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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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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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