Thursday, April 14, 2011

Walking Through Depression: Continuing the Conversation

If there's anything worse than waking up and feeling socked in by depression from the get-go, it's waking up with such feelings after a day when you were depressed, took positive action, and felt great when you went to bed.

That's what happened to me today. If you read yesterday's blog post Spring Walk Brings Delight and Eases Depression you may have a sense of the let-down I felt this morning. To make it harder, that post got a positive response from people, including a number of folk who suffer with depression, and who found hope in yesterday's words.

But that's what they were - yesterday's words and yesterday's feelings. That doesn't mean they're predictors of what will happen the next day. So this morning I sat and ate, and was so overcome by inertia I didn't even bother to turn on the heater to take the chill from the air.

Another Little Voice

The mental self-talk so favored by depression was already running through my mind: yesterday was just a one-off, too good to be true, today's already a write-off. And all this is at 9:30 in the morning!

Then there was another little voice whispering in my ear, telling me that whatever happened today, however it ended up, I had started a dialog yesterday with a whole bunch of people, most of whom I don't know, and some of whom found hope in my words. "You need to continue the story today," said the little voice.

That scared the daylights out of me, so I did the one thing I can always do when depressed - I picked up my mystery novel, Rough Country, by John Sanford, and read for a couple of hours. Still down, still ready to call the day a write-off, I went to the computer. The little voice which had told me to continue the story today found its expression as I began tweeting. From my Twitter timeline (@dalydegagne):
  • When depression hits back hard after a positive day, it's scary. Y'day was a good day Don't know what today will be.
  • By saying I don't know how today will be I avoid trap of assuming it'll be a write-off b/c it has been so far. Not knowing is being hopeful!
  • When depressed too easy to catastrophize & pre-empt possibilities of something good after lunch. This awareness...
  • ...of the day's possibilities is a kind of mindfulness, of being in the moment of now, of not knowing, of possibility.
  • If you, like me, are depressed right now, what are possible outcomes other than a completely shitty day?
  • A walk helped yesterday. Will it help me break up depression today? I don't know if I don't walk, do I?
When I wrote the first tweet, I didn't know where I was going. But, as I look at the tweets above, written over a period of less than 15 minutes, what I see is like a stream of consciousness (James Joyce would be proud!). Yet it was much more than that.

Without intending to, the act of writing, of starting a process of reflection, had taken me from the stuck position which had prevailed throughout the morning until just before noon. From a place of catastrophizing, to use the cognitive behavior therapy term, I had moved metaphorically into the present - a place of not knowing.

When Not Knowing Is Hope

As the next tweet shows, I recognized that not knowing was my hope for the day! I felt again the sense of serendipity which I wrote about yesterday, that I had just received, as though by grace, a mindfulness dividend. I hadn't meditated today, but my belief is firm that all the meditations one has every done may bring us a benefit, and an "aha moment," when we least expect it.

My next thought was of you, the people who have joined with me in this conversation. And it was doing something which is so often hard when depression abounds, and that is reaching out. In asking what positive outcomes there might be for you, if you're depressed today, I asked myself the same question, and the answer came: if a walk helped yesterday, it could help today.

Half an hour later I'm putting on my runners, and notice the puddle stains from yesterday's walk. The stains please me. Yesterday, these shoes which I bought last summer, looked almost brand new, and so the question, "What's wrong with that picture?" Shoes that are used in a good way do not look brand new after 10 months!

It is cool again today, +2C when I left, and a 17 km/h east wind. Though the cool house had bothered me earlier, I only wore a light denim jacket over my shirt. That's not always a good decision no more than it's not always good to deliberately start into the wind, especially when lightly dressed.

So I headed due east. And the first delight was feeling the wind, knowing it was cold, accepting it, and rather than feeling cold myself, feeling a skin tingling sensation. I passed a pond and counted a dozen Canada geese newly arrived, and two gulls off-shore, huddled together on a sliver of ice which seemed too fragile to hold their weight. 

When I turned away from the wind almost 20 minutes later, I felt much warmth surging up from the core of my body. There was comfort in having the wind at my back, and of knowing I had again left my depression somewhere along the road. The walk lasted about 42 minutes, and was about two miles - best walk in months!

Virgil Flowers: Knowing How to Worth That State of Mind

Earlier, while reading Rough Country, Sandford describes what investigator Virgil Flowers does when he reached a point where he felt stuck, when his accumulation of facts and impressions seem to make little sense:
Fishing calmed his mind, slowed him down: the sheer, unimportant repetitive quality of it, flip and reel, worked as a tranquilizer, but the possibility of a strike kept him alert. The combination of alertness and quietude was good for thinking in general. Sometimes, when he was buried in fact, he couldn't see the forest.
And he knew how to work that state of mind.
Instead of attacking the facts, he let them float across his consciousness as he worked the bait around the flat purple-and-green lily pads....
He let all of all it cook through his brain as he worked down the bay, around the corner of it, past the docks of a half-dozen lake cabins. Mind drifting. 
After I had turned from the wind and was almost home, I remembered these words I had read in the morning while stuck in depression. Reflecting on how my mind had played while walking, it seemed Flowers and I were using similar strategies because both his fishing and my walking allowed the mind to process the day's information in ways it couldn't do while stuck.

Both Flower's casting and my walking slow us down. Indeed, both have a repetitive aspect and qualities of  alertness and quietude which enable us to see alternative outcomes or, to use the words of the late Michael White, a reauthoring of the narrative. (Yes, there's wisdom to be found in mystery novels.)

So what about the rest of the day? It's tempting to say it will end up being a great day. That is my wish, my intention, my preference. I state it, and will try to let it go, knowing the benefit is in the stating, and not in holding onto it.

The key point is that now, in this moment, with this breath I am on a different course than I was earlier today. It's a course which is a preferred one, reflecting a shift in being and direction that I helped to make possible when choosing to walk.

Walking is not always the answer, but often it is.

This post is longer than most, and certainly longer than the experts recommend. Nonetheless, I hope it's helpful for those of you who took hope from yesterday's post. I hope I won't be stuck in depression's grasp again tomorrow. But if I am, at least today's experience will carry some hope from this now into tomorrow's now.

To paraphrase Virgil Flowers, we have to know how to work our state of mind, whatever it is.


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