What IS The Black Dog of Depression?

Ah, metaphors. Without them, we’d be adrift in a landscape of cement without an actual tree or honest-to-goodness purple unicorn to disrupt our perspective. Sounds boring and harsh, doesn’t it?

The main problem with metaphor or simile or hyperbole is that other people may not have any clue what creative types are talking about.

If you have been hanging around people who describe Depression, you may have been feeling this very thing about The Black Dog. What is this dark canine? Where did he come from? Why a dog?

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The Black Dog is a description for Depression. He is the faithful animal that will not be trained, a dark and hulking shadow to our lives. Much betters writers than I have who have done better research than I say that associating negative feelings with a gloomy, unwanted creature has been happening for a very long time.

The most popular attribution is given to Winston Churchill. Annoyingly, writers say things like, “Churchill often cited ‘a black dog,'” or, “Churchill referenced ‘a black dog…'” In trying to pin down an actual quote, I found this snippet about a new German doctor Churchill had seen, from The Churchills, by Mary S. Lovell:

I think this man might be useful to me – if my black dog returns. He seems quite away from me now – it is such a relief. All the colours come back into the picture.

But The Black Dog has been around since long before Churchill. Think of stories like The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, or centuries of fireside folktales about hellhounds in British tradition. J. K. Rowling even used these to describe her characters’ fears of The Grim in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.

The Black Dog has been around for a while, mostly in association with an omen of bad tidings.

One of the best methods of explaining the old rascal is in a video released by The World Health Organization:

I love so many things about the video, but a favorite line of mine is:

Depression is an equal-opportunity mongrel.

Some animal lovers out there may feel a big defensive on behalf of dogs. Most dogs are lovable, goofy idiots whose main goal in life is to get you to dote on them. Not like those cats…

Given the history of the metaphor’s use, the name makes sense. Man has long used dog as a companion, hunter, guard, and helper. In sensing a creature to be ever-present, even at the foot of our own beds, the idea of this foreboding creature being a dog is not so far-fetched.

The most important question to ask, however, is not one of the three I posed earlier concerning its history. It is How do I deal with my own black dog?

At the end of the video I included are a few very simple pieces of advice. Therapy is number one. Medication, exercise, sleep, journaling, and talking openly with friends are all mentioned.

Hmmm… those sound a lot like the tips we’ve discussed in my Cure for Depression series.

We can learn to live with Depression in a positive way. We can leash our shadow, diminish his presence, and even be rid of him altogether some days. As Matthew Johnstone says near the end of his video:

I learnt not to be afraid of the black dog, and I taught him a few new tricks of my own.

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Living with Depression is not easy, but it can be easier.

If you’re not certain whether you have depressive symptoms, The Black Dog Institute of Australia has a basic quiz online. Whether you fill it out or not, I recommend that anyone who wonders ought to get in to see a counselor.

Life has happy moments, too. Don’t let your black dog or purple unicorn stand in front of your view. And that’s something worth fighting for.

The Cure for Depression: Never Give Up, Never Surrender

Hello, there! Feeling depressed? I’m here to offer you a little encouragement.

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Perhaps you are familiar with James Edgar Skye’s favorite life maxim: Keep fighting.

What does that mean, exactly? Is he encouraging site visitors to violence? I’m sure you all know that’s not the answer. Despite your astute intelligence, however, do you keep fighting?

Or, are you in my preferred category of fence-sitting numbness?

Worse yet, are you all alone, hiding from everything except the dark recesses of your mind?

That is no way to fight.

Don’t roll your eyes at me; you’re the one practicing bad habits. …Yes, I intend to get dressed and eat something besides these cookies. Yes, I’m wearing exercise clothes because I’m going to do something more aerobic than climb the step stool to reach another package of cookies.

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Hmm. Maybe we both need to step up our game.

Way back in May of this year I revealed the most secret of secrets: The Cure for Depression. Over the next few, heavily-procrastinated months I then discussed the secret steps involved.

In fact, last time I wrote about figuring out what’s helping and sticking with it.

Are you still not trying any of these?

Again, that’s no way to fight.

Fight is an action verb, and not one like “yawn,” or “scratch.” Think about what you picture when someone says, “Fight.” It’s not a person laying amidst packages of desserts, feebly raising a hand to scroll through this article and resolve to think about trying something tomorrow.

It’s pride.

It’s power.

It’s a bad-ass mother who won’t take no crap off of nobody!!!

The “nobody” we depressive types need to address is most often ourselves.

Think of how you would get ready for a physical fight. Besides psyching yourself up with a little mirror speech (which, by the way, is like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy), you place your feet and hands in a defensive stance. Given time to prepare, you might wear protective clothing, train with a professional, and bring something besides air to smack the enemy with.

D’ya see the correlation? Your daily, healthy practices arm you for the fight against depression -a fight with your own, flawed mind.

It’s a battle we face every day, but one that is easier if we’re prepared. After following the recommended steps, that battle doesn’t even happen some days. Isn’t that worth fighting for?

Yes, it is. Now, get out there. Keep fighting.

Never give up. Never surrender.

Photo credits:
Whitney Wright
And Giphy.

The Cure for Depression: Meditate, Pray, Journal, etc.

Welcome to suggestion #12 on curing depression. I’ve got a word for you fellow depressors: Mindfulness.

Have you heard that one lately? I don’t even social media that much since realizing it contributed an unhealthy amount to my negative self-image and my -sorry; rambling. I don’t get around much, and even I saw that word everywhere.

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I think it means being full of yourself, right?

Mindfulness is meant to be synonymous with introspection, self-awareness, inner peace, and self-acceptance. It’s a calming state of mind similar to where one gets with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, but with more calming and less control.

In fact, CBT is the more-chosen recommendation of professionals at the moment. We mental types can get a little crazy when we meditate incorrectly. Who knew?

Anyway…. why practice mindfulness?

A calm mindset in which we have learned to meet and release negative situations and impulses is very beneficial. This mindset reduces stress, keeps us healthier physically, tends to decrease depressive thoughts, helps when we feel bullied or belittled, improves learning, and gives us a general resilience to negative life situations.

Sounds great, right?

Let’s get some stretch pants on, then, and get ready to lotus right into it. Here are the top ways to get yourself mindful:

  1. Meditation.
    Set aside just a few minutes around the same time each day for a little calm introspection. Yes, you can sit cross-legged and hum if it’ll make you laugh. Then, you’ll need to get a tad serious for any inner peace type moments. I also recommend calm music and limited distractions.
    A very important warning I found online is that meditation can have a dark side. If you’re going to look into yourself, do it with guidance (like with the directions of a psychologist). If you’re extremely depressive and want to go 24 hours into deep meditative prayer, get professional instruction first. I have many addictive habits and negative thoughts, so learning that we can actually go a bit haywire delving into our psychosis didn’t surprise me all that much.
    A peaceful reconnection with ourselves for a few simple minutes each day, however, is great.
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  2. Prayer
    I grew up in an organized religion that I am still a part of. We were taught to pray daily. From this, I know both the positive sides (divine help, meditative benefits, divine worth, etc.) and the negative ones (anxiety, trust issues, etc.).
    Thing is, I’ve been reading about a lot of non-religious people finding some suspiciously-religious results from their definition of praying. Elizabeth Gilbert wrote in Eat, Pray, Love about writing to herself in a journal but that it wasn’t herself who answered. Whilst binge-listening to TED Talks, I heard a woman describe coincidental inspirational thoughts and events that led her to positive directions in her life.
    Prayer can work. Perhaps like the meditation, do it in a small, beneficial amounts -maybe even with guidance.
  3. Journaling
    “But, I’m not a writer…” “But, someone might see….” “But, but..” as your grandmother might say, “Buts belong in ashtrays, sonny!” Who cares about your skill as a writer? Just burn the journals when you’re done if you want. Journaling is for YOU.
    Despite the technically-advanced society we live in, consider an actual journal with actual paper and pencil or pen. We’re still very primal and tactile homo sapiens so the behavior of actual writing can be therapeutic.
    What should you write about? How about: guided CBT strategies you and your paid friend are working on, positive thoughts you had, goals for the day, hopes, dreams, and dark poetry …that ends with an inspirational message.
  4. Yoga
    When I think of yoga, I think impossible stretches and smug people with long hair and smoothies made from grass. Yoga doesn’t have to be that way, however. The wonderful world of online videos gives us simple stretches to do in your jeans, advanced positions you need to work up to, and even quick morning routines.
    It’s the marriage of meditation and exercise, so may be the perfect solution if you just want to get this mindfulness crap out of the the way quickly.
  5. Other things
    Like: Self-massage, visualization, rhythmic exercise, progressive muscle relaxation and deep breathing.
    Depression is the continual weather forecast of cloudy skies with scattered showers (in terms of hygiene and crying fits). Most calming activities that break us into relaxation and positive self-awareness are good. They’ll provide a sunbeam, or a full-on clearing of gray matter.

As always, start small and consider working with your doctor and/or counselor for any of these suggestions. Pay attention to how your body responds to each relaxation technique. You may not respond the way 75% of case studies do and it’s super important to do what does work.

Use your inner voice to channel light against the darkness of depression, young Care Bear. You can do it.

Namaste.

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Photo credits:
Lesly Juarez
Le Minh Phuong
Jacob Postuma

The Cure for Depression: A Daily Routine

Aw, crap. It’s morning.

Let’s roll out of bed after not sleeping well, glare at our alarm, blame everyone in the world for how terrible we feel, and stalk off to the bathroom to read our phone get ready.

With a winning morning routine like that nearly every day, why are we confused when the days continue to suck?

Did anyone ever watch The Lego Movie? D’ya remember that Emmett had an instruction book literally subtitled: “The instructions to fit in, have everybody like you, and always be happy!”? We, the viewing audience, laughed as Emmett breathed deeply, greeted the day, ate, exercised, showered, and even said, “Hello,” to all the cat lady’s pets.

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In true exciting story form, the film suggested that Emmett’s real, interesting life began once those stupid instructions blew away. Sorry; but this is not how life works.

Life is really long, and we need to want to live it.

Following a routine like Emmett does is not bad. Routine is not a swear word. It’s actually a magic formula, far more magical than Expecto Patronum or even Avada Kedavra. A routine gives us a little, workable guide for getting through our foggy cloud of negativity and hopelessness.

And, you’re following a routine as we speak. It just may not be a good one.

So! *rubs hands together eagerly* Let’s get started on following one that is good. Here’s a sample morning that I threw together:

  1. Wake up, preferably early.
    Yep, we’re starting there. You already blew the early-to-bed thing. Plus, if we start with bedtime, you’ll be like me and procrastinate starting a routine until you can finally get to sleep before midnight -so we’ll get started, like, NEVER.
  2. Tell yourself you love you.
    This is not vain, it’s Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. It’s good for you; and you are worth it, you beautiful/handsome person.
  3. Do something active.
    If you are following my advice to exercise daily, this may be the time to grab those workout clothes you set right by the bed.
    OR, to not stress you out at all, just do a little stretching. L’internet has loads of simple yoga day-greeting moves that only take a few minutes.
  4. Eat food or get ready for the day.
    I am the only woman in a house of males (all family, don’t worry), so I have to get dressed pretty much right away. For you, though, maybe you can slouch over to the toaster in your skivvies. Whatever; just go. Keep moving.
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  5. Whatever you eat, make it healthy.
    Healthy also doesn’t need to be a bad word. Toast is healthy, at least compared to a breakfast of peanut M&Ms you found behind the couch cushion when you sat down to read your phone instead of stretching.
  6. Shower and/or get dressed.
    Just do it. Don’t give yourself time to think, What am I getting dressed for? Life is…. Ending that sentence is never a good idea for a depressive mindset. Like I said, keep going.
  7. Take your meds, if you do that.
    I don’t know your dosing schedule, but most are taken after a meal and in the first part of the day.
  8. Go somewhere.
    Yes, to your computer chair to check into a freelance job is “somewhere.” I know that some of us are recluses by choice and/or mental condition. If you can get outside to at least stand on the porch and watch the sun, please do.
    Otherwise, I highly recommend getting completely out of the house. Go on a walk, pick up groceries, visit a friend, see a museum, or go to work if you’re employed.

Obviously, this routine is not a hard-and-fast rule. If you decide to pack a lunch in between steps 7 and 8 I won’t leap through your screen and slap you. I mean, you gotta eat lunch, too. I understand.

Still, it’s a good format. Use it like a foundation, something to plagiarize completely for yourself and adjust according to your personal flair.

In terms of the rest of your day, I feel that people’s schedules vary too widely to tailor as much as I did above. If you work, the day’s pretty much planned out for you because you have to do that. If you’re at home, set up activities similar to the morning one.

The main idea is to have assigned tasks; to keep moving.

Depression loves to settle on us like a putrid cloud. We let it. Making life pointless and then dwelling on the pointlessness of life is a vicious circle, but a daily routine will help break you out of that.

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Now, if you’re still with me, you may be wondering about a nighttime routine. I mentioned this in a previous article on sleep, so I don’t want to bore anybody. That, and I’ve exceeded my morning routine writing time. If I wait much longer, I’ll finish the rest of the chocolate almonds and will somehow decide to not exercise due to post-sugar crash.

Don’t get caught up in writing the perfect routine. Use mine for now; I gave you permission. As you follow it, you can slowly change to what works better for you and your lifestyle and work schedule.

You can do it, you beautiful/handsome person you.

Photo Credits:
Wikia
Deryn Macey
gbarkz

The Cure for Depression: Zzzzzzz

Good morning, everyone! I’ve been meaning to talk to you all about ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT topics ever besides food and sex, but I kept sitting down to do so at incriminating times -like, midnight or four a.m.ish.

Yeah, I oughta be asleep then.

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Now that I’ve pushed hypocrisy under the rug by typing at my local time of 8 a.m., let’s get into it!

Sleep is important.

Duh, right? Well, so is eating the right food, but I still picked up a full container of chocolate almonds at Costco yesterday. So is positive self-talk and such with CBT, but I forgot all that when my kids had a meltdown this whole summer. So is talking to my counselor and doing what she says and -no, wait! I did go back on my medication because the kids have been having a meltdown all summer.

Point is: we know sleep is important. However, if you’re like me, then a good sleep schedule is one of the first things to go right out the window as soon as you have a small sip of it.

Let’s remember why we need sleep:

  1. Better Mental Health
    Isn’t this our goal? My internet reading says that mental illness sufferers almost always do not get enough sleep. I think that’s often because our stupid problems don’t let us sleep; for me, however, I intentionally do not because I’m self-defeating that way.
    Sleep is CRUCIAL to better mental health, resetting emotions and releasing the happier hormones into our systems.
  2. Learning.
    Our brains HAVE TO hit all the key sleep stages in order to retain information. You know, all that REM/NREM stuff where dreams can happen. There are a ton of articles out there about this, if you want to do a little side research.
  3. Physical Health.
    After a good night’s rest, our muscles are relaxed and ready for a new day. Skin looks better, especially around the eyes. Joints, ligaments, and nerves have time to repair. Without the stress of maintaining activity, the body as a whole can work on healing.
  4. Longer Life
    No joke: consistently cutting back on sleep affects DNA. This bad practice physically shortens one’s life. Don’t get paranoid; decide to get a better schedule.
  5. Creativity
    Despite your tortured artist soul’s ideas to the contrary, good sleep produces more creativity. I am a regular practicer of late-night muse-calling; I often produce dark poetry detailing horrific, depressive mindsets.
    In terms of consistent artistry, though, I am much more productive when I’m regularly rested.
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  6. Lower Stress
    Yeah, you should know this one. Well-rested is the opposite of high-strung.
  7. Other Crap You May Not Have Known About
    Like, lower testosterone (meaning you’re not going to feel like sex so much), weight control, disease immunity, and focus.

Like water and breathable air, humans have to have sleep. The next question, then, is how do we go about sleeping?

  1. Make a sleeping place
    Yep, like a bed. Maybe you’re literally more comfortable in a recliner, though. Wherever you do your business, make it only for sleeping and sexing. Make it comfortable, dark, and free from distractions.
  2. Make a sleeping time
    Ideally (in a fiction novel), you’d get to bed around 10 p.m. every night of your life. I find that aiming for a reasonable time gets me close to it, plus trains my body to expect that.
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  3. Have a relaxing routine
    Once your time’s set, prepare for it about an hour in advance. We’re talking: showering if you do it before bed, reading a book or your phone on the couch, reconnecting with your loved one(s), getting a drink, bathrooming, etc.
    DO NOT EAT an hour before bed. If you are positively famished, I’d recommend light foods at least two hours before, for metabolism and heartburn reasons.
  4. Stay in bed, but don’t stress yourself
    Occasionally when I wake in the middle of the night, I toss about and decide I’d be more productive getting up. Then I’m a zombie all day. Instead, I’ll choose to make myself more comfortable by repeating my relaxing routine and possibly adjusting the house/bed temperature. Then, I’ll go back to bed and just rest.
  5. Sleep aids and medications
    I’m not going to pretend some people don’t need medicine to rest. The elephant’s in the room (and now, in the bed), right? If you’ve tried a bunch of stuff listed above and have serious trouble sleeping, get your doctor on board to prescribe something to help.
  6. Cut out the crappy stuff like smoking, drinking, recreational drugging and caffeinating
    Tricky, of course, but so so so so so so so helpful for your body in so so so so so so many ways -especially sleep.
    If you gotta do it, keep booze and coffee to healthy times: alcohol in small amounts after an earlier dinner and caffeine in the morning after food.

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The other side of excellent sleep habits is your waking ones. Early to bed and early to rise isn’t just a great poem; it’s a blueprint for most people and a healthy lifestyle.

After a good night’s rest, a consistent, early waking time is equally vital.

In my crash-course study on this topic over the past few days, I learned that waking at the same time each morning trains your body. Our smart little brains start increasing key protein levels (PER) just before the anticipated wakeup. Some people don’t even need an alarm clock because their body has been set.

You, too, can be a living alarm clock.

Resolve today to make sleep a higher priority. Make your bedroom cozy, cut out stimulants of all varieties in the evening, wake early, be consistent, but -most of all- RELAX!

Sleep feels great; get some and you’ll see.

Thank you for joining me on Consider not Depressing. Tune in next time, when I remember what #11 was on my list of cures for depression.

unsplash-logoMaeghan Smulders
unsplash-logorawpixel
unsplash-logoKristina Flour
unsplash-logoKinga Cichewicz

Depression Survival Tools and Tricks, Part II

I am glad to share with you today, 5 more helps for enduring severe depression.  These are things I learned during my deepest and darkest depression–the hardest thing I’ve had to endure so far in my life.

I have learned that small changes, practiced consistently can reap large dividends.  This has been my experience.  Though simple, I hope you will find these helpful.

Have a routine.  My mind felt so mixed up when I was in the worst of my depression.  Extreme emotional pain, and darkness made it difficult for me to function, but I had children to care for and somehow I also had to make sure that I cared for myself.

I soon learned that having a routine for my daily activities had a calming effect on me.  Prior to learning this, I felt almost constantly frantic on top of the depression, because I felt like I had so much to do and I couldn’t make heads or tails of it all.  So I did, roughly, the same sequence of events each day.  I would try to focus only on what I was doing, to prevent my thoughts from going wild, and me getting overwhelmed with all of my daily tasks. A key part of this routine was time spent doing activities that calmed my mind.  This is an essential component.  I encourage you to try it.  I still find calmness in keeping a daily routine.

Know your needs.  Having severe depression forced me to get to know myself in a way I never had before.  I quickly learned what activities and circumstances increased my pain and what alleviated it.  I had to really be sensitive to my own thoughts and feelings in order to learn this.  This was a challenge at first but I can say now that it is one of my greatest strengths.

In the beginning, I realized that I had a bad habit of ignoring my own thoughts and feelings as they pertained to my needs.  If I was tired, I would keep going.  If I didn’t like a situation, I would forget my feelings, if it meant it would make someone else more comfortable.  But this kind of self-neglect is not consistent with the kind of self-care and love needed to heal through depression.  So I learned to really listen to my own inner voice and act on what I felt.

Here’s what I learned, as I got to know my self and my needs:  I am an introvert.  I need a lot of quiet time to unwind.  I love to read.  I need time to reflect and ponder on ideas I’m learning about.  I get tired out by social situations and need to recharge afterward by being alone.  I need a more open schedule, with lots of down time to stay well.  These are all things I had no clue about, until I had to live through this period of severe depression.

So, take time to get to know you.  Listen to your inner voice and act on it.  Although I am still working on this, I have come a long way and it was been a key force in helping me get through my depression.  Give yourself what you need.

Be open about your struggle.  I acknowledge that it is usually a process of time before one feels like they can get to this point of sharing.  It took me years before I openly began to talk about this with others, but I can’t say enough how much this has helped me.

If you consider how many thousands of people suffer with mental illness in the world, it is very likely that there are those in your acquaintance who are intimately familiar with the struggle.  When I began to share, I learned how many of my friends had suffered at one time or another with mental illness.  I learned that I was not alone.

I have been so grateful to have friends approach me to talk about their struggles because they knew I was safe to talk to.  They knew that I had struggled and would understand.  This has meant the world to me.

Now I am openly sharing the darkest and scariest moments of my history for all the world to see and even posted it on facebook for all to read.  I’d be lying if I said this doesn’t scare me, because it does.  But I want to be a voice of hope and an active part in ending the stigma associated with mental illness, so I push past my fear and let the chips fall where they may.

You may not be here, yet.  And that is ok.  But maybe consider sharing with a trusted friend what you are going through.  Sharing can help us and others realize that we are not alone.

Find happiness and joy in moments.  I naively used to think that I should feel happy and ready to take on the world all the time.  This is a false idea.  Life is only complete with ups and downs–you can’t have one without the other.  I learned a better way to approach life when I was wading through deep depression and that is this: Happiness and joy are found in moments.  To me this means that I can stop expecting to feel good all the time and I can stop trying to make that happen.

Instead, I can create and enjoy moments that make me happy.  For me, this is time with my children–where we are talking or reading a book or enjoying a family event.  This is also moments I have alone, or time in the beauties of nature.  This is time with my husband when we don’t have to stress about anything.  When my depression was really bad, this took a lot of effort and focus.  I had to really try and relax and find a moment that I could enjoy.  It wasn’t even really that enjoyable at the time.  However, it helped me to recognize my need to find those moments and enjoy them.  I need to create these moments in my life.  I need to actively do this, because otherwise life starts to get really mundane and dull and this can swiftly start things spiraling back down into depression.

So, instead of wishing for the end of depression and return of happiness, find or create a moment that will help you feel that.  Make it a habit of your life to do this and you will start to find greater happiness in life.

Accept the present reality.  This is a hard one.  We all want to get better!  I remember wanting this so badly!  No one wants to live with mental illness.  It is not a desirable situation.  I really was hoping for a quick fix, or even a quicker fix would have been nice.  But that was not to be for me.  What happened was a very long, desperate struggle.

On top of my depression symptoms I was discouraged, I was struggling with feeling hopeless.  I was unhappy about my situation and feeling sorry for myself.  I couldn’t control my depression, but I could certainly control feeling sorry for myself and how I was wishing my circumstances away.  I finally got to a point where I started to ask myself, “What if I feel this way for the rest of my life?”  I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life making myself miserable on top of being depressed.  So I made a decision that I was going to try my best to be happy, in spite of the hand that I had been dealt.

I didn’t feel happy in the traditional sense, but I had peace.  I accepted that this is where I was and maybe where I would be for a really long time.  I had to make the best of it.  Depression was still intense and still very difficult, but I had peace.  I found joy in moments and little by little things got better.

What about you? What have you learned from having mental illness?  What advice would you give to someone else who is struggling?  I’d love to hear your thoughts.