Mindfulness and Depression

Mindfulness #5: Creating a Team When You’re Depressed

Our Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction class has come to an end. There were tears and hugs when we said goodbye.

Nine weeks ago we looked at each other with minds that were wary, scared, curious, self-conscious. Today we are Sangha for each other, and we will miss each other. And we will miss our teacher. Today many of us are scared to be without each other. I’m scared.

I wonder whether I’ll keep up my meditation practice, or whether it will wither on the vine. I wonder whether I’ll grow to loathe it – that thing I’m not doing for myself that I know I should do. I wonder whether I’ll keep the progress I’ve made or slide back. I wonder whether I’ll keep progressing.

I wonder whether “it’s worked,” whether I’ve avoided another major episode of depression. And I know the answer isn’t written. Doesn’t exist. I wonder whether I’ll wither again.

“Find yourself a Sangha,” our teacher told us. Find yourself a group to practice with. You need a group. You need a team.

Find yourself a Sangha.

Advertisements

Mindfulness #4: Six Weeks In

Grandpa 1I’m six weeks into a Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction course. It involves two and a half hours of training every Saturday morning, an hour of meditation every day, and a day-long silent retreat. I’m doing this to feel better, to avoid another relapse into deep depression.

The phenomenally good news is that I think it works. The bad news is that it requires constant upkeep.

I’ve become slower. I no longer rush through my days. Even on my way to work, I take time to enjoy the feeling of my feet on the pavement. (Also apparently there’s something to enjoy about feet and pavement.)

Grandpa 3I’ve become calmer. I watch bad (and good) thoughts go by, recognizing their impermanence, their fluidity. I don’t follow them as often, reacting to them as if they were true.

I worry less. I panic less. I’m closer to the source of my happiness being inside me.

Instead of dwelling on the things I’ve lost, it’s easier for me to rejoice in what is left. My grandmother died five years ago yesterday. I loved her fiercely and miss her every day. Therapy and meditation have helped me to mourn her loss a little less. Instead I rejoice in the fact that my grandfather is still with us – singing “I love you, yeah, yeah, yeah…” to my little dog Bebop.

I love you, yeah, yeah, yeah!

Grandpa 2

First photo by jencu on Flickr.

Second photo by Richard BH on Flickr.

Third photo by Alyssa L. Miller on Flickr.

Mindfullnes #3: The Beauty of a Gentle Sway

swayWhen we’re recovering, we’re frustrated by the sway. Frustrated that recovery isn’t a straight line toward Better. Frustrated that some days, some hours, some thoughts still hurt like hell.

When we’re meditating, we’re taught that our minds will wander, it’s the bringing them back to the breath that matters.

I learned a standing yoga pose the other day that put all this into stark relief. Place your feet a little less than shoulder-width apart, hands hanging at your sides.

You’ll notice as you stand there that you’re constantly, very slightly, losing your balance and regaining it. You’re swaying. Allow yourself to sway. Notice that your body knows how to right itself, simply by tensing the muscles of the feet, the legs.

Instead of thinking of recovery as a frustrating, up-and-down hike to someplace called Better, I like to think of it as a gentle swaying motion. Constantly losing and regaining my balance, in cooperation with my body and mind, I’m able to stand tall.

Photo by HomeSpot HQ on Flickr.

Mindfulness #2: A Crappy Day Gets a Second Chance

A New Chance

A New Chance

The other day I woke up in a bad mood. You know the feeling. Bad dreams, groggy, a sense of loathing of the day to come. Shower? Oof. Walk the dog? Eugh. Fuck.

I was sitting on my back porch having a cigarette and feeling shitty about the fact that it looked like today was going to be a bad day. I was especially disappointed because the day before had been pretty good, and I was sad my streak was over.

Here is the moment.

Here is the moment when I felt my mindfulness training start to work.

I thought, “I feel pretty shitty right now. I feel like this is going to last the whole day. I’m mourning a day I haven’t had yet, but the day doesn’t have to go that way. My thoughts and fears about how my day will turn out are not necessarily true – they’re just thoughts and fears. I can, just as we do during meditation, start over. I can let these thoughts and fears pass. Notice them, note them, and let them pass. I can start over. I can have this moment, unburdened by the nightmares that are in the past, and unburdened by the workday that is in the future.”You Are Here

I thought about my body – a little tight from sleep, maybe, but not in pain. I thought about my dog on my lap. Adorable. I thought about the dawn that was happening around me and that didn’t seem to upset me.

I can’t explain it, but it worked. My day became very similar to the good day I’d had the day before. I was able to shower and walk my dog without dragging myself. I was able to get to work just fine, even a little proud. I was able to move through my day without the sense of loathing that was leftover from my nightmares, without the anticipatory dread about trouble that hadn’t arrived yet. – That? That is a BIG deal for a depressive.

I got a glimpse of what it’s like to give each moment a chance, to accept and let go.

And I’m really grateful for it.

Also grateful for: Bebop

Also grateful for: Bebop

First photo by Steven Christenson on Flickr.

I found the second image in a great blog called A Beautiful Revolution. You can find it here.

I took the third picture of my dog, hamming it up.

Thank God for Google Wormholes

Your brainThrough a sort of depression google search wormhole, I came across a book called Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy for Depression. (It’s the book that made me realize that depressives should skip the first few chapters of every book on depression because they’re almost always focused on validating depression as a disease. The goal seems to be convincing the reader that depression is SUPER bad, which, for those of us in the thick of it, is super depressing. Nowadays I start at the chapter where they start to talk about getting better.)

That book led me to the work of Jon Kabat-Zinn, who, in addition to being an extremely well respected author and practitioner of mindfulness-based therapies for the chronically ill, seems to have taken his wife’s name when he married. My kind of guy.

It turns out that Kabat-Zinn is co-author of a book called The Mindful Way through Depression: Freeing Yourself From Chronic Unhappiness, which I highly recommend. He’s also the creator of a course called Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, which uses meditation, yoga, and mindfulness to treat everything from high blood pressure and chronic pain to depression and panic disorders.

So I signed up for the course and during my introductory meeting with our instructor, after explaining my situation, I asked him why he thought I should take his course. “You need to rewire your brain.” he answered.

Huh.

So I’m currently in my third week of the eight week course and am struck by how simple and straightforward it is on one level, and how complex and contradictory I also find it. Focus on the breath but don’t strive to focus on the breath. Relax but stay awake. Clear your mind but be aware of your thoughts. Do this every day for an hour but be easy on yourself and take life as it comes.

More on that later. In the meantime, I am both thoroughly enjoying the course and struggling with its teachings – which I’m pretty sure is exactly what I’m supposed to be doing (though, of course, there is no “supposed to”).

A final book recommendation – Kabat-Zinn’s bible of mindfulness: Full Catastrophe Living.

Photo by Hey Paul Studios on Flickr