If you are breathing, chances are you know someone or you yourself struggle with Depression. Depression is often hushed like a family secret, hidden from those around you, taboo to talk about yet it is destroying so many lives. So why is it so taboo to talk about? Why are we facing this struggle alone? Why does the thought of taking antidepressants make us feel that we are not strong enough to deal with something as “minor” as depression? Even with all of the factual science that shows us that depression is not OUR FAULT, we still tend to believe it is a glitch of our character. Thus begins the avalanche of self-critical, self blaming, judgmental beliefs that rest on a common theme. Worthlessness. Isolation. Not good Enough.
Depression is a burden and feeling of heaviness that holds us hostage from the life that we deserve to live. It takes moments that could be a brief passing of sadness to a plunge of negative thinking, spiraling into guilt, body aches, depressed mood and exhaustion. Depression not only affects our moods and bodies but it also affects our actions. Our choices suddenly become based off of a false script that we are telling ourselves. It makes us feel that are not worthy, not able to succeed, up against the world, a failure and that our lives are one big mess that is impossible to clean up. It snowballs into every aspect of our lives. Making doing the most mundane activities seem impossible. You may also feel that your body becomes heavy and that you are living in slow motion.
To anyone who has spent a lonely night with Depression,
knows that Depression Hurts.
As I began this blog a few months ago, I made a promise to myself that I would write about things that were significant, things that were difficult, facing taboo subjects straight on. Through this writing I began peeling back the layers in my own life by sharing my own truth, my struggles and spreading light to the deepest darkest corners that were filled with cobwebs and hurt. My battle with depression has been one of the toughest I have fought. Depression becomes all consuming as you are never sure if your thoughts and beliefs are based out of reality or is it a skewed false perspective that is mocking you?
How does Depression fit into Mindful Monday??
Personally and professionally I have found that the practice of mindfulness is one of the most useful tools out there when up against depression because it is gentle, forgiving and allows you examine depression from a different perspective. Today in addition to mindful Monday I wanted to introduce you to my all time favorite mindful book. It is one of the best books I have ever read on Depression (and in general) The Mindful Way through Depression: Freeing Yourself from Chronic Unhappiness. By: Mark Willians, John Teasdale, Zindel Segal and Jon Kabat-Zinn
You can click on this link to buy through Amazon
and this will help me with expensive medical bills.
If you are even feeling the slightest bit unhappy, I strongly urge you to pick up this book. The book is honest, sharing real stories from real people who could not shake the sadness. It offers hope and guidance using a simple theory of simply paying attention to our emotions without judgment. The book is not like other theories of working with depression. There is no scary recap of all the horrible negative encounters you have in your life, there is no looking back to your childhood and facing demons and wading through a devastating family history. And while those techniques are sometimes helpful and needed- This book is not the time or place. The book focuses on the here and the now and how we respond to everyday scenarios and how to stop the mind from ruminating over and over and over again. The book even comes with a CD of guided meditations that are my go to whenever I feel that I need a break or a breath of fresh air.
This book is filled to the brim with helpful chapters and exercises to begin to develop a new perspective and really pay attention to life around you. I want to focus on a beginning chapter titled: The Healing Power of Awareness. The book shares ways that you can begin to become aware in your life. and how this act can help to free you from depressive thinking. Please note, this is small glance into how mindfulness can help you with depression. This is not intended to cure or replace professional help and should only be used as guidance and in addition to any therapeutic regime that you currently have.
Sometimes the reaction to depressed thinking is push it down, push it away and avoid it. And what happens next? It grows, it pushes back twice as hard. So what would happen as we bring awareness to the thinking itself? Just by bringing the awareness does not necessarily mean that we opening the flood gates, in fact we are less likely to drown in depression if we become aware of the thought patterns and our reactions to them. (I promise, hear me out)
What happens when we become aware?
We step out of the downward spiral, out of our thoughts, out of the negative commentary realm and experience the world directly without the interference of the big black hole.
Many meditation teachers, teach that we should look at our thoughts like clouds or birds that just move across the sky, meaning that you don’t have to examine each one with judgment, negativity or project what will come of it. Just let it be.
Be here now: start living in the present moment.
Depression feeds off of feelings about the past and worries about the present. If you are in the moment, you aren’t allowing your thoughts to gravitate towards negativity or anxiety. You are only experiencing what is here in this moment. May you notice a sad mood when you are in the moment. Cease all judgement and allow it to be, without further spiraling into depressive thinking). What else is in the present moment? Are their smells? What sounds do you hear? What is the temperature? How does your body feel? Does any part of you feel particularly good?
Guided Meditations can help with learning how to ground yourself in the present moment. Through these we are able to notice our breath, notice the temperature or the air around us. We also notice what our body is telling us. A GREAT FREE app is The Insight Timer App. On this app, you have choice of thousands of meditations. Explore those and find a voice that you can connect with & stick to shorter meditations if you are new and anxious about sitting for 20 minutes. Do this everyday for at least 5 -10 minutes and slowly expand the amount of time you are meditating. This app also acknowledges each day that you meditate and graphs consecutive days, hands out “stars” and shows you how many hours you have meditated for the week/month/year. It’s pretty neat. There are also different categories of meditations, playlists of meditations to help you go to sleep, ease anxiety, awareness of the breath, relaxing music and meditation to help with pain.
Catching the downward spiral early
For those of you that battle depressive thinking, you know that simple thoughts can quickly landslide into an entire belief system being uprooted. When we cultivate awareness we can recognize at an early stage the times that we are the most likely to head into a downward spiral.
Example of Depressive Thinking Spiral:
Becky’s Story (her perspective): Becky’s boss asked her to turn in a report a day early. Depressed Becky thinks oh no, he thinks I am a failure. He wants my report early because I probably make so many errors that he feels that I am an embarrassment to the company. I should probably start to look for another job, I know that I will most likely get fired in the next week. I won’t ever be able to find another job, who would hire me? I am a failure.
Reality of the Situation:
Becky’s boss asked her to turn in her report a day early because he has found that her detailed insight has been helpful to the company. He would like to take the report into a meeting with the top supervisors to have Becky promoted to a new (and well compensated) position.
As you can see the depressive thinking quickly spiraled out of control. She went from a simple request to turn in a report to believing that she was a failure. For those of you who suffer with depression, you know that this is not far fetched and it is a daily occurrence and battle with depression. So when we become aware, we can stop those thinking patterns before they grow momentum to snowball into a depressive avalanche.
Stop Trying to Force Life to be a Certain way.
Yes, you are most likely uncomfortable right now. Something may have happened that caused you grief and despair. However there are 2 realities right now: 1) It doesn’t mean this is how you will feel for the rest of your life 2) When you struggle with reality and want things to be different than they are right now you bring unnecessary suffering and this is where ruminating starts.
Ruminating means that your thinking is stuck and you keep playing the same scene or thinking over and over and over like a tape loop or a broken record. This is one of the biggest problems with Depression, so if you can catch it early, you won’t have to listen to a repeat for the rest of the day.
PS: Everyone gets distracted
When I talk about meditation 98% of the people respond with, well I could never do that. I can’t get my brain to turn off. I am too distracted. This happens to EVERYONE! I meditate every day and I still have times where I catch myself day dreaming, planning dinner, squinting through a closed eye to see the clock. It happens. The key is to not judge yourself or react harshly when you catch yourself drifting. It simply means that it is a starting place to bring your mind back to the present moment, focusing on your breath of another focal point.
Other helpful tools when freeing yourself from Depression
Therapy: Many people still believe that only crazy people go to “shrinks” or counseling. I use to do briefings for the military on the importance of counseling and I would open up by saying Counseling does not = Crazy! A therapist is simply a person on the outside who does not have a biased opinion (and if they do, you may want to find a new one). You can talk to a therapist about ANYTHING in a safe place and get some pretty awesome feedback for the low price of a co-pay. (or without insurances they may work with you on a sliding scale fee). You would be amazed of the progress you can make with depression with a therapist on your team. You can also find a therapist who specializes in Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy. They will help you incorporate awareness in your life and partner up with you on facilitating change.
Exercise: This is a tough one for people who struggle with depression. It is very hard to even start moving but once you do, it gets easier and easier. Start with a walk on your lunch break or in the evening when you get home. Have a dog? Even better, the dog would LOVE to take a walk with you. Science and research shows us that exercise helps to lower depression. It wakes your brain up so you can function better. While you are exercising say no to ruminating thoughts (repeated thoughts). Focus on the now, the scenery around you, your foot hitting the pavement, the air around you, sounds, etc. It can literally be a breath of fresh air.
Spending time with Friends: Depression can be isolating and can make even a social person withdraw from their friends. If a big crowd is just too much for you, invite just a few people. Plan a dinner or lunch on the weekend. Chances are the outing and connection with others will leave you with a smile. Friends are there to make us laugh & also to support us, try not to push them away even on the days you don’t want to talk because those are the times that you need them the most. Spending time with others also allows us to be in the moment more easily.
Anti-depressants: Most depression is due to our genetics. It is an actual malfunction in your brain. AND IT IS NOT YOUR FAULT. The medications are able to help your brain fire the neurons in a productive manner and help boost chemicals that your brain is unable to make itself. Many people resist medications for mental illness but don’t think twice about taking anything that their doctor suggests for high blood sugar or another disorder. Anti depressants can give you a leg up and make functioning through the days easier. Talk to your doctor about any antidepressant options for you.
No matter what depression is whispering in your ear,
you can do this and you are worth it.
Much Metta (loving-kindness),