Once in a while a student of one of my Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) groups for preventing depressive relapse writes me, and I felt that this particular letter could be a benefit to many and wanted to share it with you. I have also bolded some things that I felt stood out. Of course I have taken out names and identifying information to respect anonymity.
“Depression struck me at 13, then 16, and has ruined the quality of my life on and off for forty years. It’s been a murky maze of underground thoughts and feelings that attacked me internally like viruses. I used to feel like a sitting duck when depression hit and felt hopeless and helpless. I would usually shut down, hide out, and in the early days drink or smoke. Anything to become numb or not to feel the painful combination of feelings–the self-loathing, the powerlessness, the despair.
With the class I gained a sense of confidence.
When I felt depression coming on I snapped into gear and brought out my arsenal of goodies, in much the same way when I thought I was getting a cold I got out the echincea, the vitamin C, and the tea. If depression hits it is easier to get rid of.
First of all, the body scan. A godsend for getting out of my head when thoughts are recurring and rattling painfully around. Worried at 3 a.m. about my pregnant daughter having a miscarriage since she’s already had two–can’t stop the images I’m seeing–so focus on my left toe instead or my right knee. This moves the area of concentration to something not upsetting or disconcerting–to something in the present moment–to something I can handle. Concentrate on body parts enough and I come back into the present time.
I teach high school and the teenagers are often angry and depressed. They act out repeatedly and will frequently curse me out in the middle of class. Frequently, it makes me angry and I hurl a sarcastic remark at them which only makes them angrier. Now I stop and do the 3 minute meditation–breathe–become aware of what I feel—reset my button (which they’ve pushed) and act and respond from the place of a semblance of composure and balance.
Another tool to ward off depression, which makes everything crowded and pinched inside, is to do yoga, which creates space and well-being. From that state of mind I make better choices.
When in the past I slipped into negative self-speak, hurling slogans at myself that I’ve internalized over the years, now I remember I don’t have to “believe everything I think.” I consider that maybe what I am telling myself is merely conditioned thinking.
This has all brought me to the point of being aware of what is happenings as it is happening. With awareness or mindfulness things don’t get out of hand and I am able to make better choices in the moment, (even if the choice is just a different thought) and therefore the depression is averted because the usual chain reaction is interrupted or if it hits I experience a more mild depression.
For the first time I feel I can prevent deep depression from assaulting me but if it does I feel I can work out of it sooner. Depression thrives on conditioning, panic and darkness. It is a drowning in quicksand.
With meditation I can loosen conditioned thoughts and feel more centered with my feet on the ground. Insight provides a light to see by and I am not swallowed up by the demons and forces of darkness. This class has enabled me to do that. Really.”
What comes up for you when you read this (e.g., thoughts, feelings, emotions)? Please share your thoughts, stories and questions below, your interaction provides a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.