Monthly Archives: September 2011

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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Filed under Making Tracks, Perception Pivot, The Weekend Stretch

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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Filed under Finding Your Way Home, Principles, Top Ten Lists

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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Filed under Community Building