Friday, January 30, 2009

TO WRITE: What Are You Doing Here?
In Chapter 5 of my book Writing through the Darkness: Easing Your Depression with Paper and Pen (info in profile) I describe benefits that come from using writing to examine your spiritual beliefs -- your understanding of the mysteries of the world around us and inside of us. (No, I'm not writing only to religious people here; it's different.)

By uncovering, defining and fully embracing our beliefs, we spiritual seekers can sometimes find a sense of meaning in life -- or in our depression. Indeed, I have known writing group members who come to feel that there is a reason, or even a benefit, to their depressed experiences, be it to learn and grow as human beings, to develop compassion and understanding, or to assist others in their healing. (p.61)

Furthermore, spiritual searching also carries health benefits. Many studies have demonstrated that people who consider themselves "religious" or "spiritual" or who attend religious services regularly: 1) have fewer illnesses, 2) live significantly longer, 3) specifically have less depression and, 4) have a greater likelihood of remission from depression. Practical applications of such findings to treatment of depression is under study too. For example, meditation, a component of many spiritual traditions, has been shown to be a useful adjunct to treatments for many health conditions, including depression. (p. 62)

Play with this. . .
Choose an issue that you consider what we call in my classes a "Big Question." For example, Who am I? What am I doing here? Where did we come from? What happens when we die? What is love? What is depression? Write continuously for 15 minutes on your question, being sure to include your personal feelings and experiences. Obviously there are no right or wrong ways to do this -- you don't need to hold to any particular belief system.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

TO WRITE: Off to a Great New Year. . . a Bit Late, but Less Stressed
Greetings! Happy 2009 to you. Happy MLK Day. Happy Inauguration Day. Happy Year of the Ox! I have not posted for a few weeks now, which I regret, but I don't think I could avoid it. As we're well aware, life gets hectic for many of us at the end of the year. And we've all heard about the high rate of Christmas-time depressions out there. Well, this year I think I caught that bug.

My depression wasn't terrible; I wasn't immobilized or suicidal or seeing and hearing things that no one else was seeing or hearing, as sometimes happens to me. But it felt like the real thing, not just the blues. I've been tremendously fortunate to have had little depression for the past two years, so this was scary -- the nasty self talk, the ache in the chest, the decreasing interest in things I love, the sadness, that feeling of futility.

But. . . I'm doing much better now. I credit a good psychiatrist and good therapist for this turn-around, as well as my ever present meds regimen, and my serious efforts to reduce the stress in my life. I backed out of some obligations and invitations (and the world did not end), and I'm working hard to change my attitude about the stresses in my life. (I'm Mom to a 1-year-old, and I'm trying to write, to do speaking gigs, to teach and do other volunteer work.) I am taking better advantage of some babysitting help, and I'm working at not waiting until my to-do list is done (it never is) before letting myself read a little for fun. Major paradigm shift.

Play with this. . .
Writing continuously for 10 minutes, take a hard honest look at what is causing stress in your life. You may be trying to overdo it, like I tend to do, or you may be stressed by the lack of structure or busyness in your life right now. Are you feeling a great deal of pressure about trying to regain your health? Are you, like me, putting a lot of energy into being frightened and bracing yourself for the worst when you mood dips even a bit?

Now, part two. . . Write continuously for 10 more minutes about what tiny steps you can take to relieve some stress in your life. Can you relax and have coffee with an acquaintance you want to know better? Can you spend fifteen minutes -- no more -- online looking at job sites if you are seeking work? Can you make your to-do list for today more reasonable? Don't overwhelm yourself with reducing stress -- this is like rushing to get to meditation class (something I've also done). Can you journal it out for a half-hour? Take small actions and congratulate yourself. I believe it's the only way to maintain my own health; perhaps it will help you too.