I attended a Social Justice meeting and got fired up about helping to defeat TN Amendment 1, a deliberately-misleading little amendment that would cripple the state constitution, obliterating privacy rights that at the moment make the TN constitution stronger than the US constitution.  How lovely to see such a strong constitution in a state in the South!  That’s another essay for another time, but the point of all this is that isolation can be destructive – and hiding away from the world can exacerbate meditation upon my problems until they are all that I can see.  

The people in our lives who care for us are there to help us, and sometimes to give us perspective when we are unable to see outside of our problems.  The communities in which we live offer up opportunities for service, and I challenge anyone to find a community that doesn’t need help in some way.  Isolation during Depression is not the same as finding time for yourself.  It can be a tool that ye olde Black Dog (thanks, Winston Churchill) uses to keep you down, to keep you unable to enjoy life, to keep you feeling it’s impossible to do anything besides just. barely. make it through each day.  

So, the next time Depression casts a lustful eye upon your spirit, try combating it with focus outside of yourself.  Have a conversation; talk to someone on the phone who you haven’t spoken to in a while; help your community.  All these things will serve to remind you that others are also struggling in this mad, mad world. And part of our remit here is to be with each other.  Let’s hold hands honestly, even when we are feeling down, and together we’ll live life.  To the fullest.  

Shine on, you crazy diamonds.


Cultivating Love + Depression

If you Will, let’s take a trip to the Land of Metaphor.
Your life is a garden.
It’s not a perfect, carefully-cultivated, manicured garden.  At least not always.  It’s more of a wild place, the kind of garden where plants and flowers and fruit and vegetables and critters coexist in a seemingly chaotic array, and as much goes on underground as above ground.
Midst all of this chaos, you, the gardener have choices.  The first step you must take in the garden that is your life is acceptance.  Your Depression is a weed, one that will choke the life out of your garden.  Ask any gardener if they’ve ever seen a garden without the occasional weed that must be dealt with; it’s not likely you’ll get evidence of such a place.  I think there’s a lot of shame around Depression, which can be an invisible illness.  So, accept it.  You have weeds.
Step two?  Make a conscious and deliberate decision that the weeds are not going to overrun your garden. Sometimes the weeds will be rather virulent; sometimes getting control of them will seem the impossible task.  Sometimes you’re going to have to ask other gardeners to come into your garden and help with weed control.  But hey – it’s worth it.  Make a choice that the weeds aren’t going to be the overwhelming factor of your garden.
After all, look at all the other flora and fauna in your garden!
Check out those amazing flowers! Proud Irises, wacky daffodils, sweet bluebells and snowdrops, you know what they are – and the awesome thing about the garden that is your life is that you can have all the flowers you want. My garden has flowers from several countries and climates.  And you should see the trees! It’s rather beautiful.  Weeds and all.
 A consideration – take care of your garden and it will take care of you.  Those lovely flowers?  They’re your friends, your family, all of   Nourish them, help them grow, watch over them, and they will give back to you in immeasurable quantity.  
Taking care of your garden is how you cultivate Love, a force as powerful and wonderful and life-enhancing as you can imagine, as you can let it be, and as you can make it.
Thank you for reading.  Depression Warrior is one of my favourite trees in my garden.  I hope it brings you some shelter, fun, and beauty, as it does me.
>^,,^< //

Getting in touch with your environment + Depression

Excepting those with outside jobs, we live in a largely indoor world.

It can be very easy to get up before the sun, drive in to work, spend all day in an office, drive home, and spend the evening inside before going to sleep.

I’ve found that this type of lifestyle is not conducive to fighting Depression on a daily basis.

But it’s a busy life; I know.  Here are a few ways to get back to the basics, per se.  I’ve found that when I take the time to reconnect with Nature, wherever I’m living, my mood is uplifted.

1) Invest in good outdoor clothing. With a bit of budgeting, even someone on a low budget (and yes, I’ve been there, too, more often than not) can save up and invest in a decent outdoor jacket or coat.  Shop around for a ‘weatherproof’ coat.  Knowing that it’s raining outside, or cold, but all you have to do is throw on your trusty all-weather coat / jacket in order to enjoy going outdoors makes it easier to work a few minutes of outdoor time into your daily schedule.

2) I’m fortunate in that my work is directly on the Mississippi River.  It is simply a gorgeous environment.  Here’s how  I fit in a bit of River time every work day:  1) I plan to arrive at work 15 minutes early.  As I have a 45 minute drive in, leaving 15 minutes earlier is not such a big deal.  Upon arriving in the neighborhood, I park in Martyr’s Park and spend a few minutes walking along the riverbank.  Almost always I see a mockingbird flitting about, I observe the tempo of the River, which changes every day, and I enjoy the view of the wild banks of Arkansas across the River.  I should state here that I am a morning person.  But it is definitely worth it.

3) Lunch break – I only have 30 minutes for lunch, and I love to lunch with my work colleague, as she and I are more often than not the only ones at the office and she’s a fabulously cool person.  However, I take about 15 minutes with her, which has necessitated me eating rather light lunches (a health benefit!) and then 10 minutes to visit the river again.  Bliss.

But what if I work downtown / in an ugly looking neighborhood with no green spaces?  Let’s not forget the sky,

…and the sun,

…and the Earth

There is beauty all around us.  Beauty that we’ve been connected to for far longer than we’ve been stuck in fluorescent lighting for 7-9 hours a day.  Sometimes it takes a little bit of searching.  But reminding myself of my connections to the water, and the sky and the sun and the Earth is one of my favourite Depression Warrior tactics, and the ability to appreciate these elements wherever on the planet I am is one of my favourite parts of being human.

How do you get in touch with your environment?

>^,,^< //


That Chain Around Your Heart + Depression

There is a chain around your heart.
You may know who cast it, in metal stronger than iron,
and you may have even cast it yourself,
but it doesn’t matter who put it there.

The chain around your heart
Strangles your heart
Robbing you of vital oxygen
Choking off your essence
Until you are short of breath,
Panicked at the slightest mishap,
Unable to draw full breath

Imagine it, see it, feel it.
Materialize the metaphor.

And the next time you’re hurting,
Stressing, panicking,
See it, feel that chain around your heart.
And then go inside…

Use that amazing mind you have,
And go inside until you can put your hands
Around that chain around your heart….

Take a deep breath, and lift it off.