Mindfulness and Depression

Psychology Today defines mindfulness as the following:

“Mindfulness is a state of active, open attention on the present. When you’re mindful, you observe your thoughts and feelings from a distance, without judging them good or bad. Instead of letting your life pass you by, mindfulness means living in the moment and awakening to experience.”

A pattern I’ve noticed with my struggle with Depression is destructive circles of thought.  If you’re reading this you probably are familiar with the depressive ‘downward spiral’ of thought.  Being a practitioner of meditation and yoga and pranayama (breath work) I’ve trained pretty well to notice I am feeling depressed *before* reacting to that state of depression.  That’s the first step of combating depression with mindfulness.  When I realize it, though, I frequently look for a contributing factor – a why – that helped the episode occur.  Am I overtired?  Did I recently receive any bad news? Has their been relationship problems?  Depression is both a chemical imbalance in the brain _and_ a situation state for me.

But here’s where the downward spiral comes in.  I begin to dwell on finding contributing factors.  And the more I think, the more I find wrong with my life.  Which effectively amps up the depressive episode, making it worse.  So, what’s next with mindfulness?

I’ve found that at this stage of a depressive episode, accentuating the positive, or trying to think of all the great, positive, love-filled aspects of my life, and therefore switching the focus from the negative to the positive, doesn’t work.  It just stresses me out and eventually I stop fighting the thoughts altogether and just sink fully into Depression. This cartoon illustrates it quite well:

Instead of adding yet more thoughts, I invoke mindfulness.  I narrow my focus to the immediate.  If this episode is happening first thing in the morning, as it frequently does (I’m not at my best for the first few hours of the day), here’s what I try:
*Get out of bed;
*Shower.  When in shower, be mindful.  Doesn’t that hot water feel _ace_? Isn’t the scent of this shampoo excellent?  Goat soap for washing my face feels and smells awesome.  *And the sound of the water reminds me of standing in a waterfall (Yes, I’ve done that.  Small waterfall.  Wonderful).  And the process of showering is already making me feel more awake and less sleep-blurred.  Now, check out the texture of this soft towel.  Etc…..
*Yoga / Physiotherapy stretches, including correct breathing (If any readers want some recommendations for these, especially for dealing with sciatica, let me know).  Ooh…. that was a nice pop.  I can definitely feel this one in my lower back.  Ah, this one’s really stretching out my piriformis.  I am breathing in, two, three, four, hold, two, three, four; I am breathing out, two three four….  etc.
*Breakfast time!  This yoghurt / fruit combo is wonderful!  And coffee….. mmmm…… coffee.
*Lumosity – online brain exercises.  Just a few each morning to wake ye old brain up.

Etc. etc. etc.  until presto! I’m at work and can continue to be mindful, aka “in the moment” all day long…. and indeed, my new job is so busy that mindfulness is necessity!

You get the idea, eh?  Notice that in all those scenarios I left no room for focusing on feeling depressed.  It doesn’t mean my back pain is non-existent.  It doesn’t mean it’s easy. It doesn’t mean that contributing factors, if any, go away.  But it does mean another day where I can successfully function.  Even with Depression.

Abrahadabra!

Hello?

Hello! I’m short on time, and this blog seems to be a bit inactive.  I’m not keen on just spouting off to myself – I could use the time for other things.

Here are a few topics I’ve been considering.  If anyone wants to hear about any of them, leave a comment.  If not, that’s fine, too.  I started this blog to help others who are fighting the same uphill battle as me; if no one wants to read it / discuss things, though, that’s okay!  🙂

CHOOSE A TOPIC:
Chronic Pain and Depression
Mindfulness and Depression
On Being Overly Analytical
___________ (You name it!)

Wishing you a low-stress, high-smile day!

I can relate…

No matter how many statistics I hear about the prevalence of Depression, and how many, many people suffer from it, sometimes I still feel alone with my illness.  As if no one has ever had Depression this bad, or had to hide it this often, or as if everyone else with Depression this severe is on antidepressants, and otherwise they’d have shuffled off this mortal coil long ago.  Which is all bunk, of course.  But it’s also pretty typical of the isolating nature of Depression.  Knowing this, it is nevertheless comforting to me every once in a while to read a blog from someone with Depression who is, well, not me (heh…) and who talks about the ups and downs, and how we cannot let the bad days overshadow the good ones.  With that in mind, gentlereaders, I give you today’s guest blog, but one Mr. Wil Wheaton, who first crossed our radars in Star Trek and is now all-grown up (and, reputedly, and right groovy chap).  Enjoy!

https://wilwheaton.net/2013/10/i-got-better/

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Cultivating Your Obsession

Hi Folks!  
Sorry for the hiatus – I was away discovering Chicago …. and then I was back in Memphis discovering the stomach flu!  Eeps……  thanks for your patience.  And now, Depression Warrior brings you…

“Cultivating your Obsession”

Being obsessive has not always been a good thing.  Especially when I was younger, and tended to obsess on my current crush.  Thoughts of my unrequited, but clearly, True, love consumed me.   For a time, usually about a year, this person was all I could think about.  These crushes made me miserable, they turned me into every teenaged Disney heroine who’s parted from her love.  For a while, the following year would bring about the next unrequited, but clearly, True love – and each time this was my ‘one and only.’  

I scorn this younger me now, or, at the kindest, I cast a bemused but affectionate eye upon her, but I think there is something useful to be noted here.  And that is focus.  These obsessions consumed me.  Utterly.

The next time you encounter one of those fortunate few who is able to spend the majority of their time doing what they love and actually making a living doing it, pay attention.  Does this person seem excited and happy when talking about their passion?  Do they seem more alive; do they have a certain twinkle in their eyes?  Once you get her/him started talking about their passion, is it difficult for them to stop?  Do they seem a bit… obsessed?

So much of dealing with Depression is experimental… employing coping mechanisms by trial and error, and not always with others to lead the way, as not every technique works for everyone.  So, I propose an experiment.  Let’s call it Cultivating an Obsession.

As much as Stress can be a trigger for Depression, so can boredom.  So, the next time you find yourself staring at the walls, or, consumed with stress externally but in your internal headspace starting at the walls, why not pick an obsession?  Remember that sewing project you started and did not finish?  Or that 1500 piece jigsaw puzzle you bought years ago and never opened?  Or that novel that had a great 10,000 word beginning and then got put aside?  Or that kayak hanging over the car? Or…. well, you get the idea.  Pick something.  And live for it. Not to the extent where you shirk your daily duties or walk out on your job or somesuch, but just to the extent where it occupies your spare head space.  Until you get it done. And then, if you will, let me know about it.  I’d love to see DW be a bit more interactive.  If you’ve deliberately obsessed over a project and it’s helped,  I’d love to hear about it.  Comment away!

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Imagining Yourself…

The Promethea Exercise

This is a fun and interesting bit of therapy I got from my friend Happydog, who is a professional counselor. I dubbed it “The Promethea Exercise” because it reminded me of a similar activity undertaken in the course of Alan Moore’s spectacular comic Promethea:

Promethea

In this amazing comic, which in the course of its story touches on everything from trials and tribulations in Ancient Egypt to post postmodern ennui, from the history of magic to issues of gender identification, the primal force Promethea (who, as you can see above, could be considered not only Badass of the Week, but Badass of the Millennium)  is brought about through writing. Using the analogy of words as method of Creation (after all, in the Beginning was the Word, yay?), our heroine is incarnated simply by being written.

promethearising5

(right click and open in new tab to read the text)

When he originally suggested this exercise to me, Happydog advised me to draw/paint Big Me… to dream and idealize and remind myself what’s good about me, and what I value as important traits to be noted, proud of, or worked on.

My spin was this – having precisely no talent in the arts of drawing and painting, I decided to write Her instead. And, being a woman who tops 6’, ‘Big’ has always been a word with negative associations and memories for me. So, rather than drawing Big Kat, I decided to put pen to paper and write Amigata, the name being one of my own invention and having many layers of meaning.

It was a difficult experiment at first – I was focused on sentence structure and grammatical accuracy, and I wondered if I should write it like a short story rather than just a description… and then I decided that that would be too much, and that the point of the exercise was to utilize my imagination, my visualization, and any remaining feelings of hope and positivity that remained despite my current level of deep, sunken despair.

And after I relaxed, I found myself quite enjoying crafting this lovely Me.  I wrote about 5 pages of material, and may have even been smiling a little bit by the time I put my pen down.

And then I took this lovely creature… and set Her aside on the dresser, soon to be buried under the daily detritus and gubbins.

Maybe I should find Her again.

~~~

“Live out of your imagination, not your history.”
Stephen Covey

Dealing w/ it Daily – Life Hacks for Depression

We often here that it’s the “little things” that are the most important.  Anyone who’s stood on the seashore holding hands with a loved one while the sun goes down or curled up with nothing but a cat and a good book for several hours can identify with this sentiment.  I think it also applies to the daily struggle with clinical depression.  So here are a few things to try on a daily basis in order to help combat the darkness:

1)      Get adequate sleep.  I know it’s a busy world, with much more work than play, and sometimes it’s not possible to get the full 8 hours / 7 hours you need.  I find that more often than not I’m actually in bed at a decent time, but then I spend 30 minutes to an hour either reading or playing a game on my phone.  When I have the discipline to either go to bed earlier so as to have my reading / game time, or just not crack open that book after getting in bed at all, I feel much better the next day.  And I definitely see a correlation between being overtired and low mood.  And low mood can be a catalyst for a bout of Depression. 

2)      Hydrate!  Check out these benefits: http://www.onemedical.com/blog/live-well/6-benefits-of-staying-hydrated/ . I love drinking water.  Many people do not.  Try making a habit of it.  Try pouring yourself a glass of water about 20 minutes before each meal, and tell yourself no meal until you finish the water. Or require a glass of water before each coffee or tea your drink throughout the day. Do this for a while and see if you agree – isn’t water great?

3)      Hugs.  Seriously. Even if you’re not naturally a very tactile person. Even if you think it won’t help.  At least once a day, see if you can wrap a loved one in your arms and take a deep breath and smile. Works a treat, that does.

4)      Go outside.  If it’s too hot, just go for a short walk around the block. If it’s raining, take an umbrella. If it’s gorgeous outside and you have the time, escape to the woods every once in a while.  Being out of fluorescent / artificial light and under that sky can be almost instantly uplifting.

5)      Thank someone for something (at least once) every day.  It will cause you to look outside of yourself and find one good thing.  When I’m depressed, the problems seems much, much more important than the good things; the negative’s a heavyweight and the positive’s a featherweight.  Realizing that someone’s helped me out helps straighten out that skewed perspective.

Finally, I love this comic … what if Depression was a visible illness?
http://www.akimbocomics.com/?p=573

 

Is that the best you can do?

…On keeping your head above water. Just.

Right, me hearties. Here’s the thing:

Arrrrrrrr.

Oh sorry. Just warming up for International Talk Like a Pirate Day. Beg your pardon.
The thing is, coping mechanisms are great tools to have in your Depression-fighting toolbox.  As are loved ones (though you may not want to keep them in your toolboxes).
As is knowledge of yourself and how your own depression manifests.   But some days you’re going to be close to drowning.  Some days you’re not going to manage to make it out of bed in order to go for a long walk, have a talk with that friend of yours who’s an excellent listener, and, sensing a bad moon arising, enact four or five of your favourite cheer-up methods before lunch.  Some days you’re going to make it through the day.
You’re just going to make it through the day.

I’ve had these days.  Days when just getting out of bed takes a massive effort.  Days when the thought of seeing another human being, let alone having to talk to them, maintain the social niceties and answer the “How are you doing” question with the “fine” lie, is absolutely overwhelming and seems utterly impossible.

I’ve also had those days and managed to drag myself out of bed, go to work, pass the requisite social niceties tests that every day brings us, and make it home, all without harming myself in any way and all without being nasty to anyone I encounter.  And then I’ve had to face the “what did you do today?” question….

…and felt like an utter failure.

I don’t have any spectacular truisms here to make you feel better if this happens to you, too.  Anyone who’s suffered from Depression knows that some days just making it through _is_ an achievement.  Some battles in life are big, and splashy, and bring much glory to the brave fighters who win them.  Dealing with chronic depression is not one of them.

So, the next time the old Black Dog has you gripped tightly in his gigantic slobbering maw and you manage to make it through a day, tell someone.  This is a great time to go to that friend who’s a great listener and report a struggle with a success.  Because if she loves you, and if she’s been there for you through some dark times, she’ll love to hear that you looked defeat in the eye and decided no, not today.

And that, my friends, is a quiet fight, well fought.

Link

to Depression Warrior, as it seems this book is all you need.

I can’t wait to get rid of my bad stickiness and attain happy lucky feeling.

Wow…

http://www.amazon.com/How-Good-bye-Depression-Constrict-Everyday/dp/0595094724

“I think constricting anus 100 times and denting navel 100 times in succession everyday is effective to good-bye depression and take back youth. You can do so at a boring meeting or in a subway. I have known 70-year-old man who has practiced it for 20 years. As a result, he has good complexion and has grown 20 years younger. His eyes sparkle. He is full of vigor, happiness and joy. He has neither complained nor born a grudge under any circumstance. Furthermore, he can make #### three times in succession without drawing out.In addition, he also can have burned a strong beautiful fire within his abdomen. It can burn out the dirty stickiness of his body, release his immaterial fiber or third attention which has been confined to his stickiness. Then, he can shoot out his immaterial fiber or third attention to an object, concentrate on it and attain happy lucky feeling through the success of concentration.If you don’t know concentration which gives you peculiar pleasure, your life looks like a hell.”

“Signs, signs, everywhere is signs…”

…or How to Tell if a Friend is Depressed

We all want to be there for our friends. Being a listening ear and a waterproof shoulder is a good deal of what love is all about. So, how can we tell when a friend needs us the most? How do we know when Depression is getting a stranglehold on our dear ones?

It always seemed to me that, being a lifelong sufferer of Depression, it should be easy for me to see when someone else is suffering. I know my signs and symptoms, so they should be obvious in my friend, right?
Well, when my husband was about halfway through his PhD work, I discovered it’s not necessarily so clear. Here was someone who was always optimistic, usually happy or at least content, and, if struck by sadness or a bad bit of luck, able to bounce back quickly and not be too bruised or cynical as a result. However, by the time I realized he was depressed he’d been suffering for quite a while. How did that happen?

Depression is an invisible illness. It’s also stigmatized and frowned upon by society, despite studies that show that the majority of adults suffer from depression at some point in their lives. It’s a misunderstood illness that can be seen as an excuse for lack of motivation and productivity, for laziness. No wonder many people would rather hide their suffering than let it be known that they are depressed.

So here’re a few signs that might suggest a loved one is suffering from Depression:
Social withdrawal – s/he wants to go out less and less;
Dramatic increase or decrease in appetite;
Oversleeping or insomnia;
Seeming distracted or distant.

However, all of these symptoms are possible to hide, and Depression frequently makes one want to withdraw emotionally and physically from the company of others. If one needs to be alone for hours because s/he is trying to write a PhD thesis, isolation is actually required.

So, then, the best way to tell if a friend is depressed?

ASK.

Ask “Are you okay?” not as the daily throw-away question, but as a concerned friend. And then be prepared to listen to the response you get.

Finally, dear Readers, lest you think I’ve strayed the topic of this blog, here’s your coping mechanism du jour: When asked by a loved one if you are okay, give them an honest answer. Admitting you’re depressed can be very difficult, but just letting someone know you’re in pain can be quite liberating.

Chx

Link

One of the most difficult lessons I’ve learned in dealing with Depression is that it is okay, indeed, sometimes best, to ask for help. Now, I imagine at some point, as a very young child perhaps, I had no problem asking for help. But, somewhere along the line, asking for help got equated in my mind with weakness, with ignorance, with failure. And thus, I would much rather suffer in silence, smiling on the surface, and have nobody know that inside I was spiraling down the emotional drain. Sound familiar?

In reality, far from being an act of cowardice or weakness, I’ve found that asking for help takes courage. And it takes trust.

So, if you’re one of those “I’d rather ford a river full of crocodiles in a kayak than ask for help”-types, too, how’ve you overcome this attitude?

Here’s how I’d recommend getting a start:

1) Friends can be pretty intuitive. Try asking one to have a cup of coffee / tea / walk around a random beautiful outdoor feature with you. And then, when asked how you are, be honest. A forthright, “not so good” can lead to a sympathetic ear. And simply telling your struggles can be a relief, especially if you, like me, are a “bottle it up”-type.

2) Sometime when you’re feeling great, make a list of lifelines: who to go to for help and how to reach them, a hotline to call (do some internet research here), perhaps a Depression crisis centre in your area, maybe a mentor or spiritual leader if you have one. Keep this list somewhere easy to get to in a time of crisis. The simple act of creating this list can make you feel less alone.

Finally, if you’re not sure that this is such a good idea, if you feel that you’re probably better off staying mute, why not give it a try? Everyone is different… if you find that asking for help backfires and leaves you feeling worse, than abandon the experiment. What you may find, though, is that you have more support than you know, you are more loved than you thought, and you are not alone.

Being Depressed can make you feel very isolated. Asking for help is a great way to learn that Depression is not abnormal or insurmountable. And it gets easier.

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And now, a Smile Inducer from The Muppets!