My Story Of Depression
Friday, June 3, 2016
Every once in a while, an article comes across my Facebook feed linking exercise as the cure for depression. “Pilates Cures Depression” or “Yoga Cures Depression” is guaranteed click bait for those who suffer from it. Mostly, I find these articles glib and dismissive; for one, exercise in general is often prescribed for depression so really, there is nothing specifically magical about Pilates or Yoga, although in the case of Yoga there is some evidence that certain types of yoga do indeed help (but we’ll examine why that could be later).
Other than that, a nice walk on a beautiful day will do the trick for the neurotransmitters levels, if indeed neurotransmitter imbalance is the cause of the depression.
The second reason I find these articles dismissive is that I don’t think many of the writers understand what depression is or use the term irresponsibly. You may say that you feel “depressed” because you gained an extra pound of weight; you may use the term to describe how you felt whenever a vacation you looked forward to was cancelled at the last minute but that is not depression either.
Depression can be a crippling monster. You can tell someone to get up and go for a walk but sometimes the depression sufferer just can’t. It literally hurts to move.
It can feel as if you have lead instead of blood moving through your veins.
Left untreated, chronic depression can be linked to a variety of neuromuscular conditions such as chronic fatigue and chronic pain; along with stress, it has been linked to far more serious conditions. (When The Body Says No and Childhood Disrupted are two great books on the subject).
There is a lot of argument among scientists as to whether the depression comes before or after a diagnosis of chronic pain/fatigue but my own personal story is that the depression came first.
Perhaps as a person who has been a nonstop mover since I began walking – and a dancer since the age of three – but yet was felled by depression herself, I find articles that tell me to “just get moving to chase away the blues” kind of insulting.
My experience with a crippling form of depression came after the death of my father. I will spare you the details but the circumstances around his death as well as the actual event were too much for my nervous system to handle at one time. I went through grief but eventually found my way back to my life. I thought I was okay.
Then, this “thing” happened.
I don’t remember it happening suddenly; just one day it was there – this sensation of feeling so heavy in my body that every movement elicited resistance. It scared the bejesus out of me. At first I thought I was just physically overworked and all I really needed was a few days of rest. The rest appeared to relieve the symptoms but once I got back into the rhythm of my life, the heaviness came back.
Perhaps I was still grieving, I thought. But my instincts told me differently. I was used to the aches and pains of overused muscles from a workout but the pain I felt now was completely different. It was as if my whole body was one big heavy pain container. Constant heaviness and pain were not sensations I was used to.
Something else was going on. Something new, something scary and something I was totally unsure of how to treat. More of a mystery was how did this thing come into my life and my body?
As I have done before during times of crisis, I turned deeper to meditation and journaling. I discovered three things that seemed to apply to my current situation that needed to be addressed and resolved:
1. What was the story I believed about myself?
2. Was I living according to a rigid belief system?
3. Where was I nurturing joy in my life?
1. What is your story?
Your story is your biography. We are born into families who teach us who we are. Sometimes we’ve entered into families who see us and accept us as we are. Sometimes we are not. Those of us who are not will most likely not think very highly of ourselves and feel compelled to overwork to compensate and perhaps finally be accepted. We become vulnerable to the opinions of others. It is healthier not to be.
You have the right to be who you are and to be accepted for that.
2. Am I living according to a rigid belief system?
Life is not fair, jerks sometimes get ahead, and good people die. That seems to defy all the rules, doesn’t it? There are no rules but we think there should be – so we set up rigid belief systems.
Rigid beliefs feed the delusion that we can control the flow of life. It begins innocently enough; these imposed rules seem to offer a way to avoid pain and vulnerability. Except that, in reality, they promote pain and insecurity. Hanging onto your lists of “shoulds” is just a way to stay stuck in your pain. The only constant in life is change.
Life is like an ocean and it is easier to bob and weave the waves with a flotation device rather than a concrete block.
3. What do you do to bring joy into your life?
I’m not talking about cruising around on Facebook as your extracurricular activity – I am talking about doing something spontaneous just for the fun of it. Would you even consider doing such a thing or does each thought have to go through a rationalization process to determine whether it is valuable or not?
In my most down of days, my rational brain said I should do my hardcore cardio workout (no joy, just calorie burn) instead of what I really wanted to do – just practice my dancing more (much joy, much happiness).
I also begin every day by asking for help in becoming more spontaneous in my life, which is a major thing for a control freak like me. Sometimes an idea will pop up in my head and I find myself in a fight between my rationalizing brain and my hungry heart. Creativity for the sake of being creative went up against everything I believed was a worthwhile expenditure of time. These days, I mostly give in to the hungry heart because the results have been so worth it.
Joy is the juice of life. Without that juice, we’ll dry up.
Without addressing these three items, I feel that exercise will be just a distraction and yes, sometimes distraction is enough to get you out of a funk. But a funk is not depression. Medication may change the chemical cocktail within the brain but until you change your story medication, too, will just be a band-aid. Some yoga styles encourage the practice of knowing your story and working with changing it and certainly, those styles would be part of the depression solution.
My healing process was not quick nor was it a simple, straight line. There were times that it felt like I took two steps forward and three steps back. It required an unshakeable belief that I was doing the right thing. I instinctively felt that much of what I’d tried to do in my life had failed because of the rules I’d imposed on myself, that my dad’s death was the tipping point and I had to find a new way of living if I was going to have any chance of living a good life; one that was pain-free physically, mentally or spiritually.
And I did heal. My energy is constant throughout the whole day and my body feels fit and happy – no pain or heaviness. I found my joy and lightness.
The solutions I found for myself may not work for you but I would encourage anyone suffering from this demon of depression to consider their belief systems are contributing to their pain in some way. There are many causes for depression and likewise, many pathways for treating it.