Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Homemade anti-depression recipe

“If you don't think your anxiety, depression, sadness and stress impact your physical health, think again. All of these emotions trigger chemical reactions in your body, which can lead to inflammation and a weakened immune system. Learn how to cope, sweet friend. There will always be dark days.” — Kris Carr, New York Times and #1 Amazon best-selling author, wellness activist and cancer survivor

I'M CONCERNED about a friend who's been overtaken by a bout of depression. Been there, done that. So I thought I'd put together a list of aids based on personal experience, some tangible, others just ways of reframing the experience, that I've found helpful. 

Let me preface this list of coping mechanisms and work-arounds by saying that sharing them with you in no way do discounts or minimizes the need for medication or other intervention as needed. These are just a few preventatives that I've found help me.

Depression is a tricky beast: first you feel bad — which is miserable enough, but then you start feeling bad for feeling bad, scolding and blaming yourself, which of course only makes you feel worse . . . and worse . . . and worse. It's the very definition of a vicious cycle. At least that's how it is for me, and it's decidedly counterproductive. So when I find myself beginning to struggle, I've discovered that it helps if I think about how I'm feeling in the same way I would if I came down with a bad cold.

When a cold or flu catches up with me, I don't berate or castigate myself. I think, "Oh dear, I've come down with a bad cold!" I don't judge myself for it. Instead I hunker down with the knowledge that now that this circumstance has befallen me, there are certain things I need to do to take care of myself and get over it.

Reframing the way I think about being depressed in the same neutral, nonjudgmental way I think about being sick also helps me remember that, just as a cold comes and goes, so will this current unhappy mental state. I was happy before it came over me; it may take a little awhile to recover, but I'll be happy again when it leaves.

Viewing this mental cold as an applied condition, something that's happening to me instead of being the essence of who I am, helps me separate a way I feel from who I am. It's an important distinction.

The goal is to keep my thinking as healthy as I can while my feeling is broken. That's the tricky thing about depression: the part of you that's not feeling well is how — as in the manner and, literally, the process — of feeling. 

There's a feedback loop between thinking and feeling, of course, and when I'm depressed that loop is contaminated, so my rule is to never believe anything my depressed feelings are telling me. You wouldn't expect yourself to do push ups or bench press with two broken arms. Likewise, when my feeling is broken and contaminating my thinking, I know not to ask too much of myself for awhile and avoid making any important decisions, drastic changes or big moves because I know I don't have the wherewithal to do it. I just keep myself and my life in a holding pattern until my mental flu leaves. I put the car in neutral.

Here's another thing about having a really bad cold or the flu: if you'd never experienced it before in your life, and nobody ever advised you as to what to expect, the first time you got sick, you could easily think that you're going to die — because it feels like you will. I've probably had the flu fifty times in my life, yet almost without fail I still say to Paul, "Lucky I know I'm not going to die from this because otherwise I'd be thinking I am." That's how much sway how we feel can have over what we know.

In the midst of depression, it's even harder to remember that we won't die because we feel even more acutely as though we are — or want to. Once again, the translation to having the flu helps remind me that although the mental flu I've come down with is extremely painful, it's not fatal, or at least it won't be if I take care of myself. It's a thing that has entered my life and my person and will leave. I just have to wait it out and do those things that I've learned from experience will ease the pain and speed up recovery.

I listened to the head of Broadlawns Hospital speak at Rotary once, and on the topic of mental health and depression he said there are two things that will always help depression: physical exercise and doing something kind for someone else. I've read the same prescription in various sources; both things increase endorphins.

In the last few years, I've been negligent about exercising — how I fell off my steady routine is a story for another time — but I can honestly say there's never been a time that exercising hasn't made me feel happier, mentally clearer and more at peace afterward than I did before; so get your body moving. I know from experience that you won't feel like doing it, but do it anyway.

Doing something thoughtful for someone else always helps me feel better. Always. I'm spit-balling here, but I'd say it's because it redirects a person's focus from looking inward to looking outward. It gets me out of my own head and helps me see beyond myself . . . sort of happiness by proxy.

Sex wasn't on the the Broadlawns list, but I'm adding it for the same reason as the other two: it increases endorphin levels. Only participate, of course, with a safe person in a safe place in a safe way.

And last, but certainly not least, is this: in general, be as gentle, loving and solicitous to yourself as would to be to, let's say, a much-loved child. Try to mentally step away from yourself and view yourself as someone who you can tell is suffering, and be as kind to you as you would be to that other person. If someone you cherish told you that he or she were in anguish, you wouldn't berate or criticize; you'd offer sympathy and comfort. Do that for yourself now.

In consideration of this last suggestion, below is a list of little kindnesses to pay yourself to help ease the pain until the sun shines in your soul once again. Some of them are woman-oriented because they're from my personal experience.

1) Ask yourself if there is anything you want right this moment . . . anything at all. When I'm depressed, I'm unable to think of big things — actually I'm barely able to think at all because it hurts too much — but there is often some little, immediate thing I can name if I consciously ask myself. It might be, "I want an ice cream bar" or "I want a foot rub." Any little thing that sounds appealing and isn't harmful. Get it, or have someone get it for you.

2) Go for a walk. Get outside and look at the clouds and grass and trees — and breathe. Exercise is a depression reliever, but so is partaking of the natural world. Looking at, literally, the big picture helps put what I'm feeling into perspective. It reminds me that I'm, metaphorically speaking, a blade of grass in the Universe. I have my place in it, but I don't have to try to take care of everything else that's in it. All I have to be is the blade of grass I am.

3) If you're like me, there's a running list in your head all the time of things that need doing. Paul has learned, as have I, that when I'm down, I will usually start on the road to recovery at least a little if I get something done. For me it's painting something, clearing out clutter, thoroughly cleaning a neglected area of the house or yard or some other visible improvement. Creating order in my surroundings seems to help quiet the disorder in my head, visible forward progress reassures me that improvement is possible and removing something from that infernal list ramps down the level of internal pressure.

4) Snuggle with your kitty or doggie. If you don't have a pet, consider adopting one, but of course only if you're ready for a life-long partnership. There's nothing like the nonjudgmental, unconditional acceptance of a pet. I know two men personally who manage depression and ADD because they each have a faithful, well-trained dog. We've all heard stories on the news about combat veterans who are able keep the wheels on the wagon with the help of an animal companion. Their purring or tail-wagging, warm little bodies are physically comforting, not just emotionally so. 

5) Make yourself some comfort food. Is there something your mom (or whoever) used to make you when you were sick that made you feel better? Better yet, have someone else make it for you. If you don't have someone who can do that, order it in. Jello? Chicken soup? Mac and cheese? Anything that makes you feel taken care of.

6) Take a long bath. Put something nice smelling in the water and soak. The warmth of the water and the aroma will soothe and relax you. Put on some calming (but not sad!) music before you get in. 

7) Make amends to someone you feel is owed it. When I get depressed, I can't remember anything good I've done in my entire life, but every mistake I've ever made stands out in bold relief. If there's someone I owe an apology to, it helps me feel like I've tidied up my corner of the world a little bit if I make that apology.

8) Similarly, if there's someone you've neglected to thank for kindness or service rendered, send them a note to thank them no matter how belated it may be. It seems to lift a little weight off my shoulders when a debt has been acknowledged and repaid.

9) Get a manicure, pedicure, massage or get your hair done. Better yet, do all four. Being touched in a kind, attentive way can be therapeutic.

10) Invest in an object of exceptional beauty. There are three items: a painting, a glass sculpture and a Victorian chest of drawers in our bedroom that I purchased simply because they're beautiful. When I feel bad, I find myself staring at those three things, not intentionally, but instinctively. It's one little place in my world where everything is exactly perfect, and I find that flawlessness palliative. I remember a particular incidence before I married Paul when I felt like life held nothing for me. As I lay there speculating about who was going to get my stuff when I was dead, I couldn't think of anyone who would adequately appreciate my gracefully carved dresser as much as I do, and that roused me enough to think, "Well, that's it. I certainly don't want (fill in the blank) getting this dresser! I'd better pull myself up and out of this." It wasn't an easy feat, but my prized dresser was the beginning of my resolve.

The painting in our bedroom.

11) Here's something you have to provide for yourself in advance, but I've found it to be healing; put framed pictures of yourself as a baby and as a child around your house. Practice looking at those pictures in a loving way, in the same way you would if you saw a picture of a sweet baby at someone else's house. You'd think, "Oh, what a cute, little baby." Do that with pictures of little you. Many of us grow up feeling unloved — or worse, unlovable — and it takes practice to get that bad message out of your head. When you're feeling terrible, remind yourself when you see those pictures of you, that you're as lovable and sweet as the children in pictures at other people's houses.

12) Crank up some upbeat music. Steve (he's Stevie to me) Winwood's Roll with It and Higher Love are particular favorites. When you're depressed, you feel devoid of energy. Blasting some heavy backbeat, energetic music helps me get up and move around.

13) If you have someone who loves you enough to let you complain, and who gets it that what you need to hear from them right now is active, empathetic listening, not their stories or advice — call that person up and complain. It's not as though your life story or what's hurting you at the moment is the worst thing that's ever happened to anyone ever; you know that, but it feels awful — and for me, it helps to complain. To my way of thinking, it's kinda like having to pee; you just gotta get it out of your system. So complain and complain and complain, and don't judge yourself for it.

14) Get into bed in your nicest, cuddliest PJs and read a thriller-diller mystery. You don't need heartfelt stories, right now. You need a page-turner that's so exciting that you're completely distracted from how bad you feel.

15) Put together a jigsaw puzzle or work on some other hobby that takes extreme concentration. It's another way to forget about feeling bad. 

16) Download a favorite audio book, pop in your earbuds and let someone read you to sleep. Or even better, have the person who loves you read to you. You can drift off to a soothing voice.

17) Keep away from people who get on your nerves or talk too much or are dismissive of you. Avoid them like the plague!! And for goodness sake, don't listen to anyone who tries to tell you how you should or shouldn't feel. They aren't in your shoes. 

I'm hoping some of these home remedies might prove helpful. Hang in there. Take care of yourself. The sun will come out again, I promise.



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