Thursday, December 23, 2010

Depression and the Holidays

So many suffer depression around the holidays each year.  It's horrible to wake up one morning and feel like the rug has been pulled out from under you, the wind in your sails has completely disappeared and you feel both physically and emotionally wounded.  Having suffered many bouts of depression in my life time, there are a number of things I've been able to do that really make the bouts short-lived.  I wanted to share them in the hopes that they might help someone else out there suffering.  I am not a therapist nor have I been psychologically trained.  This is information shared from one human being to another for the simple reason that well, I just care.

When depression strikes, it can be a little startling and it can make you more than fearful.  So, in our thoughts, we sometimes attempt to fight the depression and we do it sometimes unnoticed belittling self-thoughts inside of our heads like, "What is wrong with you?" or "Why are you so defective?"  These thoughts don't help the depression and thoughts like these inside your head can actually make you feel worse.  I catch those thoughts playing  inside my head during these bouts.  I start feeling like a victim until I remember, I may feel depressed but I can control my thoughts about this.  So, the first thing I do is stop fighting the depression.  I let it hit me with the full force of gravity it needs to deliver.  I've had a lot happen in my life and, well, sometimes that pain needs to rise to the surface and gain acknowledgment.  So, I acknowledge it in the most gentle way possible and I will use a lot of positive self-talk until it passes.

I'll also work very hard to take better care of myself when these episodes hit.  Sleep is affected.  Sometimes I can't sleep.  So, if I can't sleep, I'll use the time to read a book or meditate to use my time in a positive way instead of allowing myself to get overly anxious about not being able to sleep.  I try to focus my thoughts on stabilizing the chemicals in my body.  I'll make sure I eat healthy foods and nothing too strong before bed.  I'll watch the calorie intake so I don't add weight to my body which will make me feel worse.  I will try, even though I really don't feel like it, to get some form of exercise - a short walk for even 15 minutes helps produce endorphins which are really good when you are depressed.

I observe the thoughts that I'm thinking to see if there is a thought-source to my depression.  Often there is.  I'll  write down those thoughts and understand that my thoughts are separate from who I am.  They are just thoughts and I can give the negative ones credence or I can give myself advice on my own thoughts as I would a good friend telling me these negative things.  I will try to turn each negative thought around with a positive one.

When I find pain over past wounds at the core of my thoughts, I give them voice and try not to fight them.  I embrace the pain knowing its going to hurt like hell but if I fight the pain, I know I will prolong my depression.  If its a particularly strong bout of depression, I will call and make an appointment with a counselor.  Often talk therapy, exercise, eating right and vitamins are enough to set things back on track.  I'm not big on anti-depressive medication because I've had abnormal reactions to them but for so many people, they really help so that is something that can be explored to help you get through the valley of depression.

I try to avoid too much isolation when depressed.  Sometimes when depressed, I purposely get myself out and around other people where I will need to act like I'm okay so I don't bring others down.  During those periods of "acting" I find that I actually do start to feel a little bit better.  I am distracted temporarily from depression during these times and that's a good thing.

Sometimes the bouts will pass in a few days, a few weeks or a few months.  I just trust that for whatever reason, I need to go through the depression and I try to eliminate the fear by trusting that one day, my positive efforts will kick in and I'll wake up and the light will be there instead of at the far end of the tunnel. 

Missing loved ones can be really hard and drive a lot of depression.  Allow yourself to mourn those you miss during the holidays.  It is absolutely okay to miss people and to wish they were there.  If you can, imagine they are right there before you and send to them loving thoughts and feel them sending loving thoughts back to you.  This is a hard exercise but it does temporarily feel good.  I try hard to hold onto any loving feelings when depressed.  Depression makes it hard to feel anything but bad.  Sunlight is unappealing, the things and people you love seem far away, everything you hear seems muffled and uninteresting and life so completely lacks luster that you just want to give up.  But notice those feelings...realize if you can observe yourself feeling like this or thinking thoughts like this that you are separate from those thoughts (Read Tolle).  If you are separate from your thoughts, you can influence your thoughts and talk yourself up to a higher place.  It takes practice, persistence and willingness to work through it at a time you seem handicapped to do well.  Trust that it will work. Trust that the depression will not last forever is necessary (remember, assuming you'll feel bad forever is just assumption and you do not know with 100% certainty that you will be depressed forever so cut those thoughts off by saying, I feel bad only for now - tomorrow may be different or this time next week may be different - realize that it is possible).  (Check out Thomas Moore's Dark Nights of the Soul).

If you can, try to stay away from unhealthy substances that would "numb" the pain.  It always seems to come back twice as hard if you use alcohol to numb it.  You don't want it to stick around for a long period so try to avoid those things that contribute to it.  Work with a medical doctor if you can to try to help you find the source if counseling did not help and nothing else seems to be working.  It's possible chemical imbalance can be contributing and a medical doctor can assist you with that and help you help your body to balance the chemicals.

As hard as it is, try not to give up mindful of what is an assumption in your thoughts and what is truth.  Deal with depression as you would a cold - take care of yourself.  Treat the pain you suffer as if it were a precious child you wish to take care of.  Be gentle with it and yourself.  Depression is not the enemy. It is a symptom.  It can be healed but you must try to find a way to keep thoughts about treatment open in your mind at a time it will be difficult to do so.

Find something positive you enjoy.  I love going to the beach so when I'm depressed, I continue to go even when I just don't feel like it...even if I'd rather just stay in bed...I'll get up and take myself to the beach...even when I'm there and my thoughts tell me give up and just go back home - I will stay and try to notice anything of interest...the light on the water, seashells, birds, people, the sounds, the smell...I'll focus on sensations that are interesting or neutral.  These things also distract me from the pain of depression.

Give yourself time to heal and trust that you will heal.  When you set your intent, you keep yourself open to healing and you can take steps, one at a time if necessary, to get back on your emotional feet.  Love yourself no matter what.  Imagine how you might treat a depressed family member and treat yourself with that same love, understanding and kindness.  The bout will pass when you find the right path of treatment for you.  Hang in there and let love and healing find you this holiday season and every day.  Many blessings.

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