Depression . . .
It's a dark cloud that creeps up without you noticing until one day, you simply don't want to get out of bed, don't want to face the day, don't want to think any longer.
You look for ways to dull the pain, through medication, self-medication, distractions or entertainment - anything to stop the mind from dwelling on your failures and inadequacies, all the wrong choices you've made and people you've let down.
It's an unhappy place I've spent a lot of time in of late, not helped by being removed from my support networks, both physically through relocating to a new country and virtually by having no computer access outside of work. It reduced me to a shell of myself, neglecting friendships (sorry Tania and others), enduring my life rather than living it, losing my voice - all the while beating up on myself for being so weak, so self-absorbed to feel so sad when I have so much more than so many.
Thankfully, I am stubborn, even when depressed, and, as a survivor of a loved one's suicide, hold that as an absolute prohibition. So the morning I spent considering how to painlessly and conveniently end my life (not as easy as one might think, when one really thinks about it), was an all-bells alarm that I needed to deal with this.
I tried to access counseling, but finding the right person to talk to is difficult enough without adding in the cultural and language differences I face in another country. I tried to make friends but that's not easy when you feel you have nothing to offer and can't understand why anyone would want to be your friend. Fortunately, I have friends as stubborn as me who don't put up with that and who kept reminding me I am my own worst critic (as many of us are).
But, while doing these things, I also reverted to something I learned as an awkward, shy, constantly scared child - that if you act as if you're confident for long enough, you eventually gain confidence. So I tried doing the things that happy people do, in the hope some happiness would rub off.
And I found, as I often do, that the universe is waiting with gifts and life lessons when we take the time to listen.
My happy list was fairly simple, as most profound things are.
Looking after myself was top of the list. Good food wasn't a problem - I have long been a believer in that - but a drastic cutback on alcohol was definitely in order, particularly when I was using it as a way to avoid thinking or feeling.
Mindfulness was another - allowing myself to feel bad about bad things, but not allowing them to make me feel I was bad. Taking the time and focus to experience each day, good and bad, rather than simply getting through it.
Gratitude was intellectually easy, as I have traveled and seen enough of poverty and despair to realize how rich my life is, but being thankful in my head and my heart were two different things. But, like confidence, the more I practiced gratitude, the more real it felt. I've advised a young friend to make a list each day of what he has to be thankful for - I took my own advice and have started to feel truly thankful.
In with looking after myself was to exercise - something I've always tried to do but a habit I lost in the past year or so, which not coincidentally was when I started on my downward slope to depression. Having gotten back on track with that, I find myself working out not solely to lose/maintain weight as has long been my main reason, but because it makes me feel good. I've always wondered about the runner's high people talk about but have realized it's simply a result of letting our bodies do what they were designed to do, which is not sitting at a desk for upwards of eight hours a day.
As I said, the universe was waiting with tools to help me, when I became ready. A neighbor left the schedule to a yoga studio she had started attending and I joined, and now spend at least one class a week challenging my flexibility while calming my mind and feel blissed out afterward. The practice also makes me more aware of my body - how I sit, stand walk, what I feed it, how I relax. I'm eager to go to each class, and feel great for doing so.
I joined a gym and found the hardest exercise is stepping out my door to go there or finding time to do so. But I'm doing both. Again, it has made me more aware of this amazing machine of muscle and tissue I live in, and how what I ingest matters. It's much more tempting to drink chamomile tea after work than a glass of wine when I know I want to work out the next morning, and much more pleasant to do so. Having noticed the effect regular exercise was having on my mood (I found myself singing to myself last week, something I hadn't noticed I had stopped doing until I started again), I then found this TED talk by clinical neuroscientist Steve Ilardi, in which he states that 30 minutes of brisk walking three times a week has proved to be as effective as taking anti-depressants, while also enhancing cognitive functions. (Scary stats from the talk - one in five Americans takes a psychiatric drug every day, there has been a 300 percent increase in anti-depressant use in the last 20 years.)
I also, through my yoga studio, met a Chinese medicine practitioner I interviewed for an article (coming) who was leading a workshop on aligning the head and heart and sees herself as a seeker of happiness. (She has just released a book if anyone is interested in learning more, and I'll link my article when it is published.) I'm reading the book, in e-mail correspondence with the writer and learning from her experiences.
I'm not Miss Happy, by any means, but am definitely back to seeing the positive in life, not the drudgery. And I'm finding my voice again . . .