Connecting to the beach

Connecting to the beach…

We have to cross the boardwalk.

I want to walk barefoot, but usually have to wear sandals to protect the soles of my feet on the heated wood. Once we get to that beach, I kick them off and sink my toes into the sand. We trudge through the broken shells to the best spot for the next couple of hours, set up our chairs, and head into the water to cool off. Then I sit mindfully and listen to the sound of the waves as they come up on the shore.  After a while, we walk along the edge of the water and find unbroken shells for our ever-growing collection back home.

The beach is my favorite part of living in Florida.

 

Thinking about nothing

I find myself staring out the sliding glass door. I’m not sure that’s it’s daydreaming, really, because I’m not thinking about anything. At first glance out the window, I watch the trees waving in the breeze. I see the varied shades of green from palms to pines to bushes to grasses to lawn. I see the blue sky and the fluffy clouds. And then I “zone out” – my mind is wandering but to nothing in particular. I’m not mulling anything over, but if I feel a lingering thought, I might turn it towards God, into prayer.

I have a favorite spot in my house. It’s right here on the left end of the couch. This furthest cushion. The end table is next to me. There’s a lamp and box of tissues and coasters on the corner. I also have my journals – my daily one and my gratitude notebook. There’s plenty of room for my iPad and a snack. The end table is a few steps from the sliding door to the patio.

I have no idea how long I’ve been turned to the door and the outside beyond it. Time has stopped and I am frozen in this place: legs in front of me with my feet on the coffee table, pillow on my lap with this Chromebook on top, my hands on the keyboard but not typing. Shoulders down and relaxed. Head turned to the left, eyes on the distance. Jaw dropped, not clenched. Relaxed.

When I “come to,” I have no idea what I was thinking. But I’ve never believed it’s possible to not think. My mind is always planning or pondering or ruminating. I understand from books and presentations and confirming with the guys in my family (husband, son) that men have a “nothing box” – where they can mentally go and truly think about nothing. I wonder what that would be like to shut off my thoughts. Maybe I just did it.

I don’t count this as mindfulness exactly. I’m not aware of my thoughts, or even of the scenery after the first look. I’m not aware of time passing or sounds I might hear. I just sit and stare into the distance, not seeing. Here on the couch, with my gaze toward the palms, is the closest I come to the nothing box. It’s nice.

 

How am I doing with what I’m supposed to be doing? part two

As I mentioned before, there are things that I can do, even with depression, to help ease its symptoms. If I’m in remission, those tasks are much easier to carry out. Here are some more thoughts on the steps, and how I do (or don’t do) them with depression in remission versus when it’s full-blown.

  1. It’s important not to isolate myself – to keep up social interaction and positive supportive relationships. This is near to impossible when I’m in the middle of a depressive episode, since all I want to do is be alone, preferably in the dark with the covers pulled over my head. I’ve learned to lean on the folks who know about my struggles, and admit to these friends that I’m having a tough time. They know what to say and when, and how to gently push me to reach out or when to leave me alone.
  2. If I’ve learned anything in my years in and out of depression, I’ve learned the importance of making space in my day, and not pushing myself too hard. It’s critical that I reduce my stress, make my to-do list shorter, and pace myself. I am already my harshest critic (that comes naturally to me, and is amplified with depression) and it’s easy to beat myself up about the things I should do that I don’t get done. But I’m learning to cut myself some slack, practice some relaxation techniques, and even nap if I need to.
  3. A piece that is very important to fighting depression is adopting an “attitude of gratitude.” It’s been proven in studies that folks who practice daily gratitude, perhaps writing things to be thankful for in a journal, have reduced depression and anxiety. It’s impossible to thank God for blessings and be anxious at the same time! Gratefulness also combats negative thinking, which is a huge issue for me when I’m depressed. I ruminate, mull, dwell and judge myself very harshly, and the negative thinking spirals quickly downward. But if I can stop myself, take the negative thoughts captive to Christ (from 2 Corinthians 10:5), and focus on His blessings right now, living in the moment with gratitude, I can slow the negative thinking and self-condemning thoughts before they get too far gone.
  4. I’m told repeatedly by my therapists and doctors to do the things that I used to enjoy, even though depression means that I don’t want to do anything. This is actually a diagnosing symptom of depression – not wanting to do things that used to be enjoyable. Other ways to combat this inertia are to reach out to others – recognize someone else’s need and offer help, maybe even volunteer in a serving capacity. I’ve found it true – thinking about someone else takes my mind off myself, and I can be distracted from depressive thoughts as I try to meet someone else’s needs.
  5. Maintaining an active faith life is critical in my fight against depression. I have to regularly remind myself that Jesus knows and understands how I feel, and He loves me completely, unconditionally, anyway. I’m not always able to concentrate well enough to read my Bible, so I have several other tools that help. I have a couple of books that are simply Bible verses to read “when you feel … (sad, anxious, depressed, lonely, etc.).” I listen to a lot of praise and worship music, and even have made some playlists appropriate for my moods. Lastly, the Holy Spirit will bring Bible verses to mind that I have read or memorized over the years. I may not be able to find and read them from the Bible, though, so this is a reminder to me to hide God’s Word in my heart (Psalm 119:11) – I never know when I might need it!
  6. It’s important to continue to take my medications as prescribed, and to avoid alcohol (a depressant). There’s really only been one time when I really wanted to quit taking my medicine – I think I felt like it was all useless (that’s the depression talking). It’s important, too, to follow my treatment plan and meet with my doctor and therapist – they will encourage me to keep taking these steps. It’s important to have their help to stay on track.
  7. Finally, I need to really listen to myself, and have those closest to me help me identify if I need immediate help. If I feel like hurting myself, if my mood worsens quickly, if I descend and can’t get back up, I need to get professional help. My therapist has been great to be available when I need help quickly – I am grateful for her!

So, that’s a lot to do to keep healthy – a total of 10 steps to take when including the top three from my earlier post (sleep, healthy diet, exercise). And it’s a lot to be intentional about, so it is helpful to form these habits when I’m in good mental health, so they aren’t completely impossible when I’m fighting a depressive episode.

What are some steps that you take to fight depression? What advice do you have to others who struggle?

 

 

 

Water mindfulness

The hot water heater is in the garage, and the closest faucet is in kitchen, yet it takes 5+ minutes for the water in the sink to get hot enough to wash dishes. It’s faster to get hot water into the master bathroom shower, all the way across the house – the opposite corner from the garage!

The time it takes to get hot water to the sink in the master bathroom is almost as long as to the kitchen. None of this makes any sense to me. Why does it take so long for the water at the closest location to the water heater to be hot? Why does the shower get hot water before the bathroom sink? Plumbing should be pretty straight forward, right? Straight pipes whenever possible, so straight forward. I don’t get it. Hot water in the shower, but not in the sinks.

As I was waiting for hot water to arrive to my sink last night so I could wash off mascara and makeup and the day, I held the fingers of my left hand under the running water. I stood there with my fingers and my thumb, but not my entire hand, seeing and feeling the water pour over them. I thought what a great time to practice mindfulness – simply notice what I feel and describe it. But how do I describe water? Just try.

It’s a smooth, silky, soft, slippery slender stream coming from the faucet to my hand. It’s warm (not yet hot). It cascades over one finger at a time. Before it falls off the last finger, it converges on my pinkie and becomes a narrow single stream again, looking as it does from the faucet to my fingers, before it gently splays into the basin and becomes a shiny surface. It gathers at the drain and disappears.

But does that describe it? And then I thought of Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan, and wondered about the miracle of the language breakthrough, as Helen suddenly understood what Anne was trying to communicate. The trepidation, the excitement, the joy that must have broken over them separately but simultaneously. Helen so eager to know words for everything, Anne delighted yet knowing there was so much more to be taught. Now my focus was off the water and running down the story from a childhood book.

Wait. Bring my thoughts back to the water. Ahh, it’s hot enough to wash my face now. Time for bed.

The Path to Solitude

Across gravel drive, across gravel road,
Up second drive to
Grass freshly mowed.

Blue sky above, green hill to climb,
White puffy clouds,
The hike is sublime.

Top of the hill, fields on both sides –
Ragweed and wildflowers
And tall grasses to hide.

Trees to the right, dark up ahead.
Temperature drops;
No hat on my head.

Shade of the rock steals the heat of the sun.
Keep walking on,
See and hear no one.

The path just got muddy; think I’ll turn around.
Walk back to the grass and
Sit on the ground.

An effort at mindfulness, be quiet, be still.
Be here in this moment
As I sit on this hill.

Focus, breathe, count to four, start again.
But what is that noise?
Close your eyes, now open.

Sit still and listen, it’s close to me.
Look around slowly, it’s the
Sound of this tree!

The wind blows and bark flaps, that’s what I hear.
The aspen is peeling on
This tree that is near.

Notice the ant army as they march down their hole.
Does the leader shout orders so they know
Where to go?

A feeling of peace as I rest in the sun.
A short nap; I awake.
This walk has been fun.

Writing201 Poetry: map (topic), ode (poetic firm), metaphor (literary device)