Regaining control over depression with mindfulness : by Bonnie Gardiner
Ever tried tackling an angry bull with your arms and legs tied, blindfolded, under the sea? Also this bull has gills and a fish tail, but you’re wearing heavy, movement-inhibiting jeans and sneakers. Don’t forget those crummy human lungs of yours, traditionally thriving in more oxygen-rich environments.
Everyone you know sits comfortably just above the surface, yelling at you to throw kicks and punches, as if you had a free limb to flail. Before long you accept defeat, and let yourself sink down into the dark watery abyss, blaming yourself for not fighting harder.
Welcome to my dramatic but purpose-serving illustration of depression, where there is no choice, no control and no release. But in this ridiculous metaphor, mindfulness is the oxygenated force field that suddenly appears around me, allowing me to breathe, break free of my bonds, and prepare to pack a wallop.
In reality, depression is not so captivating. It is an insidious and pervasive illness that slowly and quietly rips control from its victims and pushes them as far down the rabbit hole as they’ll go.
There is no question that healthy eating, exercise, and counselling can help to improve emotional wellbeing. But depression is a disease rife with cruel irony, naturally blocking me from pursuing these helpful avenues.
How can I go for a run if I can barely get out of bed? How can I ditch junk food if eating that doughnut is the only time I feel joy? And how can I speak to someone if I lack the finances and the time, or I believe I’m unworthy of help?
Medication can also have great benefits, but treatment is experimental and costly, side effects are routine, and change takes time. Considering these solutions, happiness was certainly a possibility, but at no point did I feel like I was in control of my recovery. If anything, I felt more anxious, guilty, and doomed to fail.
After working with The indigo project and being surprised by the quick and palpable benefits of mindfulness, I realised that this was the solution to my depression dilemma.
Mindfulness is always available to us, no matter who or where we are. It doesn’t require money, equipment, appointments or even much effort. And if in the end, you don’t feel it has been as beneficial for you, you have nothing to lose from it.
So how does it work? I like to think of it as two simple concepts:
The nourished mind
If we consider our minds like we do our bodies, then mindfulness is a vital nutrient. Yes, we should all feel free to indulge in a few drinks or junk food on special occasions… and we’ve all experienced those hectic days where, in lieu of a good dinner, you end up eating bread at your desk, dipping it directly into a jar of peanut butter as you furiously respond to emails… But if we did this every day, we’d unsurprisingly get sick.
We know our bodies need key nutrients to function, yet our minds are often neglected and left to fend for themselves. Depression and anxiety are often the result of a poor ‘mind diet’, where stress and sadness come easy and cheap, but joy, reward, and relaxation aren’t stocked at the store anymore.
Just like cheat meals, we will all experience negativity – some more than others. But actively drawing away from those thoughts with mindful meditation can wipe away the bad stuff, replenish our mind and help it grow stronger.
The emotional snapshot
We’re always chasing happiness, but as Michelle’s excellent blog points out – even for the strongest minds, happiness is not a constant state, but a series of moments and feelings. Just as we take photos to preserve a memory, mindfulness helps me to preserve the good feelings, and appreciate the bad.
For those suffering from depression, rare good feelings easily give way to anxiety over how fleeting the moment can be. It’s hard to fully enjoy Sunday if we know Monday is just around the corner. So now, Sunday may as well be Monday, and now we have two Mondays. Fuck that.
By being mindful of what’s happening right now, instead of what’s to come, we can stop trying to prolong one good feeling and, instead, experience more kinds of good feelings, more often.
How good it feels to sink back into a hot bath; the fresh feeling after we brush our teeth; a cool breeze on a hot day; the relief of taking off your bra/pants after a long day, and the taste and texture of food as it hits our tongue. These require no time, money or effort, just the blatant indulgence in a moment of one’s own.
Also remembering what we’re grateful for – the roof over our heads and a warm bed at night – and what we’ve accomplished today – progress on a project, taking some time to meditate or make a good meal, or even just getting up and fighting through another day when we felt sure that we couldn’t.
Take time to let yourself feel pleasure in any small way you can, because it’s not just a right, it’s a necessity. A quote that always resonates with me on this topic is from Michael Cunningham’s novel/movie The Hours:
“I remember one morning getting up at dawn. There was such a sense of possibility… I remember thinking to myself: So this is the beginning of happiness, this is where it starts. And of course there will always be more…never occurred to me it wasn’t the beginning. It was happiness. It was the moment, right then.”
God Cunningham, right in the feels.
Remember that you can feel happiness, even if you suffer from depression. With mindfulness, you have that control still, and depression can’t take that away from you. That mutant water bull is going down.