Following on from this week’s podcast, here is some practical advice for people to get you out of that depressed state and into a virtuous cycle. This article covers ways of escaping from the prison of your depressed mind and getting back to your instincts; the glorious experiences of the body.
Disclaimer: The following is NOT medical advice. It is simply sharing my eperience of ways to kick depression’s ass, in conjunction with treatment from a qualified medical professional.
When I was depressed, I was mostly on my own. I had a ‘shrink’ who I saw once a month about twenty times in total. That was helpful, but it’s actually something you can do on your own i.e. Find an isolated spot in a forest or something and talk about your problems. The point is by saying it out loud you are acknowledging it exists and thinking about it on a deeper level than if you just fear it and run away from it. If you have specific trauma, suicidal or violent tendencies, or past events you need to discuss, talking to a therapist should be your first point of call, but the advice that follows will still be equally important.
The most important advice I would give to people who are, like I was, struggling so badly with depression or anxiety that they cannot see a way out, and at times retain no hope for themselves, is try to get them to engage with the tiny things again. What do I mean by that? I mean the things we may take for granted which make life so great without us realising. The coldness of a stone on the beach or by a lake. The refreshing properties of water. The roughness of bark. The warmth and brightness of the sun. The interaction with a fellow human. If a friend of yours is depressed, talk to him, don’t be afraid to manipulate him, trick him, do whatever it takes to get him thinking on those small, experience based feelings, as opposed to bad memories or thoughts about himself. That is so important.
When I knew I was turning it around was when drinking a glass of water felt ‘fun’, because for a long time I had felt no joy in anything. You’ve got to get the small things back when you are like that. Stroking a pet. Going for a walk. The subtle colours in the trees. These are things that are EVERYWHERE. Even without leaving the house you can say, have a cold shower (something I do most days) to reawaken your sense of touch and get you alert and thinking in the now.
When you start to reconnect with those small experiences that you somehow lose when you are depressed, imagine the joy and satisfation a walk in a beautiful forest would bring. There would be so much stimulation. Things like that are what help you feel like a person again, and give you enough positivity to push yourself a tiny bit. And then, hopefully you can push yourself into a virtuous cycle and cultivate your own strength through proving things to yourself. Most people on an instinctual level can enjoy those small bodily experiences without reservation, its just a matter of pulling your mind in to appreciating certain things.
Meditation (or prayer if you are religious, I would suggest both) is EXTREMELY helpful. Find some alone time or a quiet spot in nature and focus on clearing your mind for 5-10 minutes. That should be the first stage. JUST focus on breathing. Shut any other thoughts or worries out and JUST think about breathing. Then when you have done this you will feel different to how you did when you sat down. Now for 5-15 minutes you can either fantasise about the world you want to live in, picturing yourself telling jokes at a party with your arm round your girl, or picture some ethereal experience you would like to have (for example, I sometimes imagine a dream wherein I go on a long hike in the wilderness and mountains to reach an ancient temple of my pagan ancestors, carved out of the rock of the mountain which glows every colour imaginable as the sunlight streams in sideways, and at noon the light is so penetrating and all-consuming that you feel it swimming through you and enhancing your powers). Sounds goofy but you can ‘discover’ all kinds of things just imagining what it would be like. The echoing sounds. The tiredness in your legs from the hike. The cool rocks. The priests who prepare you for the experience. Again, it brings your mind down to focusing on bodily experiences and out of the prison of your head.
You can take yourself on whatever journey you want, over hundreds of sessions of meditation if you wish. Picture your own concoction of details, sights, sounds, smells, characters, challenges, and stages of the journey.
You can pray even if you aren’t religious. It’s really about opening up with your desires and thinking about where you want to be. I pray often for strength, guidance, trust, and the ability to appreciate the small things, and think clearly.
The key point is you can’t battle depression by thinking about it. You have to circumvent it. I tried to think my way out of it like a puzzle for 4 years and got nowhere. You have to go to your senses. Go to your body. Run, dance, jump. Swim in the cold sea. Or even meditate a dream where you swim in the sea. The imagination will have the same effect. Pulling you out of your head. Then you have a different attitude, if only temporarily. The monster in your head will be asleep. And you’ve got to keep him asleep until he dies of starvation!