Monday, May 18, 2009

The Day to Day of Depression: Story as Garden & Me as Gardener

The chard plants in this picture will soon have to be thinned; there are too many of them, and with thinning, with choosing, I will strengthen the plants left behind.

Choices lead to strength, my garden teaches me every day. What branch I prune, what plant I pull, what plant I move, which tree is put where...all of these little choices that I have to make so that our gardens grow lustily lush and give us food and beauty.

My life responds to the same kind of choosing, but it is on a larger, more bravery-necessary kind of level.

After the last post on overcoming depression, some people have requested that I write about how I do this on a day to day basis now that a lot of my bigger, deeper, slower work is done.

If the story of my life is an internal garden that I must tend in order to uncover/recover/discover my essential nature and health and well being, then how I care for this garden on a day to day basis is with a shed full of tools.

I prefer hand tools. I don't like gas spewing anything (not even a car -- so why a lawnmower?). I don't like motor driven tools because they feel so harsh, so inorganic. I don't like to hire any kind of service; I don't want someone else working in my garden.

I want to get dirty and I want to feel a little sore. I like to know that I have done something to earn that beautiful asparagus on my plate.

It's the same with my internal garden. As I mentioned in that previous post, I have done this without medication (luckily, I could and this choice or way is not everyone's). I have not sought professional help of any kind.

Before I tell you what has worked for me, let me say that the number one component is commitment to this path. You have to make choices about your life. You have to decide that this work counts more than anything else. If you can't decide that, then more "mainstream" methods might be necessary.

This has to take precedence. This does not mean you are not living a life; it just means there are no more excuses left.

So here is what has helped me:

Relationship: I would say to people that Marcy is the reason I am better, but one day someone corrected me in a way that made sense. He said that Marcy may be helpful but I have to do the work and also, that I was smart enough/aware enough/awake enough to pick Marcy to begin with. Yes. If your partner does not support the work you are trying to do, then you have the wrong partner. Period.

Many of our problems are coming from a lack of unconditional love in our lives; do not continue being your own abuser by staying with someone who puts conditions on what parts of you they can accept and deal with.

Your partner must love every part, every day. That's what unconditional is. (This does not mean it's not hard or there aren't days when it feels impossible.)

My journal. As I have mentioned, I have filled about 25 journals over the past 8 or 9 years. This, of course, is a key way to record and explore your story.

There will be things you do not wish to commit to paper. I understand that, believe me. First of all, I would suggest that you keep trying until you can. Second, remember that you can BURN this. Third, once it's written down, make sure to share your writing with your partner/witness.

And no matter how many times you have to keep writing the same story, keep writing it. It may take once; it may take one hundred times; you may never finish needing to go over a particular story...this is okay. You are allowed. Give yourself permission.

But...the most important aspect of journaling your stories is to go one step beyond the telling of the stories themselves: Connect what that story means to you with how you feel and live today. Deconstruct it until you understand something new about how you feel and why.

A great and helpful book is Writing as a Way to Heal.

I try to write in my paper journal just about every day to this day. Lately, to focus myself a bit more and to move away from treating it too much like a light diary, I write "What is on my mind right now?" and then see what comes up.

Yoga. One of the results of my depression and anxiety was a total disconnect between my body and my mind, my heart and my head. Yoga works on this. In particular, there has been nothing like Kundalini Yoga for me in terms of emotional healing. Other yoga was good for decreasing stress and creating more centered calm, but for the emotional stuff, there is nothing like KY. If you've never done it, please try. (There is an Amazon widget in the side bar specifically for people new to KY.)

I do yoga twice a day now. I start my morning with about 15 minutes of restorative yoga so that I don't just dive in head first and forget myself. I do a large dose of KY at around 4.

When I'm not doing yoga, I fall back into patterns of disconnect. Yoga is absolutely vital to my health. I cannot ever stop doing it. (And there are no nasty side effects.)

Good eats. This might seem silly (or maybe not), but eating well can mean the difference between really good days and really bad days. As I get mentally healthier, I notice food's effects on me more and more. I am gluten free and mostly grain free, because I realized that those foods make me feel sluggish which I then mistake for the onset of depression. Dangerous. I am now noticing that too much sugar makes me feel anxiety ridden and distracted, which also can be mistaken for the onset of a depressive episode.

I must keep my main tool in this life sharpened and at the ready -- and that is my BodyMind.

Prayer. This one is relatively new for me, though I have been doing yoga for about 14 years and know that that is a form of prayer. More formalized prayer entered my life about 2 years ago and I have been committed ever since.

Whether you do the rosary or sit in stillness meditation, everyday prayer is vital to remembering that you are part of something larger, that you are not alone, that all is not darkness, that there is light and kindness and love in this world and that you are swimming in it at all times.

Creativity. Beyond journaling, I find that I am my most healthy when I am working diligently on a creative writing project. And beyond blogging. I feel better when I edit chapters of my novel or when I write a new poem or when I sketch out an idea for a new book altogether. I am a writer and so I must write to be healthy.

And that is really the point isn't it? We overcome this depression and then we figure out who we were really meant to be and then we must act on that -- daily.

Fun. Yes. This one is easy to overlook when you are standing in the middle of a very weedy and overgrown plot and want nothing more than to dig it all up and start over. But just a step or two a day is enough.

We must remember to have fun. For me that is watching a great movie, listening to music, taking a bike ride, taking photographs, laughing with Marcy, playing with cats and a rabbit.

Every day. A little fun. Do it.

Nature. Vitamin D is so important to our health and we have become so frightened of the sun and so sedentary and so encased in cars and houses that we don't get it the natural way. But we should.

Get outside. Every day. Even in bad weather. A blizzard, a rainstorm, any kind of weather is now walkable by me. And I am a princess about this stuff; what's your excuse?

So this is my list.

This is my life.

This is my health.

Every day. If you noticed, that is the recurring theme: every day.

Every day from here on out. When I am lax, I slip. When I eliminate things, I slip. I cannot let up. Each and every day is as important as the last.

If you were on meds, they would tell you to never skip.

And that's what I'm telling you about this natural way: you can't ever skip.

Though each of these things is my "medicine," they are each also my joys. My list and your list and her list and his list -- each and every one of them should be different because we are all different and getting better is all about finding your own, joyful way.

(Photo Credits: Christine Reed, Chard Babies & Pink Azalea button, 2009)


Emma said...

Thank you for sharing some more of your gardening techniques! :) It's very interesting.

I like your *every day* emphasis. It's not just doing emergency treatment. It's creating a new life.

Lauren said...

What a wonderful post. Thank you so much for sharing! I too need to remember the things I need to do every day to stay mentally and physically healthy.

Stacy said...

Thank you for the post.

Kavindra said...

As one of the requesters, I especially thank you.

It is funny because much of this I already know and incorporate, but I really like having it reinforced in writing by someone I respect, and in font with different bright colors for emphasis.

I have journals and journals where I have very similar lists as reminders ... and yet it is this list I am printing out and taping to the fridge.

I love your comparison to taking meds every day - which I do indeed do, and which keep me able to meditate, exercise, get outdoors, connect with others and nature. But it is those daily things in addition to the meds that help me go from "ok" to fulfilled and engaged and even generally content.

You have a lovely and direct way of saying things. Thanks Christine.

hmmbrd said...

Glorious post! I see underneath the every day commitment is compassion for yourself. You are worth it, i am worth it, we are worth it. How can we love others deeply and well if we don't love ourselves deeply and well? i am on this same path- the hardest thing has been to open up to kindness, love, compassion. It seems more frightening than the harmful opposites, oddly. I think it is because i knew how to 'do' harmful... the kindness is disarming and new. so worth it tho!! thanks again for taking the time to share your life.

Laurie Foley said...

Your list makes a good wish list. I wish it for everyone I know, including me. Thanks for another wonderful post.

Emma said...

I am new to your blog. Thank you Gianna! I have thought so much about your last two posts, and your garden analogy was so lovely. Spoke volumes to me, perhaps because I respond to the descriptions and imagery. Thank you so much.

Bohemian Single Mom said...

I am so glad you have shared these fabulous tidbits of empowerment!
I love my yoga and do notice the difference when I slack off.
Great post!!

mommymystic said...

Thank you so much for sharing this. I am wondering why you think kundalini yoga in particular is so helpful for depression? Had you done other forms before? I do not have a dedicated kundalini yoga practice, although I have taken some classes, BUT I have done chakra meditation for years, and it comes from the same historical teachings. And I have had the same experience, both for myself and others, but we have all been women. So I have this theory regarding the 2nd chakra in women. I think many problems that are disproportionately present in women today (such as depression, and anxiety also from what I have read) are partly exacerbated by 2nd chakra issues that are rampant in our society because of the long-term social yin/yang imbalance.
Ok, that was a bit much to discuss in a comment perhaps, but I am seeking any and all opinions on this matter, so if you have any thoughts on it, please share...

mommymystic said...

Just re-read my comment and realized I left out my actual theory, which is that kundalini-based methods, either yoga or meditation, are particularly effective for women suffering from depression and/or anxiety because they pull blocked energy through the 2nd chakra in particular, something other yoga techniques do not necessarily do.

tinkerbell the bipolar faery said...

A great list. Creativity is a release ... I also found that practicing the art of mindfulness helps immensely. There are things I must do every day ~ for instance photograhy. And each of us has these things. And commit to themselves continue every day. Like medicine, or as part of one's medication regime.

I like to think of mood disorders as synonomous to diabetes. It's about taking steps to find your balance. And not just at crisis times. But, each day ~ the idea being to avoid the crises from developing!

svasti said...

What an excellent framework. I think I have some of this in place, but not all. And I'm definitely missing the 'every day' bit. Which I'm sure, is what keeps the ups and downs at bay. More food for thought...

Brooks Hall said...

Wow, what a great resource your blog is! Very good.