Category Archives: Making Tracks

Addresses how to move forward in spite of having depression. This includes radical self-care, healing grief, cleaning up incomplete relationships, clearing out tolerations, valuing yourself, belief excavation, taking action, honoring accomplishments.

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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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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Top Ten Remedies for Depression Emergencies — Part 2

“The mind is its own place, and in itself, can make a heaven of Hell, and a hell of Heaven.” — by John Milton

Where there is life, there is hope.

For depression level(s):  Severe.

Before continuing with the last five of my top ten remedies for depression emergencies (for the first five, see Top Ten Remedies for Depression Emergencies — Part 1), I want to focus on what you should not do if you are experiencing a depression emergency. The emotional pain of severe depression can be acute, making us want to do anything to make it stop. However, any self-destructive or acting-out behavior might alleviate that pain for all of five minutes, after which you will feel much worse. I have been there, more times than I can count. Trust me, it doesn’t help.

Here’s what doesn‘t work:

  • Overeating;
  • Eating neurotoxic foods, such as wheat, refined sugar, artificial sweeteners, and processed foods;
  • Drinking and drugging;
  • Excessive smoking;
  • Spending sprees;
  • Isolating;
  • Cutting (self-mutilation);
  • Putting in motion plans to commit suicide.

If you are seriously contemplating suicide, call 911 or 1-800-273-TALK (8255). If you need to go to the hospital, ask a family member or friend to take you, or call 911 for an ambulance. You are too precious to take your own life. Don’t do it. The world needs your unique gifts and talents, and you deserve to get well and enjoy your life. It can happen, but only if you give yourself a chance.

With that said, here are the last five remedies for depression emergencies:

5.    Increase your dosage of Omega-3’s. If you’re currently taking 1000 mg. of fish oil, take 2000. If you’re currently taking 2000 mg., take 3000. If you aren’t currently taking any at all, get some high-quality, mercury-free fish oil as soon as you can and start with 1000 mg. A “normal” dose (for folks without depression) is 1000 mg.; a therapeutic dose starts at 3000 mg. As with any supplement, you are responsible for determining whether this is the right thing for you.

4.     Call your therapist. Try to get in to see her immediately for an emergency session. She can talk you out of the really scary place you’re in, give you some additional coping strategies, and determine whether you need to be admitted to a hospital on an inpatient basis.

3.     Go to a support group meeting. I recommend you go to a face-to-face 12-Step meeting. If you are not in 12-Step recovery, that’s okay; you can still attend an open meeting of almost any fellowship. The important thing is not that you share the outward manifestation of addiction, whether it be alcoholism, compulsive overeating, drug addiction, codependence, or what-have-you; but that you connect with people who have experienced many of the same struggles you have and who understand what it’s like to be in emotional pain. Their experience, strength, and hope can get you over this rough patch and help you to feel connected and empowered.

The following fellowships are the most likely to have open meetings in your area:

Your town may also have a depression support group. Chances are, however, that they don’t meet very often and may not meet soon enough to help you through your current depressive crisis. To find a depression support group near you, contact your local hospital; they frequently sponsor these groups. You can also go to the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance’s (DBSA’s) website.

2.     Get a massage or other bodywork and/or energy work. Getting some type of body work done, such as massage, craniosacral, or reflexology and/or some energy work, such as Reiki or Therapeutic Touch, will not only be healing for you but will also help you to feel connected and nurtured. To find a practitioner in any of these modalities (and many others) visit massagetherapy.com’s referral page.

You have the option to activate your very own spiritual "SWAT team."

1.     Call in the spiritual SWAT team. That’s right. It’s time to bring in the big guns. Connecting to your Higher Power accomplishes three things: a) It allows you to surrender and let go of your fear and anxiety and turn them over to something bigger than yourself, b) it helps you to feel supported and connected, and c) it activates spiritual healing forces on your behalf.

Here are just a few suggestions on how to activate your own spiritual “SWAT team”:

  • Ask a friend, loved one, or your spiritual community to activate a prayer chain on your behalf. Family members and friends of people with cancer and other serious illnesses do this all the time. You are just as sick and just as in need of the loving care of other people and of your Higher Power. This has the added benefit of allowing people to actively care for you instead of just wondering how they can help you.
  • Work the first three Steps of 12-Step recovery around your depression; discuss them with another person. You don’t even have to be in a 12-Step program to do this. The Steps go like this:
    Step 1: I admit I am powerless over depression; it is making my life unmanageable.
    Step 2: I believe that a power greater than myself can restore me to sanity.
    Step 3: I turn my will and my life over to the care of God as I understand God.
  • Call upon the Archangel Raphael and his team of healing angels. Ask them to surround you and send the healing white light of God’s presence and love into your brain to heal it. This technique can be especially powerful and effective if you ask some friends to join you in “seeing” the angels doing their healing work.

You do not have to suffer. Do what it takes to stabilize yourself at this time, and then start taking proactive steps to rescue yourself and live well in spite of having depression. Whoever you are, wherever you are, my prayers are with you.

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

Do you know anyone who is in a depressive crisis? If so, please share this with them! It may help.

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Top Ten Remedies for Depression Emergencies — Part 1

“A life of reaction is a life of slavery, intellectually and spiritually. One must fight for a life of action, not reaction.” — by Rita Mae Brown

We might not be as peaceful as this butterfly, but we have to at least try.

For depression level(s): Severe.

Unlike the ironically funny Top Ten list I wrote a few weeks ago, “Top Ten Things NOT to Do When You’re Depressed,” this article is as serious as, well — depression.

I wasn’t planning to write on this topic today. In fact, I was going to supply you with my original recipe for gluten-free pot roast, as a follow-on to last week’s “Eating Wheat Can Cause Depression.” (Check this blog over the next week or two; I’ll share the recipe soon.)

But the fact is, it’s hot here in central Texas. I don’t mean just fan-your-face warm. I mean searing. We’re in a drought here, folks: Ten inches of rain below the average for this year already, and a ten-inch deficit left over from last year. And we’re already in triple-digit temperatures. What does this have to do with depression, you ask?

Heat + Glaring sun + Drought + Being cooped inside + Isolation = Depression

People tend to think of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) as applying only to cold, rainy, cloudy climes in the wintertime, places like Seattle, Milwaukee, Helsinki, or London. But the fact is, SAD can occur in the summertime, too, due to too much of a good thing: Sun. The primary reason I moved away from southern Arizona was because I became increasingly suicidal with each summer that passed. The summers there are absolutely brutal. I moved here because I have family here; it never occurred to me that it could get as miserably hot and dry and glaring as it does in Arizona. BIG miscalculation.

So, yes, my depression has kicked up in a big way, and I am in a bad way. Fortunately, I have friends and family who love me and who are willing and able to be there for me when I need them. (God bless them, because for sure I’m not pleasant to be around when I get like this.) My mother suggested I write up the most important things a depressive can do to help herself when the depression gets really, really bad.

Since in helping others I tend to help myself, I’ve taken an imperfect stab at the top ten things in our survival toolkit. The first five (nos. 10-6) are listed below; the second five (nos. 5-1) can be found in a separate posting: Top Ten Remedies for Depression Emergencies — Part 2.

10.    Call someone. Immediately. Don’t wait. Better yet, call several someones and ask one of them to come over. Right now. This is not a good time for you to be alone. So what if you haven’t showered in two days and dirty dishes litter your kitchen counters. The folks who really love you won’t care. (Yes, there are people who love you, even if your depression brain says otherwise.)

You are not alone.

9.     Don’t listen to anything your depression brain says. It is lying. Anything your mind comes up with at this point is suspect; don’t give it any credence whatsoever. Just this morning, my mind told me that I am a complete loser, a waste of space on the planet, that I’m unloved and unwanted, and that I should never have been born. Instead, replace all that ugliness with a positive affirmation and keep saying it over and over again, like a mantra. One of my favorite ones is, “I’m lovable, worthy, wanted, and good enough just as I am.”

8.     Take a walk. Seriously. Put on your raggedy old t-shirt and shorts and ask a friend or family member to drag you outside. You have to get moving. Getting the oxygen and the endorphins flowing is imperative.

7.     Give your brain something else to do. Distract it by going to the movies, sitting at a cafe and reading, talking with a friend over lunch — anything so you don’t have to think. Ruinous rumination is to be avoided at all costs. See “When the Going Gets Tough…” for more distraction techniques.

6.     Do some EFT. Emotional Freedom Techniques, that is. This can bring your mind and body out of a state of emergency and give you the ability to make better choices. If you already know EFT, great; you’re in business. If not, at some point in the future when you’re feeling better, you can teach yourself how to do it by downloading the free manual from EFT Universe or by watching videos on YouTube. Right now, this is probably beyond you, so here’s something very simple you can do:

  • On a scale of 1-10, with 10 being “suicidal” and 1 being “barely noticeable,” note the intensity level of your depression.
  • With the middle and ring fingers of your right hand, tap on the “karate chop point” of your left hand (the bottom edge of your hand when your thumb is pointing up toward the ceiling).
  • As you tap, say to yourself, “Even though my depression is bad today, I deeply and completely love and accept myself anyway.” Do this several times.
  • Switch hands, so that now you are tapping on your right hand’s karate chop point with the middle and ring fingers of your left hand. Continue saying the affirmation.
  • Take note of your intensity level now. It should have gone down by several points.

Take good care of yourself. You’re worth it (as am I). Remember: This, too, shall pass.

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

Do you know anyone who is in a depressive crisis? If so, please share this with them! It may help.

Keep striving towards peace, one baby step at a time. You're worth it!

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When the Going Gets Tough…

“When the going gets tough/ The tough get going/ When the going gets rough/ The tough get rough.” – Billy Ocean

Depression level(s): Moderate to severe.

Here’s what’s real for me right now: My writing muse must have gone on vacation because, I swear to the heavens above, I can’t think like a writer tonight. You’d think she could have given me some advance notice, like, “Hey, Patricia, you’re on your own, ‘cuz I’m heading to Cozumel for the summer. Hope your neurotransmitters are up to snuff! Yuk, yuk, yuk.” But noooo….

Absent inspiration notwithstanding, because I want to honor my commitment to post something on this blog at least once a week, preferably on Tuesdays, let me share with you what I wanted to say.

What I wanted to tell you was this: When the going gets tough, it’s okay to distract yourself in reasonably healthy–or at least non-destructive–ways. Distraction can be a godsend to pull you away from your pain and negativity for a while.

Take music, for example. I defy you to remain completely down while Billy Ocean’s “When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Get Going” is playing on your stereo. Come on, go ahead! Put it on. Don’t you just want to get up and dance? Okay, maybe you don’t really want to, but at least give yourself the opportunity. Stand up, if you can (i.e., if you have two working legs). Turn up the volume. Start moving! The song is 4:08 long; by the time it’s over, you should not only be breathing hard, but also have a smile on your face and perhaps a germinating sprout of hope in your heart.

Distraction–healthy distraction, that is (put down that package of Oreos and step away slowly, please)–is a divine gift of sorts. When you’re hurting so much in your mind and heart that you just might do yourself some harm, give yourself permission to divert your thoughts from their usual ruinous rumination to something that feels better, even if it’s just for a little while. Here are some options:

  • Movies: Go for the comedies. Norman Cousins (Anatomy of an Illness as Perceived by the Patient) famously healed his life-threatening disease by watching Marx Brothers films. Rent feel-good DVDs. Don’t be afraid to go to the movie theater by yourself. You will have nearly three hours outside of the dark and dangerous neighborhood that is your mind; it will be well worth it.
  • Books: Again, lighthearted is the theme here. There was a 2-1/2 year period when my depression was at its worst during which I simply could not read anything but the lightest of books because my cognitive processing abilities were shot. Back in high school and college, I was a romance novel addict; reading those books after I became ill with depression made me feel lonely, however, so I turned to “cozies”: mystery novels that were upbeat and funny, and not all that violent. Ask your local librarian or bookstore clerk to turn you on to some good cozy series. One of my favorites was “The Cat Who…” series, by Lilian Jackson Braun; the first book in the series is The Cat Who Could Read Backwards.
  • TV: Good TV, that is. Stay away from the gory crime dramas and stuff like “48 Hours.” You don’t want to feel worse, do you? Yeah, I know: “Good TV” is an oxymoron. Nevertheless, there’s some good stuff out there. A friend of mine who was in an abusive marriage in her younger years told me that watching M*A*S*H episodes prevented her from committing suicide. British comedies can be very funny. PBS is nearly always a safe, non-triggering alternative. Rent from Netflix or Blockbuster those titles you can’t find on the viewing schedule.
  • Music and dance: I put these two together because unless you are moving while the music’s playing, you’re going to be thinking too much. Line up a few get-up-and-boogie favorites for when the going gets really rough.
  • An outing: Any activity with a friend or by yourself. Get out of the house and out of your head.
  • Laughter yoga: Find a club near you and learn how to laugh on demand. It increases healing endorphins and helps you connect with others. You’ll be amazed at how much better you feel. Check out this laughter yoga video, in which my friend Gita Fendelman is teaching the “Ha ha ha mantra”:

So, that’s my article for this week: Not planned, not particularly well constructed, not too clever. Not even a photo. But hey, I figured out how to add a video to a blog post! Did you check it out? Didja? Huh? Huh? At any rate, it’s done. The article, I mean. I hope you got something useful out of it. Maybe you were even distracted for a little while. I hereby give it the Good Enough Seal of Approval!

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Derailed—And What to Do About It

“Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what’s going to happen next.” – Gilda Radner

For Depression Level(s): Severe depression that has somewhat resolved.

There you are, chugging more-or-less merrily—or at least functionally—along, doing your job, shopping for groceries, spending time with your friends, when—WHAM! The train of your life jumps the tracks and you find yourself laid out on the couch, severely depressed and unable to function.

Forget work. Forget doing the dishes. Forget paying your bills on time. Forget being a support to your partner or friends. Forget feeling even halfway good.

Recurring depressive episodes can stop us in our tracks.

You’ve been derailed.

Depression is once again your constant companion, for days or even weeks. Who knows why it happened? Could be you ate one too many snack-sized Häagen-Dazs ice cream bars over the last couple of weeks. Could be you misplaced the yoga schedule. Could be you forgot to take your medication or supplements. Could be Mercury is in retrograde, a butterfly sneezed in Spain, or there was a hiccup in the time-space continuum.

Could be anything. Really, the reason why depression has revisited you, like an ex-lover you thought you’d dumped but who keeps turning up on your doorstep, is not that important.

The question is: What do you do about it?

I had to ask myself that question last week when I found myself smack dab in the middle of another depressive episode. I felt exhausted, achy, and lethargic. I couldn’t focus, couldn’t do chores, and certainly couldn’t write. All I wanted to do was sleep. You know the drill.

Getting yanked back into severe depression is kind of like having a bad cold. You used to get bad colds a lot, but not so much anymore. You’ve gotten to where you enjoy life without colds—the contrast with the way things used to be evokes deep appreciation. It makes you angry that yet again you have a bad cold, with all that goes along with it. “None of this should be happening,” you think. “I’ve worked so hard to get to the point where bad colds are not such an issue anymore.” Yet, here you are. You have one. All you can do is wait it out.

But wait—that’s not quite true. Even though a bad cold cannot be “cured,” there are things you can do to speed up the healing process. We all know what they are: Drink plenty of fluids, take Vitamin C, eat chicken noodle soup, rest.

It’s the same with a depressive episode. Although you and I have both worked hard to overcome severe depression through medication and/or supplements, lifestyle changes, therapy, and the complete restructuring of our lives, brain chemistry being what it is, it’s inevitable that we will from time to time find ourselves falling back down that dark well of despair.

There are things we can do, however, to ease the severity of the episode and shorten its duration. Since I used to work for NASA, I like acronyms. They serve as useful mnemonic devices. Here is a five-step process using the acronym TRACK. The steps can be taken in any order and are ongoing; in fact, the more you do them, the more they reinforce each other.

T = Take radical care of yourself. This means eating high-quality nutrition, exercising daily, taking the meds or supplements that are part of your regimen, and getting plenty of rest.

R = Refuse to eat sugar and wheat. Both of these substances have been shown to play havoc with brain chemistry. Do yourself a favor and leave them out of your diet.

Using the TRACK process can bring back contentment and functionality.

A = Accept the situation. Although it’s natural to be angry that you are once again at the mercy of severe depression, staying angry will ensure that you stay depressed. Accept what’s happening and let go of the anger. Here is where it can be helpful to ask the assistance of your Higher Power. Say a simple prayer such as, “God, here I am again, depressed. I don’t know how I got here, and I’m powerless over it. I’m so mad. Please help me to accept this situation and let go of my anger. With your help I know it’s possible. Thank you.”

C = Connect with family and friends. It is important not to isolate during the episode. Talk to at least one friend or family member per day, either by phone or in person.

K = Keep a low profile. Reduce your current commitment level and don’t accept any new ones. Now is not the time to launch a major project at work, give a speech at Toastmasters, or have friends over for dinner. Really, if none of these things takes place this week, what’s the worst that could happen? Learning to say “no” is one of the most important skills you can develop.

With the TRACK process and a little time, you will soon be chugging merrily along in your life.

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

Did you find the TRACK process useful? If so, please leave a comment below and share your experience with others.

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