recovery

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.

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

One Year On

This is what recovery looks likeToday marks the one year anniversary of the registration of this blog. A few days ago marked the anniversary of my diagnosis of major recurrent depression. It took me months to start actually writing the blog, and about a year to come to terms with the diagnosis – something that now, like so many things, seems inevitable.

One year on I’m well on my way to recovery. I still struggle with daily tasks, but my mind is quieter and I smile more. I cry less and spend more time with friends. I have yet to go dancing. I’ve started, but failed to finish, about a dozen books on depression and have “come out” to about two dozen people. I am less desperate. I am less scared.

It’s been almost two months since I last wrote in this blog, in part because my recovery has me wanting to think about things besides depression. In part it’s because I imagine a deeply depressed reader and feel helpless to help her.

But I want to write.

Recovery comes in fits and starts and so will this blog. But I’m hoping to soon start a series of posts on mindfulness and depression. I hope you’ll join me.

With Profound Thanks,

Mfupi

Photo by Portland Prevention on Flickr.

Asking for Help #5: A Menu of Asks

Group HugPlanning out what to ask for can be even harder than the asking itself. Big questions like, “What do I need?” can become immediately overwhelming – but it’s easier for people to act when you tell them what to do. Here are some options to pick from. Substitutions allowed.

Ask for pictures – do you have a loved one far away? Ask for picture messages from them. This is especially great for children. A picture of a kid just doing her thing in the middle of the day can help lighten your mood.

Schedule one-on-one time – pick a group of people and ask them each to cover one day a week or every other week. Expect about half of the people you ask flake on you. They’re not ready. That’s ok. Be ready to ask again, or call in a second line of friends and family if necessary. Use the hour or two for whatever *you* would like to do – whether it’s watching TV or having a serious talk about what you’re going through. One-on-one time provides you the space to reach out, relax, or both. And it provides your friends the chance to help.

Ask for things people know about – have a friend who’s in a band? Ask for their music recommendations. Know someone who’s into comedy? Ask for some podcasts.

Ask for daily emails – pick one or two friends who are supportive and empathetic and ask them if you can email them daily, or even several times a day. These friends don’t have to understand what you’re going through, but they have to be able to provide explicit support. Use the emails as a substitute for “charting” your moods, or just a place to vent, or whatever. Be as clear as you can about what you want from the interaction, is it commiseration? problem solving? a sympathetic ear?

Crowdsource your questions – Ask your whole Facebook community for recommendations of books that aren’t downers. Ask the Subreddit on depression about that aspect of recovery that’s really been bothering you. Let the wisdom of the crowd help you out.

Asking is hard. And it’s something to be really proud of. Start wherever you’re most comfortable – an anonymous group of internet depressives, your closest family and friends. Know that you’re worth their time and effort, and know that you’re worth your own.

Photo by Robbert van der Steeg on Flickr.

The Depressive’s Guide to Adopting a Dog

I absolutely admire people who adopt difficult dogs. As a person who suffers from depression, I knew I couldn’t be one of those people. I knew I needed a dog that would be a calming, happy presence in my home, a dog that would lessen my frustration with the world, not add to it. There are plenty of sweet, happy dogs that need homes. Here are some tips for finding the right one for you:

  1. DestructionAdopt a grown dog. Puppies are a LOT of work, for at least a year, usually two. They pee and poop on your stuff and feel an irrepressible need to interact with the world by chewing on things – it can be more than just annoying. It can be really expensive. In hindsight, many dog owners would skip the undeniable cuteness if they could skip the frustration of the puppy years.
  2. Try to adopt a dog who’s being fostered in a home, not one that’s been held at the kennel for weeks or months. The way a dog acts in a kennel gives you almost no indication of their demeanor. Many have kennel cough, which sedates them, and others are overly hyper because they need exercise. When you meet a foster dog, you meet a dog that’s in its element, and the foster family can tell you more about the dog than the kennel staff ever could.
  3. Beware of pushy kennel staff. While their application process may make it seem like they’re picky about who can adopt, many staff are really on a mission to find homes for as many dogs as possible – they’re in the business of saving lives. Be patient. Be insistent. I even recommend finding the most experienced staff member you can (many are staffed by young volunteers), and try to sit them down and tell them about your condition. Tell them you need a truly special dog, and that you’re willing to wait.
  4. You choose them, but they also choose you. Wait. Wait for that dog with which you really do feel a special connection.

You deserve a dog that really enhances your life. Finding that dog can take weeks or months of browsing online and searching local rescue facilities, but it’s worth it. You’ll have the dog for a decade or more, and for that whole time, the right dog will lower your blood pressure, lift your mood, and bring you that thing that can seem so implausible: Joy. Daily Joy.

Adoption Day