Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Spring Walk Brings Delight and Eases Depression

It's tough being an Exuberant Eclectic when you're depressed - I should know, my depression having taken a turn for the worse shortly after the new year.

Depression saps my natural exuberance and inclination to have a child-like interest in just about anything.

But spring has come, and the snow is gone. Days are longer, and the additional hours of sunlight lift my spirits.

A combination of depression and a burst cyst behind my knee combined to keep me out of karate classes for most of the last two months. Karate and walking, apart from being intrinsically fun, also do much to keep me from being literally and figuratively immobilized by my depression.

At the doctor's urging, I've babied my leg for the last few weeks, and have refrained from any serious walking, or stair climbing as exercise. The cyst, when it burst, dumped what felt like a gallon of fluid, including blood, down into my calf. My calf muscles were compressed, the pain such that I couldn't weight bear. Take your time, the doctor said, let your muscles heal. I was only too glad to oblige.

But today, even though the temperature dipped below zero for the first time in more than a week, I felt it was time to get out and walk. The wind was eye watering brisk and raw as I rounded the edge of a favorite pond, following a route which has defined some of my best summer walks. Bright sun and the sure knowledge that warmer days and returning ducks and geese were close at hand offset the wind's bluster.

Even with no choice but to step in a puddle which soaked through my runners, I could laugh at the irony that this was the day I decided not to wear my virtually waterproof Blundstone boots. Much as I love the Blundstones (the perfect all around boot, which is even comfortable for short runs, and is a tribute to Australian craftsmanship), I chose the runners for the first time today as a sign that in the very near future some of my walks would be replaced by runs.

I only walked for 12 minutes, but it was a fast pace, covering more than half a mile. A start, I tell myself, feeling vitality which was too long a stranger. Maybe another short walk this evening. And tomorrow, perhaps, a return to the dojo.

Something happened in that 12 minutes because now I am writing. Writing is often an early victim of my depression.

I learned long ago that when depressed, a couple of things are important. One is to accept, in the sense of acknowledging, that I am depressed. The other thing is that it is self-defeating to focus on what I am unable to do, that a far better strategy is to be like the mouse that cannot swallow the block of cheese, but nibbles around the edge a little at a time. This nibbling process can also be thought of as priming the pump.

So in the last two weeks, when I began going again to the public library to sit at a table and work when I could not work in my study at home, it was priming the pump. At the library the exuberant joy of the children is infectious. Their laughter makes me smile, keeping in touch with what lies beneath the seemingly inert layers of depression.

I was reminded while at the library of the fact that it was little over a year ago when I joined the Winnipeg Public Library, and discovered that apart from its helping to lessen depression at the time that it enabled me to be more productive, on more days, right on through the summer. I thought of how I have saved probably more than $1,000 on various non-fiction books and the mystery novels to which I'm addicted. This reminder, and the realization that I had made a really good choice when I first started going to the library, were also pump priming.

I figure that my priming the pump lead to my walk being today rather than some other day in the future. Similarly, today's walk will prime the pump further. And that helps me to feel better.

Writing this, I realize also that in the last 10 days or so I've also being more faithful with my mindfulness meditation practice. Mindfulness is a powerful way to prime the pump, though when meditating one has no goal, other than to just be, to meditate.

Another way to think of meditation is that through the process of meditating some things are bound to happen sooner or later. One of those things might be compared to the clearing of underbrush in the forest to make room to move, and for the sun to touch the ground. I say through the process of meditating because there is no goal other than to meditate. Experience has shown that meditating does what meditating does, and that attaching goals to the process gets in the way of it.

One peril of depression is that it shatters my concentration, and it's hard to read with focus. Yet, continued attempts to read a bit here and a bit there seems to be another way to clear out the underbrush. I realize that I've been attempting to read more, and that it's been beneficial.

A little bit of serendipity along the way also has pump priming qualities. Yesterday at the library I discovered by chance a book in John Sandford's Vurgil Flowers series that I hadn't read, Rough Country. Flowers is not a typical cop, and could be considered the Exuberant Eclectic of the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension. I'm delighted at not having to wait until Sandford's next book in the series.

Serendipity has proven depression fighting qualities as far as I'm concerned. In fact, exuberance and serendipity kind of go together. They add to life's delight. And delight, in the midst of depression, or as one is coming out of a depressed state, is always a good thing. Delight dissolves depression.

In the case of the Virgil Flowers mystery I discovered yesterday, the delight is lasting because Sandford is at the top of his game. I've noticed that when I'm able to sustain a sense of being delighted in one thing, it's easier to find more stuff that causes delight. And the best delight comes when it is least expected. That's the serendipity part.

There will be those who'll accuse me of "over thinking" this stuff, but better to over think than not to think at all. Besides, I prefer to view it as reflecting. During depression's darkest days I miss the ability to reflect, and through reflection to acknowledge and recognize the value and meaning of life's experiences. It's through reflecting, for example, that I've come to realize how much joy can be contained in the simplest of experiences, even in getting one's feet wet as the puddle soaks through running shoes.

I'm reminded of e e cummings beautiful description of spring as "pud-luscious and mud-wonderful." That was my experience today.

Check out what I wrote the day after this when, again, I had to work through depression - mindfulness, Twitter, walking, and wisdom from Virgil Flowers in Rough Country all helped: Walking Through Depression, Continuing the Conversation.

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