Wednesday, 27 March 2013

be gentle with yourself

I spoke with Geri for the first time in November. She has been a practicing psychiatrist for almost 20 years and is calm, friendly, empathetic, and very smart. We speak over the phone for an hour once a week and talk about life. In our first chat she gave me advice that I could feel the effects of almost immediately. She said three things:

1. Your brain needs water.  Everyone, but especially people with depression/anxiety need to drink more water. My mind was constantly running at high speed. Everyone worries, but a person with anxiety worries obsessively about the same thing over and over and over. Because your brain can't distinguish between a new stressor and the same stressor being worried about multiple times, the affects within the body are the same as if you are worrying about multiple things, when it was really just the same thing multiple times. She described it as this "heating up" the brain.  I'm not sure if that is technically what happens, but the idea nonetheless is that the brain needs water to function and the higher speed you are requiring your brain to run, the more water you need to take in. She suggested I get a water bottle and keep it with me all day and take a sip from it every time I think of it.

2. Your brain needs oxygen. The breathing of people with depression is actually more shallow than the breathing of people without! Think of how your breathing speeds up and shallows when you begin to feel panicked about something.  People with anxiety are always in a slight state of panic, therefore they are always breathing less deeply and are starving their brains of oxygen, which can cause disorganized, blurry thoughts.  Geri suggested that I conciously take deeper breaths whenever I thought of it and gave me a breathing exercise to do every morning and whenever I needed to clear my mind or needed a boost of energy. Taking some really deep breaths before a test or before a task in which you will need a clear mind can really help too!

3. Your feelings need kindness. A few years ago I read a book that talked about breaking repeating thought patterns that are damaging. The idea was simple, when you begin to have a thought that is damaging you simply conciously tell it to stop. As a person with depression I have alot of reoccuring thoughts that can be damaging.  But I noticed over the years, as I tried to change them with this technique I wasn't just telling those thought patterns to stop, I had added a scolding to the command. For example, if I started to worry about something I had said to a friend the night before and think about it obsessively until it made me sick I would say in my mind, "Stop it, idiot, don't think like that! Think about something else!"

The first time I spoke with Geri she could tell I did this just by the way I spoke with her.  I apologized for my feelings and degraded my own thoughts. She explained to me that the part of my mind that is supplying feelings and beliefs is my subconcious.  Everyones subconcious begins recording events as a small child and shapes our deepest beliefs about life.  Between the ages of 0 and 6 our minds worked mostly at a subcious level, and the subcious doesn't age much beyond that.  Later our concious mind begins to develop and, together with our subconcious beliefs, navigates how we interact with the world.

Geri explained that when I shame my feelings I am shaming my subconcious mind, and while shaming hurts anyone's feelings, my subconcious mind is like a child, it reacts like a child and can become deeply wounded and begin to feel unsafe when shamed. She explained that my subconcious mind would not allow anything to be changed while it felt threatened and that I needed to treat myself kindly. She used the analogy of a little girl knocking on my door that needed help.  Even though it wouldn't be an enjoyable situation, I wouldn't shut her out and slam the door.  I would welcome her in and ask her what was wrong.  It is the same way for our feelings. Once we understand them it is much easier to find a solution. The subconcious, afterall, is a set of beliefs you have set up about life, and its' job is to protect you.

The day after speaking with Geri I was driving to my German class.  I started feeling nervous and embarrassed about going into the class and speaking German.  Normally, I would have tried to shake it by shaming it away with a, "Stop it! It's fine, dummy, get over it!"  But this time I remembered Geri's advice. I let the feeling in, and inside my mind, I greeted it with the name my mom called me as a little girl, "Hey Meggy, it's ok.  You can feel that way."

I sat in my car and cried.  After so many years of fighting and shaming myself, that little girl in me finally felt heard and comforted. It didn't take away all of my nerves as I walked into my German class, but I walked in feeling more confident, like I had someone on my side to tell me it's ok when I'm scared: me.

Friday, 22 March 2013


Off and on since my early teen years I've suffered with consuming feelings of sadness. It is painful, of course, but it can also be exhaustingly confusing. My husband usually sees it coming before I do.

One evening last fall, he brought it up as we laid in bed. "Winter is coming," he said,"It's going to start getting darker earlier, do you want to try and get something to help you before it gets too dark?"

"What do you mean?" I asked, defensive.

"Nothing, it's just, you seem to get sad in the Winter, I'm just saying if you want to try and get some help, I support you. I can call the doctor if you want."

The thing about sinking into depression is that I don't recognize it right away.  It's tricky.  The sadness feels completely justified and something inside me fights to keep it around. It feels like I need it and its strength cannot be weakened by logic. If I'm trudging through dark days and cannot pinpoint a real reason for the darkness, I know I have sunk. A typical thought process goes like this:

I feel sad.I just can't, it's just not going to get better. It's just so hopeless. What's wrong?  What happened? What was that that was making me sad? I was worried about something, what was that? The kids are at school... should they be away from me?  It's ok, no, it's ok, they have to go.  I don't want to go shopping, is that why I have this feeling? Well, I don't want to go...  What was that thing I was worried about? I'm worried, I feel scared. I can't do all this stuff I have to do. It's too much.

Before I recognize my sadness as depression, it is a very confusing to be consumed by this deep, dark sadness, and have no justification for it. In the first few years of our marriage I would attach my misery to the first thing that popped into my head after trying to locate a reason for my feeling, something my husband said, the way my son looked at me, or a converstaion. It worked the same way for guilt.  My whole self would be consumed with hopeless feelings of guilt, I felt as if nothing I did was right and that I was deeply hurting everyone around me that I cared about.  When I couldn't remember an actual experience that took place to cause these feelings, I would pick anything I did that day and make mentals lists about why I should feel bad about it.  With depression, the feeling always comes first and then I search for evidence to justify the feeling, making it up and often stretching logic.

"Do I seem sad?" I asked my husband after a long pause.

"You just look tired and I can see when you're stuck in your head," he explained,"I just thought, maybe you'd want to get something this time, before it got too bad."

Two weeks later we were sitting in two cold chairs in the large exam room of my doctor's office. I began to sob before anyone even started speaking.

"What can I help you with?" my doctor asked, calmly.

"I just feel sad," I cried, "I just feel nervous, and embarrassed, and sad, and I don't know why."

My doctor sat patiently mumbling ,"mm hm, mm hm," and typing notes into his computer as I answered his questions. At the end of our consultation he spoke, "I don't think this is going to go away on it's own," he said,"it sounds like it is something you might be dealing with for your whole life. I can give you  medication, but I think you should talk to someone too. If this is going to be a long term difficulty, you should have some other ways to battle it."

I took my prescription and walked home with my husband by my side, still sobbing from embarassment, "It's going to be ok," he assured me,"You're going to feel better, you're just sick, sometimes people get sick. I think it will be good for you to take the medicine and talk to someone if you want to. If you want I will call for you."