Faux Feelings, Real Consequences

“This human tendency to look for outer causes for our moods is the greatest addiction on our planet.” –Richard Rudd

For depression levels: All

The headline in this morning’s paper blared, “Mock abduction exercise a success.” As I read the article over my tea and toast about the 10-agency exercise conducted yesterday to find a 14-year-old girl by the name of “Veronica Doe” who had been “kidnapped,” complete with eyewitnesses, neighborhood canvasses, and search dogs, I found tears coming to my eyes.

This morning's headline.

“8:04 a.m.: An Amber Alert has been sent out to local media,” reads the article’s dramatic timeline. “A backpack and sweater Doe left behind during the abduction are collected as evidence.” “9:13 a.m.: … [T]he community emergency response team and the search dog network are brought up to speed so they can start combing different areas in hopes of locating Doe.” “10:55 a.m.: Dogs are brought to the area. After being exposed to scent on shoe, the canine takes off down a park trail and locates Doe within seconds. Abductor is arrested. Doe is reunited with parents and taken in for medical examination.”

Why was I getting all teary-eyed and emotional? It was a mock kidnapping, for pity’s sake! The teen probably volunteered to play the role and had the time of her life. She was fine, her family was fine, and law enforcement agencies for miles around gained valuable experience in what to do if the real thing comes along.

Although I am not a neuroscientist, my educated guess is that reading about a girl being overpowered by an adult up to no good, ripped away from her family, and exposed to trauma triggered reactions in my primal or “reptilian” brain circuits of similar experiences in my own childhood. The reptilian brain isn’t rational when it comes to these things; it has embedded in its cells the conviction that undergoing certain types of experiences automatically means pain.

While my rational mind knew the kidnapping was staged, the feelings that came up in response to this mock kidnapping felt real. Tears came to my eyes, my heart rate sped up, and a ball of anxiety formed in the pit of my stomach. Emotionally, I felt vulnerable. If I had chosen to take these feelings seriously, such as telling myself the world is such a dangerous place, children aren’t safe, you can’t trust anybody, etc., then I could have initiated a downward spiral into depression.

Here’s the sequence of events that leads, oftentimes, to the start of a depressive episode or the exacerbation of a current one:

  1. Something happens that reminds me of something in my past.
  2. My reptilian brain thinks it’s a replay of the same situation, and it responds with chemical reactions that increase feelings of fear, anxiety, and dread.
  3. I tell a story about what has just happened that reinforces those negative reactions.
  4. Depression sets in or gets worse.
  5. I am incapacitated, unable to function.

The stories we choose to tell ourselves about what's happening can generate negative feelings that trigger depression.

You can see how such a reaction to a minor (or even a fake!) event can have real-world consequences. Perhaps you find yourself reacting with anger or distrust towards a loved one, refusing to try new things such as checking out a different career field, or isolating yourself because you assume you will always be alone and friendless. It’s been said, “All limitations are self-imposed” (attributed variously to Oliver Wendell Holmes and Ernest Holmes—take your pick). Realizing that your neurochemical reactions and the stories you tell yourself about them may be in response to situations that are, in reality, negligible can restore your power and allow you to make more positive decisions about what’s going on in your life.

The Weekend Stretch

This weekend, pay attention to a situation that triggers you in some way. It could be a “rude” waiter at a restaurant, a close call while driving, an item on the TV news, or a conversation with a friend. Write the answers to the following questions in your journal:

  1. Is what’s happening something that actually applies to me now, in the present? Or is it simply a reminder of something from my past?
  2. What stories am I telling myself about what happened or what was said?
  3. Do I really want to give away my power to this?
  4. What’s a different, more empowering way to look at this? (Consider that maybe, just maybe, what happened has absolutely nothing to do with you!)
  5. What resources or coping and communication skills do I have at my disposal to deal with this situation constructively?

To take this exercise further, print out these questions and carry them with you, responding to them whenever you get triggered.

Have an empowering weekend!

(c) 2011 by Patricia R. Henschen, M.A.

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Top Ten Principles for Depression Recovery

“Joy does not simply happen to us. We have to choose joy and keep choosing it every day.” – Henri Nouwen

For depression levels: All

These Principles form a strong foundation for health and everyday happiness.

There’s been one positive, unintended side effect of having recurrent debilitating depression over the last several years: It’s given me time to think. In between depressive episodes, I have pondered what it really takes to get well and be well on an ongoing basis.

I came up with 10 foundational Principles that have helped me to keep moving in the direction of wellness. I can’t say as I’ve mastered them all; far from it. As I’ve mentioned before, having depression and choosing to undertake the journey to recovery is an ongoing hero’s journey (see Hitting the Trail–Part 3). However, keeping these Principles in mind helps me to bridge the gaps between despair and hope, passivity and activity, and disempowerment and empowerment. More importantly, practicing these Principles makes the essential difference between remaining ill with depression and recovering from it fully.

As an example, here’s Principle #5: “I am not a victim. Even though depression has taken away my motivation, there are still some things I can do to help myself. Therefore, I do one thing right now to feel better.” One of the ways I live this Principle is by belonging to a wellness center operated by the local hospital. The monthly, no-contract fee is very reasonable; it’s near my house; and I can go to as many yoga, water aerobics, and studio classes as I want. Because the classes are on a regular schedule, and because the instructors and other members know me and remark if I don’t show up, it’s relatively easy for me to grab my gear and just go. I seldom actually feel like going, but I know I will feel so much better afterward; conversely, I know I am inviting depression if I don’t exercise.

The Principles

1.     I am not my depression. Depression is an illness I experience. Therefore, I quit saying, “I’m depressed,” and look for ways to treat the illness.

2.     No matter what diagnosis I received, it is not definitive. Remission and even complete healing are possible. Therefore, I choose to believe that I can become completely well and go on to live a rewarding life.

3.     My feelings are not facts. They are real only if I let them be. Therefore, I make choices based on what I know and not on what I feel.

4.     I am not alone. It may feel that way most of the time, but there are lots of people who are willing and able to help me. Therefore, I reach out for support daily.

5.     I am not a victim. Even though depression has taken away my motivation, there are still some things I can do to help myself. Therefore, I do one thing right now to feel better.

6.     I am not my past. While understanding how past experiences contributed to my depression can be useful, ultimately, this will not heal me. Therefore, I forgive the past to the best of my ability, see the good in my present, and project hope into the future.

7.     I am responsible for improving my state of health and state of mind. No one can heal me, rescue me, or make my life better but me. Therefore, I stop waiting and start acting.

8.     The Universe is on my side, even though it might not seem like it. The more aware I become of Divine forces working on my behalf and call upon them to help me, the more they will do so. Therefore, I develop a simple daily practice of prayer and meditation.

9.     Although depression affects every aspect of my life, it isn’t personal. Life isn’t out to get me. Therefore, I choose to stop feeling persecuted and start looking for the deeper meaning of my illness.

10.  My experience of depression is unique to me. Although friends, loved ones, and colleagues care about me, they will never “get it.” Therefore, I stop demanding that others understand me and make specific, practical requests for help instead.

Working with these Principles invites beauty, order, and wellness into your life.

Working with the Principles

Rather than seeing these Principles for depression recovery as “to-do’s” or “shoulds” that you have to memorize and act on immediately, I invite you to simply write down in your journal or on a scrap of paper that you post in a visible location the Principle that speaks to you the most right now. Just read it aloud a couple of times a day and ponder the possibilities that Principle could open up for you.

Say to yourself, “If this were true, I could… .” Or, “If this were true, it might mean… .” Do some journaling in response to these springboards. Discuss the Principle with a friend or therapist. Introduce it at a support group meeting. See what opens up! You may find that you are inspired to take certain actions. Write down these inspirations so can keep track of them; select one to follow through on, asking for help from your support team if you need it.

When you feel that you’ve got this one embedded in your consciousness, pick another one and go through the same process. You might wish to rotate the Principles once a month, coming back to the first one you selected in the rotation after 10 months. Each Principle informs all the others, and you’ll be able to look at the older ones with fresh eyes and a heightened consciousness.

Share Your Experiences

I invite you to share your experiences in working with these Principles by leaving a comment below. I hope they make as much difference for you as they have for me.

(c) 2011 by Patricia R. Henschen, M.A.

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We’re Back!

“Just don’t give up trying to do what you really want to do. Where there’s love and inspiration, I don’t think you can go wrong.” –Ella Fitzgerald

Thank you for joining me on this journey!

After a two-month hiatus, Rescue Yourself: CPR for Depressives is back. I’ve retooled the website for a fresher look, added some new widgets, and included an about me page. I had loads of fun adding unique photo headers at the top of each “About” page (see the links at the top of the blog); with the exception of one, all the photos are from the Huntington Library and Botanical Gardens near Pasadena, California. And yes, I took them all! I am in the process of redefining the categories so that they will be more obvious and act more like an index. Look for the more user-friendly categories sometime this coming week.

Pretty pictures aside, it is my hope that the blog will be more readable, enjoyable, and useful to you.  Many thanks to everyone who gave input via the poll I posted in July. I am looking forward to doing some cool things with the blog such as interviews with experts in the health and wellness fields, recipes for foods that supercharge the brain, and even some guided visualizations using audio technology.

I hope your summer was everything you needed it to be, as free from depression as possible. I found myself in the midst of a few depressive episodes, largely due to the extreme heat and exceptional drought here in Texas, the likes of which haven’t been seen since–well, never. We broke every heat and dryness record here since they started recording such things. Excessive heat can actually inflame the brain and make depression worse. (Hmm, maybe, just maybe, Texas isn’t the right place for me!)

I’ve been cogitating a lot this summer on the true nature of depression, not just how it manifests, but what causes it, why some people get it and others don’t, and what–going beyond the physical and emotional symptoms–it really is. It’s my opinion that chronic, recalcitrant depression is, by and large, a spiritual illness, or what medical intuitive Caroline Myss calls “mystical depression.” I’ll be talking more about that in a future blog post.

Also coming up in the next couple of months will be an in-depth look at the underpinnings of the CPR recovery program: Care for yourself radically, Practice reliance on a Higher Power, and Re-vision and revitalize your life. As part of this exploration, I’ll introduce the Twelve Pillars of Wellness, material that I developed a few years ago for a live workshop entitled “Going Beyond Depression,” which I gave in Tucson in 2004. Additionally, you’ll have a chance to try more interactive exercises, including some forays into the expressive arts, and you’ll be seeing more insights from leading lights in the fields of nutrition, exercise physiology, spirituality, and alternative healing.

St. Francis is a worthy exemplar of serentiy for us.

I spent the last few weeks recovering from acute bronchitis. When my lungs aren’t working, there isn’t a whole lot I can do except rest, sleep, and think. In between nebulizer treatments, I got to thinking about what it really means to heal and if complete healing from depression (not to mention bum lungs!) is possible. I don’t have a definitive answer to that question, but I invite you to explore that possibility with me in the weeks and months to come.

I’m glad to be back here at CPR for Depressives, and I hope you’ll continue to not only follow the blog as new posts appear, but actually try the exercises and suggestions and report back on how well they worked or didn’t work for you. It’s through sharing our experience, strength, and hope with each other that we are better able to recover from depression and create lives that are rewarding and infused with everyday happiness. I look forward to serving you by sharing not just knowledge about what it takes to recover from depression, but also wisdom about living an amazing life, no matter what challenges we face.

Until next time,

Patricia

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CPR4D Is Getting a Makeover!

Hi, Everyone,

Changes are afoot at Rescue Yourself: CPR for Depressives. We’re getting a makeover! Not an extreme one, mind you, but some gentle changes that will make this blog more accessible and interactive, and more of a practical tool that will help accelerate your recovery from depression. In short, I want to make this blog friendlier and more inviting.

My goal is to make this the best depression blog on the Internet, bar none. I see this blog as a safe haven in the tsunami of depression that is sweeping the world. The incidence of depression has increased ten times since the end of World War II. I want this to be a place where people can come and find practical solutions, community, and hope. I want to put the pieces in the puzzle of how to get well together in a holistic, comprehensive way that no one was able to do for me when I was first diagnosed with the dreaded “Double D” nearly ten years ago. Most of all, I want you and other depression sufferers to get your lives back and realize your own amazing potential. The world needs you!

Some of the changes I am contemplating include the following:

  • Shorter, more frequent postings that fit in better with the spirit of blogging;
  • Fewer near-feature-length, near-magazine-quality articles (which, frankly, I’ve worn myself out trying to keep up with);
  • A less “academic” tone;
  • More photos, feedback, and fun;
  • Experiments with multi-media (what would you think about downloadable MP3 guided visualizations?); and
  • More emphasis on building community.

But I can’t do any of this without your help. You have experience, strength, and hope that others can benefit from, unique perspectives and knowledge of what works and what doesn’t that others desperately need to hear. To that end, here is a brief poll so that you can tell me how you’d like CPR4D to look and what you’d like it to contain (I haven’t done a poll before, so let’s hope this works!). Select as many items as you’d like, as long as they don’t contradict each other:

Thanks for taking the time to give your input. Please feel free to add any comments in the “Comments” section as to what you would find helpful to have in this blog as you strive to live your best life in spite of having depression.

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The Perils of Overapologizing

“Never ruin an apology with an excuse.” – Kimberly Johnson

Is it time to apologize? Maybe not.

For Depression Level(s): All.

It happened again.

My life and my depression collided in an awkward, unpleasant way last Saturday, and dang it, I’m mad about it! Not to mention embarrassed.

Here’s what happened: I’d been invited to attend a contra dance and potluck, an event that occurs the first Saturday of each month. I had known about this public event for years and had finally gotten up my courage to go, a decision in line with my commitment to participate more fully in life.

In a mood of pleasant anticipation, I made deviled eggs and got cleaned up, and off I went.

All seemed to go well at first. The eggs were a hit; people asked for seconds. The first dance was a circle dance, with everyone positioned in a big circle doing a few simple steps and exchanges. Although I’ve never had dance lessons and hadn’t danced in years, I caught on after a few rounds. As we whirled around in a big circle and I got handed back repeatedly to the man behind me, I found myself grinning and having fun.

The next dance I participated in seemed to be more of a square dance, with groups of four (two male-female couples each) interacting with each other and then with the other four-person squares down the line. I had observed the dance prior to this one with some trepidation; it looked very complicated. But I was willing to try. A nice gentleman asked me to be his partner; the other couple in our square consisted of the friends who had invited me.

Just a few maneuvers into the dance, everything seemed to close in on me. I felt as though the entire room was whirling around and that multiple people were grabbing at me. I had what I call a “PTSD moment”: The anxiety overwhelmed me and, for a brief moment, my mind shut down; I simply had to get the heck out of there. I shook off my partner’s hands, grabbed my things, and ran out of the building, crying.

I felt horribly embarrassed and angry that, once again, my depression had interfered with my ability to live my life the way I wanted. My depression brain started hurling invective at me: “Idiot! Can’t you even go to a simple dance, for crying out loud?” On top of all that, I left the three other people in my “square” in the lurch because a contra dance simply can’t be conducted with an odd number of people. I would have to apologize.

Perhaps you have experienced similar awkward, painful moments that were caused by your depression, anxiety, and/or PTSD. The need to apologize afterward is almost as bad as the original incident.

I find myself apologizing a lot: Social gaffes, as in the incident at the dance. Being late because I overslept. Something that I was supposed to follow up on but didn’t, mostly because I misjudged the amount of time it would take or because it became too stressful. Forgetting someone’s name or where I met the person.

And those are just the things I probably “should” apologize for.

I also find myself apologizing to my cats when someone rings the doorbell and they become startled, for speaking when someone interrupts me, and for not sending a birthday card even though I had both called on the day and sent an electronic greeting. I even apologize to my friends when they say they have a headache or don’t feel well, as if I somehow caused it.

While apologizing has its place, it’s when it becomes a habitual refrain that it becomes a problem. Constant apologizing — particularly for things we have no control over or that are so insignificant, they do not need an apology — is a bit like having termites in the house: Every unnecessary apology gnaws at the underpinnings of our self-esteem and reinforces the feeling of inferiority that is part and parcel of having a brain disorder.

Maybe it's time to honor your worth, beauty, and strength instead.

How can we guard against over-apologizing? Here’s a three-step process to help you get a handle on this detrimental habit:

1.     Become aware: Start noticing how many times per day the words “I’m sorry” or “I apologize” leave your lips. Ask yourself: (a) “Am I actually at fault?” (b) “If I am, is it something that truly requires an apology?” To determine this, see if what you did — or didn’t do — violates your integrity and values. If yes, apologize; if not, don’t. (c) “If not, what else could I say instead?”

2.     Locate your need to apologize in your body: Where do you feel it? Ask yourself: (a) “How much of my tendency to apologize is an attempt to deflect another’s anger, whether real or assumed?” (b) “What situation does my fear of this person’s anger remind me of?” (c) “How can I feel safe without apologizing (provided an apology really isn’t needed)?” One possibility: “Beam” love to the needy or scared place in your body.

3.     Remind yourself of your inherent worth: Ask yourself: (a) “What good things have I done lately?” (b) What are some compliments I’ve received recently?” (c) “What are my gifts and talents?”

You do not need to apologize for your existence. You especially don’t need to apologize for having depression or any other brain disorder. Nor do you need to make yourself small to be safe. You have the power to keep yourself safe by taking care of yourself, building a support team, and remembering that you are good enough just as you are.

(c) 2011 by Patricia R. Henschen, M.A.

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Depression and Parenting

“When you are a mother, you are never really alone in your thoughts. A mother always has to think twice, once for herself and once for her child.” –by Sophia Loren

Caitlyn Johnston, taking time to smell the roses.

Note: The following article was written by a wellness coach, writer, and friend of mine, Caitlyn Johnston, a single parent who has struggled with depression in the past. I asked her to write this article, since I do not have children but I know that being a parent while struggling with depression is one of the most difficult things a person can ever deal with. Caitlyn worked hard to do the things that would help her heal the depression, and is now doing quite well; she is both functional and happy. Her son is doing better all the time. For Caitlyn’s contact info, please see the end of the article.

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While I was depressed, there were only two things I was truly motivated to do: Be as good a parent as possible to my son, and heal the depression permanently. With research, support from a wonderful holistic doctor, and taking daily baby steps, I was actually able to improve both simultaneously.

Being a single mom is deeply depressing, and all I felt was harried, overwhelmed, and anxious about everything. Doing the dishes and laundry, changing my little one’s diapers, and even grocery shopping seemed like major efforts. Trying to work full-time on top of it all was untenable, so I switched to part-time substitute teaching. Needless to say, we went on food stamps, which was even more depressing. In short, everything took me out of my comfort zone, and the sleep deprivation of my son’s early years drove me over the edge.

Depression rendered me barely capable of good parenting. It was a nightmare for me, and I can’t imagine how awful it must have been for him. One of my saddest memories is when he trotted in one day at the age of five and announced how he’d finally learned to ride his bike. He’d done it completely alone. What was even worse is that he’d asked me several times, and I kept telling him we’d do it later. The truth was it was yet another thing I just couldn’t deal with.

There were only three things that brought me comfort and nurturance: Holding him on my lap and reading to him, my spiritual practices of prayer and meditation, and eating as much and as often as I could. The more sugar I ate, the more numb I became to my distress. Close human contact and my active internal spiritual life anchored me, yet the desperation of depressive parenting drove me to find a way out. I ballooned to a huge 225 pounds. This was even more depressing, but at least it helped me cope.

However, being a parent while having depression was also, in its own way, a blessing. With a small child in tow, I had no choice but to get up and take care of him. I could do for him what I couldn’t do for myself. I found the minute physical activity helped me stay out of the negative mental chatter that erodes the mind.

To be honest, though, when I was taking care of him, I was only going through the motions. Emotionally, I was inundated with foggy fatigue. Physically, I got him bathed and dressed, fed and off to preschool, although he was constantly late. I often got a talking-to about how it was important to get him there on time, because he’d miss fun or interesting things. They had no idea he was lucky to be there at all. But of course I never told them that; isolation is a silent killer of this disease.

In the summer of 2001, I was finally diagnosed and put on SSRIs. I felt better, more alive, but they had an intolerable side effect: I felt spiritually disconnected. Prayer and meditation became numb and scary. I am vehemently against taking drugs of any kind, so I sought out a naturopathic physician who does real-time biofeedback brain training. It took six months to teach my brain how to have healthy brain waves, and I was able to ditch the SSRIs. I didn’t escape them unscathed, though; they caused endometriosis (an internal bleeding disorder), for which I had an ovary removed in 2007.

As you make healing choices, your life blooms like a beautiful rose.

While I was healing my brain, I was also determined to lose some weight. At one point, I had noticed a correlation between physical movement and feeling better. Sure enough, as I took up a little exercise—wooden though it felt—exercising for only 20 minutes a day really made a difference. I knew 20 minutes really wasn’t adequate, but the baby step that was manageable was either walking a mile, or doing a quick exercise video. I found my mood lifted. It also became clear that the toxins making my body fat and sluggish continued to make my mind fat and sluggish. More baby steps included banishing soda and wheat from my diet. As I ditched them, my mind cleared even more!

As I began to piece my physical and spiritual health back together, my mental health improved right along with them. So did my relationship with my son! Parenting—and life—began to take on an ease I’d never felt before. All my little baby steps seemed inadequate at the time, but they had powerful results. Currently, I’ve been depression-free and off SSRIs for ten years, I’ve lost 50 pounds, and my income has radically increased as I was able to get back to my career as a writer. When the tendency for depression does show up, it’s only for a few days at most.

My story turns out to be not unique. Dr. Andrew Weil, M.D. cites similar cases in his book Spontaneous Healing. As it turns out, the best kept secret in the mental health industry is that depression can be healed by taking baby steps using a holistic approach. And if I can do it, so can you! The best part is that your relationships with your children improve right along with it all.

(c) 2011 by Caitlyn V. Johnston, M.B.A.

To contact wellness coach Caitlyn, visit her web site at Expansive Prosperity and Health Holistic Coaching.

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On Summer Vacation

I’m on summer vacation this week. In the works for next week is an article on depression and parenting, guest-authored by a friend of mine who’s a single mom who has struggled with depression for many years.

Enjoy your summer, and stay out of the heat!

The Texas heat has about done me in, but I'll be back next week!

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