mindfulness

Sick AND Depressed? ‘Ooof

Head coldHello from your local depression blogger. This week I got sick. Because I was told my employer isn’t renewing my contract again? Because I’m nervous as hell about an upcoming opportunity? Because my extremely helpful meditation class came to an end?

Who knows?

But the head cold persists.

I know what to do about the cold itself – drown it in hot liquids, sleep, and vitamin C. What I’m not so sure about is how to manage the attendant weepiness, the mood swings, the body aches that remind me of my worst depressions.

How do we pass the time when we’re holed up inside and feeling ill, wanting desperately to avoid an emotional fall into that shitty dark pit of despair?

ReadingA lot of my friends swear by video games. Others say TV. Neither really work for me. Instead I’m immersing myself in a few good books. I’ve discovered David Mitchell, author of Cloud Atlas, and am reading The Bone Clocks by him. I’ve also combed through a list of books on meditation and mindfulness and purchased Turning the Mind into an Ally by Sakyong Mipham.

I’m making myself eat so that the vitamin C doesn’t tear my stomach to shreds, and I’m making myself read so that my lethargy doesn’t tear my mind to shreds.

Got some book recommendations? Leave them in the comments below or email me at depressionwhoneedsit@gmail.com.

First photo by bandita on Flickr.

Second photo by Richard Masoner on Flickr.

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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.

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.

Eight Steps for Getting It Done When You’re Depressed

Myriad and LovelyI LOVE my dog. I adore her. But walking her – especially first thing in the morning and right before bed, is a huge pain in my ass. I’m an adult. I know the rules. I have a dog so I have to walk her several times a day.

Similarly, if you have a body you have to bathe it. If you have teeth you have to brush them. If you have a job you have to get dressed and get there, every day that they expect you. What should we do when these simple tasks are SO hard?

  1. Don’t take it as a larger sign. I do this ALL the time. “Ugh! I can’t even get it together to walk Bebop! This is going to be a bad day. This fucking disease is ruining my life and making it impossible for me to do simple things. This is hopeless.” This is an example of the dreaded “all-or-nothing” thinking. Not wanting to walk your dog is just that, a reasonable desire to stay in bed when you’re tired. It doesn’t mean you’re hopeless.
  2. Don’t beat yourself up about it. “What’s wrong with me???” It’s not your fault that you don’t want to shower. It’s the expected outcome of a dreaded disease. Remember that you’re sick, you’re not “bad at things.”
  3. Take a beat. Realize what’s going on. You’re sick and it’s making you not want to brush your teeth. That’s it. Bring awareness to your struggle. I find it helps to think the whole sentence to myself. “I’m sick and it’s making me not want to brush my teeth.”
  4. Break down the task into tiny, tiny, I mean miniscule parts. This also helps us avoid “all-or-nothing” thinking. I try not to think about how wet my hair will be after I shower and what I’ll have to do about that. I just think about the shower itself. I let what comes after be Future-Me’s concern. She’s strong. She’ll be able to handle it.
  5. Focus on (only) the first step. If I want to shower, I first have to take off my shoes. That’s something I can handle. Take off your shoes.
  6. Focus on the second. Walk into the bathroom.
  7. Continue to breathe as you do the task. Remember why you’re dreading it – it’s ‘cause you’re sick, not because there is something wrong with you as a person. Breathe through each little part of the task.To Do
  8. Be gentle. Be gentle with this person who doesn’t want to shower or brush her teeth or walk her dog. She’s struggling. She’s trying. She’s making slow but powerful progress. She deserves your love and your sweet, sweet tenderness.

And don’t forget to give yourself a little credit once you’ve done the task. I sometimes imagine the “Rocky” theme for the smallest things. Da-da-DAAA, she walked her dog! She is fucking ROCKING it today!

Second photo by Deni Williams on Flickr.