Friday, May 16, 2014

Talking about depression

I've decided to write a blog post about depression, as this is something I experience fairly regularly, but rarely talk about openly. I think a lot of people do the same thing, talk when they're happy and don't talk when they're not, so it's not a topic blogged or talked about much.

However at any point in time, someone close to you is likely experiencing some level of depression or anxiety, they may just be good at hiding it. My partner is now 'coming around' after a prolonged period of depression. I should point out he would probably deny this, however his symptoms of reduced sleep and appetite and extreme apathy and introversion argue otherwise.

Likewise my father is currently going through a prolonged period of depression and a close friend is also experiencing symptoms of post-natal depression. Because my friends know I have had depression in the past, the women in my life are more likely to open up and share their experiences with me. However men find it much harder talking about their symptoms.

There are multiple reasons for this including the cultural barrier (especially in Australia but also in many other countries) where men are taught not to talk about their feelings, so shy away from emotional topics. Similarly, men are taught not to show their vulnerabilities so have (a) no desire and (b) no method of talking about their experiences.

Although my thoughts may become bleak I have found that presence in the moment is very helpful in keeping the dark thoughts from developing into suicidal thoughts. That's because we can become overwhelmed by our memories of the past, or fears and anxieties about the future, but things are usually OK in the present moment.

If things are not OK in the present moment, because we are grieving (or similar) then just remember that this period is temporary, it will pass. We will not feel like this forever, or even for a long time (although it may feel that way).

If it is memory of the past or fear/anxiety about the future making you depressed, come back to the present moment. Feel your feet on the floor, wiggle your toes. Your mind can be anywhere but your body is always in the present, so focus the mind on the body. Feel your breath enter your nostrils and your stomach rise and fall. This is the present.

You can do this at work, at home, on the bus or even on the toilet! Take notice of tension in your body, and your body posture. Are your arms or legs crossed? Uncross them. Is there tension in your jaw, stomach or shoulders? Relax them. Take a few deep breaths, and move forward with your day.

The longer you have been depressed, the more those neural networks in your brain will have a clear path to fire those same depressed thoughts at you. It's a cycle. So when you interrupt a 'dark' thought by bringing your focus to the present, you create a new path. Your mind WILL wander back to those same old thoughts, but when you are aware of it, bring your focus back to the present, and you make that new path a little wider.

This practice is called mindfulness and it's an ongoing process. When you become aware of your thoughts, bring your focus back to the present. Over and over again. Soon the new neural network path in your brain is clear and wide enough that you can pick up on your depressive thought AS IT ARISES, and you won't be taken down that depressing mental path so far. 

So although I still get depressed and overwhelmed sometimes, I am able to control my reaction to these thoughts by awareness of their presence, and I NEVER feel as bad as I used to, as things in the present are never that bad.

If you are experiencing depression or suicidal thoughts, please talk to someone about it today. The practice of mindfulness will help, however you are not alone and there are organisations you can talk to for free, if you can't talk to someone you know about it.
In Australia: or call LifeLine on 13 11 14

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