Tuesday, August 28, 2007

TO WRITE: What do you believe in?
You probably believe in loads of things. . . that we need parity for mental health insurance; that our friends should understand that we have an illness, not a weakness; that fudge brownie ice cream is the best; maybe that there are monsters under the bed.

Here's your chance to convince me, or the reader of your choice, of those deep-seated feelings and ideas. Consider your spiritual beliefs, your political positions, your feelings about depression, your relationships, your activities, your basic wants and likes. Are there any old childhood beliefs that come to mind? Any places where you differ greatly from those around you?

To play with. . .
You can start by writing a list of 100 things you believe in (yes, that's 100), as suggested by Kathleen Adams in her book Journal to the Self. Or, if ideas are already flooding your mind, feel free to simply start writing about these beliefs. Don't get too cerebral - some of the statements that come up might be startling or feel contradictory, and this is fine. Just let yourself write passionately. Write continuously for 20 minutes and convince me of how you feel on these topics.

Then reread your writing. What do you find - any surprises in your list? Any surprises in how passionately your felt? And are there any ways you might use this information to make small or large changes in your life? Perhaps this exercise will help trigger a discussion with someone close to you, or help you make a life decision.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

TO WRITE: Being Alone

Personally, I need alone time--sometimes a lot of it. It keeps my mood more stable, my stress level lower, I can be more creative, and a few more items typically get checked off my to-do list when I have it. And I'm usually happy alone.

Of course, I'm something of an introvert, and I understand from extroverted friends that their alone time isn't always necessary or even welcome. Unlike mine, their inner fires are stoked by being with people, whether one-on-one or at the big parties I sometimes dread.

All of us must also deal sometimes with loneliness, a related state.

Play with this...
Write continuously for 20 minutes on being alone. Do you embrace it or merely tolerate it when it occurs? Do you feel invigorated or lonely? If lonely, is it just for an hour or so, or do you feel it in terms of your larger life issues?

When you've considered these issues, what can you learn about yourself? Are there changes you can make in how you spend your time? Would a few minutes with a cup of coffee before the family wakes up make it a better day? Do you want to work at getting involved with more people and groups? Are there old friends you'd like to make contact with? Large or small, sometimes changes such as these can have a significant effect on our moods.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

To Write: Seeing the World Anew

"We must learn to see the world anew." -- Albert Einstein

I'm always intrigued to see what this true genius had to say about daily life as well as about quantum physics, and this quote recently caught my eye. I'm curious about whether his special insight extended to the "real world." In this quote, I think it did, whether he intended it to or not. I have no idea if this line was referring to a Unified Theory or to the experience of everyday awakening to what is around us. Regardless, it seems beautiful, even spiritual, advice.

What would I like to see anew in my world? Small things, like the little gifts on my desk right now -- the heart paperweight from Mom, the silly magnet from brother Mark about me drinking too much coffee. People thought about me and chose these tokens just to fit me. I see that I could appreciate these important people more.

I'd like to see lots of bigger things anew too, of course. I take for granted the tan foothills outside my window, when I could be embracing their presence and hiking their trails much more often. And bigger still, I want to savor and be open to my current good health. Though I don't want to dwell on previous difficult years, I do need to compare and remind myself frequently of the joy and opportunities I have today when I'm able to think and write and laugh. Furthermore, I should look at my life anew, especially when so many others are hungry or at war. I did nothing to deserve being is this place with so many benefits -- the fates landed me here. If I look at these things anew, I feel many things, but gratefulness in particular.

Play with this...
What does this Einstein quote mean to you? Do you think of being open-minded to scientific theories or artistic expression or solving world problems, or do your thoughts tend toward your daily life and the things and people in it? How does your current state of health or illness play into this? Is there any way you could frame this situation to see it anew in a more positive light -- perhaps through what you've learned on your journey? Write continuously for 20 minutes and see what you see anew in your words.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

TO WRITE: "Positive Psychology" Interventions for Depression
In the last few years, the new field of "positive psychology" has been sweeping through college classrooms, huge research studies, popular books, and the cover of Time magazine. This innovative approach to the ways we think and feel is aimed at increasing happiness, whereas traditional psychology has decreased unhappiness.

Dr. Martin Seligman of the U. of Pennsylvania is a pioneer in positive psychology. His website --authentichappiness.org -- states that, "Positive psychology interventions... lastingly decrease depression symptoms." Now this is worth pursuing!

In one study, he found that people who rated "severely depressed" on a written test improved in one week to the mild-to-moderate level of symptoms. In fact, 94% of these people decreased in depression! So what did they do?

Play with this...
Each night for one week, write down three things that went well that day and why they went well. That's all.

If you want, take the depression symptoms questionnaire on the authentichappiness.org website before and after, and see what your own mini-experiment finds. (There are many other interesting questionnaires you can take there for free, including those measuring character strengths and routes to happiness.)

At he end of the week, I suggest you write for 10-20 minutes on how you feel now compared to before you began, and what you think of this "Three Blessings" exercise. Is it useful for you? Did you enjoy it, or was it a drag? Do you think you'll continue this practice?

NOTES: Do NOT use this technique to replace your current treatments! Don't throw away your medicines. This study, as I have read it, had not yet been done with controls, and there was NO diagnosis of major depression made -- they only studied "depression symptoms."