avoiding depression

The Meta Thoughts

Bebop Sleeping

Bebop Sleeps

I was chilling on my back porch the other day with my adorable dog on my lap. Suddenly I was sure that the reason my doctor hadn’t called me back was that I have cancer and they don’t know how to break it to me. They know I’m depressed so they want me to come in in-person. I’m never going to have children and then for the rest of my life people will look at me and think, “How sad. She always wanted children.” A blow like this will sink me back into the worst of my depression. I’m never going to get better. That’s my future. I’m never getting better.

See that? Blink of an eye and I’m like four steps into my hypothetical, mourning my imagined losses, starting to panic.

This is the moment when therapy, or some other intentional recovery effort, does something. Before I started recovering, a turn like this would have landed me in bed, completely shut down and miserable. Now…

The Meta Thoughts

The Meta Thoughts

Enter: The META THOUGHTS

Instead of following the hypothetical, I realize that it’s just a hypothetical. I realize that I’m panicking, that I’m entering a tailspin. I realize that nothing bad has actually happened.

I got up, shook myself. Put a leash on my dog, went for a walk and called a friend.

After a bit of distraction and support from my friend, after I was able to calm down, I remembered that not every thought deserves its day in court (or its time in rumination-ville).

The appearance of the Meta Thoughts is new for me – the inkling that bad thoughts aren’t real events. If you don’t know what I’m talking about – I’m genuinely happy for you. If you do, try to remember, they’re there for you – those heroic Meta Thoughts.

 

Second photo by Lisa Cyr on Flickr.

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God Wants You to be Happy

I’ve never believed in a higher power and I’ve never wanted to, except as a child when I thought my extended family believed I was going to hell. I’ve never had faith in Christ or heaven and I don’t want it.

book heartBut you don’t have to believe in magic to have respect for the sacred. You don’t have to be religious or spiritual to live a life of wonder or of meaning. In my life there’s never been anything as sacred, as wonderful, or as meaningful as love.

I find that if I replace the word “God” with the word “Love,” suddenly religious sentiments make sense to me.

I want to dedicate my life to love.

I’m moved by the idea of shaping myself into a vessel of love.

love and happinessSo when my aunt looked at me with love in her eyes and said that God wants me to be happy, it made perfect, profound, beautiful sense. It’s about permission. However you get there, whether it’s God telling you, or Love, or someone you deeply respect – it’s about permission to pursue your own happiness. Treating wellbeing as a valid goal – I’m not there yet, but I’m getting closer.

You’ve heard it before: God is love.

And you’ve felt it before: Love wants you to be happy.

Happy Dog

 

 

First photo by Marcelino Rapayla Jr. on Flickr

Second photo by Gustavo Jeronimo on Flickr

Final photo by Brit Selvitelle on Flickr

Farting is Good for You

A good friend of mine was recently doing some things that depressives like me do all the time: she was worrying about things she couldn’t control, making plans and contingency plans for situations that would never come to pass, and generally freaking herself out.

We settled on this little strategy, which I think could be helpful for a lot of us.

1. Pick a little mantra for yourself, something you want to remember several times a day. Maybe it’s to be kind to yourself, to rest, or to think of someone you love. Maybe it’s to remember that you can’t control everything, or that you will get through this. My friend decided on “Not everything is a big deal.”

2. Pick a bodily function that happens often, one that you always notice but can’t control, like a ringing in your ear, or feeling the urge to fart. Concentrate hard on associating that bodily function with the mantra.

Bam. Free, consistent, daily reminder of that good-for-you thing that’s just out of reach.

Bam. Farting just became good for you.

Fartist

 

 

Photo cropped from a photo by Ludovic Burton on Flickr.

Thoughts Are Not Convictions. Feelings Are Not Beliefs.

I have felt the need to answer for my thoughts. Big thoughts – about what others should do with their lives. Little thoughts – that the woman walking slowly in front of me is a moron. Thoughts that I don’t act on because I know they are unfounded.

Mean thoughts make me ashamed. Hopeful fantasies are embarrassing. So I try to unwind them, to sort them out and figure out their meaning. I have conversations, sometimes fights, in my head with the objects of my thoughts, defending them, apologizing for them, trying to explain myself.

It’s a lot of work and you know what? It sucks.

Thoughts are not convictions. I didn’t tell my friend what to do with his life because I know that if someone knows what’s best for him – it’s not me. I didn’t so much as scowl at the woman on the street. I just had a thought. If I’d let it, it would pass into the ether, surrounded by billions of thoughts, true and untrue. Valid and ridiculous. Lovely, silly, sad, and sane.

There are things you can do to improve your internal monologue, to make your mind more peaceful or kind. But you will never control every thought. And you do not have to answer for things you cannot control.

Your thoughts and feelings are valid. Note them. Try not to push them down or drink them away. They also pass. They’re not laws of physics. They’re not character traits or even stances. They’re just thoughts and feelings.

Choose the ones you like. Choose the ones you like and pursue them. Hang on to them and learn about them. Do things to help them happen again.

The rest? Take note, then listen to the “singsong wisdom in the sound of letting go.”*

 

Let Go

 

Quoted from the poem Wish by J.M. Morea in her book where the ending begins

Photo by David Goehring on Flickr

Chilling the fuck out

I’m reading a book on mindfulness and depression. The authors posit that people are more vulnerable to depression and relapse when they spend a lot of their time in a ‘comparing’ state of mind – that is, when you’re noticing the difference between how things are and how you’d like them to be. They contrast that with a ‘being’ or ‘observing’ state of mind, which is characterized by noticing the present moment and accepting it for what it is.

Comparing state of mind? That’s me.

It makes sense to me that you appreciate any given moment less when you’re preoccupied with changing it, when you’re comparing it to the past or planning ways to make it different in the future. It makes sense to me that a ‘comparing’ state of mind would be exhausting, because the call to action is constant. A ‘being’ mind sounds like a welcome relief – peaceful and calm.

(I’m reminded of my attempts to notice those moments when I feel like my mind can rest.)

To develop their mindfulness-based treatment plan to avoid relapse in people who have had depression, the authors looked to a program designed for patients with chronic pain. Instead of fighting the pain, the patients learned to regard it with a gentle, kindly awareness.

(I’m reminded of my friend who eventually came around to loving the mean voice.)

This approach to avoiding relapse does not emphasize the content of your thoughts, such as getting over your specific triggers. Instead it tries to change the relationship you have with your thoughts. It tries to help you understand that not every thought reflects reality. Not every thought deserves a reaction.

My Dog: Not Excellent in the Fetch Department. GENIUS at Chilling Out

My Dog: Not Great at Fetch, GENIUS at Chilling Out

I realized after (during?) my first(?) major episode in college that what I needed, in a very serious way, was to chill the fuck out. Mindfulness-based approaches to depression seem to be saying the same thing.

When you can spend less time fighting and more time with a gentle awareness, it makes sense to me that you’ve made a big step toward resilience – a step toward the source of your happiness being within you.

Sounds nice, right?