taming brain dog ruminations.jpg
(This dog is my brain, needing obedience class.)

 

I suppose a perk of feeling bad is that I can generate material that will speak to those of you who are really struggling right now. As much as I hate being in this place of anxiety and depression, I know that my ministry is ripest when I ignore the media push for nice, neat nuggets of wisdom that will inspire happiness in 3.2 days, and reach inside myself for the ugly guts that is the true story of depression on some days: the battlefield of the mind that only those who have been there can appreciate.

So, dear readers who are where I am today, these are the things I’m doing to get through these hours and chase after hope as if it was one of my kids running out into the street. And thank you, from the bottom of my heart (and brain of course) for your loving support.

1. Make doctors’ appointments.

I’m finally getting to the point in my recovery when I can tell if my mood plummeted for biochemical reasons, if it’s a result of certain circumstances, or if it’s some combination of the two (most often the case). When it’s more situational, it is immensely helpful to pull out workbooks like Elisha Goldstein’s and Bob Stahl’s “A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook,” and to see my therapist with more regularity.

However, when I can’t gain the upper hand on the ruminations, and am disabled by that familiar nausea, I need to start with the MDs: my psychiatrist, endocrinologist, cardiologist, and the 11 other doctors I see because I feel like a 40 year old hanging out in an 85-year-old body. Chances are the relapse was caused by some other system that I can’t see, like recent growth to my pituitary tumor which throws off all my hormones. Thus, yesterday I spent making appointments with my psychiatrist, endocrinologist, and a radiologist to get a few tests done and follow up on my conditions. These steps — being proactive about my health — gives me a boost of confidence that I can resolve whatever the problem is, and return to lucid thinking soon enough.

2. Keep choosing health.

Usually, when I get to this point, I’m tempted to say, Why waste the time and swim 3000 meters this afternoon? If it won’t make me stop ruminating, why the hell run the seven miles? Why eat a salad for lunch with the right nuts for Omega-3 power? Why continue to reframe the thoughts, attempting to untwist the distortions? Why try to carving new neural circuits in my brain? Why endeavor the mindful techniques again? 

Even when I can’t see the immediate benefits of these healthy choices, I know that my efforts toward good health will eventually benefit me. I will get healthier sooner than if I sleep in, eat doughnuts for lunch, and avoid the gym and pool. And the constant cognitive exercises will pay out immensely, too. My brain is an organ that needs exercise, too, or else it gets flabby, and even though all I see right now i cellulite surrounding the prefrontal cortex (the part that is supposed to assist me with logical thinking), I know that my brain is will get a set of six-pack abs if it does enough sit ups (cognitive behavioral exercises).

3. Look at something that inspires you.

I’ve said in many places that I think everyone would benefit from a psychological (and physical) blankie. Three weeks ago, my best friend from college sent me one of the first original holy cards of St. Therese. The framed holy card and relic had me in tears when it arrived, because St. Therese has always been an important source of inspiration to me. She also sent me a card that said “Freak!” on the outside and inside, “Takes one to know one.” I put the frame and card on my desk, and whenever I look it I not only feel a kind of peace – like God is with me, and so is St. Therese – but also a tremendous consolation that I have good friends with me in this, even though I can’t have lunch with them every day.

4. Be with people as much as possible.

Even though, when you are ruminating, it is very difficult to socialize–because you have trouble hearing what someone is saying over the voices in your head–it is good for you to be around people. I notice that my ruminations are more severe when I’m alone. Sometimes I need that relief–a kind of break from having to deliver an Oscar worthy performance. But if I stay by myself too long, it’s not good. It is especially helpful to talk to a friend who understands the ruminations. My brain stopped the broken record twice yesterday when I talked to two friends who really understand the process of reframing thoughts and how tiring that is. I found immense consolation in their understanding.

5. Laugh, of course.

When John McManamy sent me his hilarious blog on the DSM-V, his version, I told him that I loved it but it would be awhile before I was able to feature it on Beyond Blue because I was too busy ruminating. Now, I am not that blatantly honest with everyone. But writing that, and getting his sarcastic response, gave me an immediate mood lift. When I can make fun of the neurotic brain I have, I am less terrified by it. As Elisha Golstein says about mindfulness, humor, for me, forces a little bit of distance between the situation (severe ruminations and depression) and my emotions and reactions to the situation. If I can say to myself something like, “Well, that’s too bad, the cowboys with the guns are back to my amygdala (the brain’s fear center). Let’s fire back with nuclear missiles,” I find the whole process less scary.

Image by Robin Kovary.

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