Lately, I have had some days in which I’ve felt a painful inability to feel grateful. DEPRESSION. Such a shameful feeling for someone like me, whose spirituality centers on gratitude and recognizing all the things for which I am thankful. And yet somehow a dark curtain had fallen and I felt totally paralyzed. Emotional and mental paralysis. Yes, I felt ashamed and out of sync as my mind drew a blank. I was resentful. If I can be totally honest, my usual blessings seemed uninspiring- not because I am truly ungrateful, but because I seemed to be having a temporary crisis of hope. I was tired and sleep deprived, exhausted after work, anxious about money, and overwhelmed with lots of “to-do”’s. I had gone without some basic self-care, which I now realize is no longer optional.
Each day in this spell of depression I became increasingly fragile. Crying in the morning and throughout the day; sleeping less and less. Dragging myself through work. Eating unconsciously and unhealthily while on the go, questioning God about the meaning of life, the value of my own life, and if I even wanted to live at all. My rut was exacerbated by a keen awareness that I was doing the “wrong” things, being ungrateful, self-absorbed, and out of sync with my spiritual teachings. So of course I felt guilty, guilty, guilty. I beat myself up, judged it, embodied the shame of my unbelievable gall to not “feel good.”
And as one could imagine the cycle continued and spiraled out of control. For me this looked like physical illness- always the same miserable ailments, but thankfully nothing life-threatening. I was sneezy, and stuffy and snotty, and achy from head to toe. My inside and my outside were now aligned and I got mad. Feeling bad emotionally and feeling bad physically makes for a miserable combination. My physical ailments distracted me from my emotions for a moment. I resented not being healthy enough to have fun and enjoy myself because I had to recuperate in bed. But I hadn’t been having fun anyway, nor had I been resting – which illness always forces us to do.
My mental health swung back and forth. The depression became anxiety as I realized that I was “creating” my illness (more guilit!) and I worried that things were too confusing to untangle easily. I believe in the mind-body-spirit connection, but this is slippery territory with mental health. Depression is formidable, intimidating and can seem insurmountable when you are in it. Anxiety and panic are maddening and swift… worries can mount faster than you can blink or take a deep breath. Finding a door or a way out requires total surrender- a complete stop- a ceasing of all movement that feels unreasonable or unlikely in the daily treadmill of life.
The phenomenal thing is that my body helped me, as it always does, getting my attention and demanding rest. Resting opened the door for drinking more water and eating simpler food. Resting in bed required me to find help and seek healthier people to assist me. While resting I remembered to get a little exercise to boost my immune system. I tried to hop back into action after a day or so. My illness worsened- I felt depressed (only mildly) and had a strong spell of anxiety. I went back to sleep. About a week after this cold/allergy/flu thing and maybe three weeks after my bout of depression picked up, I realized that the other issue I needed to address was talking to myself kindly. I pulled out all my self-help books, mental health guides, and inspirational writings. I mostly just looked at them in a pile and carried them around with me. Then I realized I needed to write the affirmations, post them, and speak them aloud in order to untangle the neglect, self-judgment, guilt, shame, and resentment that had initiated and fueled my experience of depression and ingratitude.
I also considered my surroundings, enjoying sunny days more fully and having plans in place for the cloudy, winter grey skies as well. I tried choosing positive company or solitude rebuilding a spirit of enthusiasm and hope. I began caring for my home a bit, making it a warm, loving, and peaceful space that made me feel good. This bout of depressed peeked in and out every other day rather than persisting without interruption. However, becoming ill reminded me of the necessity of:
- healthy diet
- home care, and
- positive affirmation and self-talk.
At first, I integrated one or two of these items a day, at best. Now I am at a solid three a day and have added some fun and play time into the mix ( a movie, a game of jenga, etc).
I am building myself up now, should depression visit me again soon. I am on vacation from work and have ample time to practice and think about how to meaningfully adjust my work-life routine so that I don’t continue to produce the conditions for illness, depression and anxiety. I want to practice awareness and loving way of life so that low, heavy, and unhappy days are extremely infrequent. I envision transforming my coping strategies with a mindful way of living that will increase the quality and pleasure in my life in a consistent and permanent way. I will start today… in this moment, as I head to the kitchen to prepare a healthy meal to start my day.
Posts that helped this week:
10 Simple, Science-Backed Ways to Be Happier
5 Reasons Why Your Life is Awesome