Monthly Archives: February 2016

To Live Successfully with Depression

I can’t tell you how long I’ve “suffered” from depression. I mean I took an intentional overdose at the age of 11 for crying out loud. So, yeah, a long fucking time. But, you’ll be happy to know that I’m no longer battling depression. Oh, don’t get the wrong idea. It’s not that I’ve conquered it, that I beat it or won the battle (the way some people talk about their relationship with cancer). I’m no longer battling it, because I’ve decided to accept it instead. I’ve decided to live successfully with depression.

I have depression like some people have herpes (I don’t by the way, just want to make that clear now). Okay, maybe it’s not the best comparison, but this is what I mean. If you have herpes,  the virus is always in the body even when you are symptom free. But when that herpes sore shows up (often triggered by stress or hormones), there is no denying it. It’s a wound that physically hurts.

Well, that’s how depression has been for me for most of my life. I’m not always a crying, withdrawn mess. In fact, in general, I’m a pretty happy, positive person. But, when I have a depressive episode, it’s undeniable. It’s a dark and painful place, and I believe it’s always going to be a part of my life. So I have to learn how to live successfully with depression, instead of trying to eradicate it, because it’s not just going to disappear.

In the 30+ years since I first thought something was a bit off with me and in the 20+ years that I’ve been diagnosed, I’ve fought the label. I mean, let’s face it, as enlightened as we claim to be, there is (still) a stigma attached to mental health issues. I didn’t want anyone to know that there were days when it literally took an act of god to get my crying, lethargic ass out of bed or that there were times when I had to force myself to eat or leave the house when really all I wanted to do was curl up and die. Or that I’ve tried to kill myself. Twice. No one wants to hear that shit.

But, February is Acceptance Month! I interpret acceptance as incorporating three qualities: becoming aware, being compassionate, and not being attached to specific outcome. You have to wake up to what’s going on. You have to treat the difficult reality with compassion. And, you have to let go of your expectations.

I may not have mastered acceptance in any other area of my life this past month, but I mastered it for depression. (Note: I didn’t say I mastered depression. I mastered accepting my depression. Big difference!)

Awareness. I worked really hard to become more aware of my mood, especially when it started to wane. I would literally tell myself, “You’re feeling sad right now” or “This is loneliness.” I labeled the mood and tried not to get swallowed up by it

Compassion. I treated myself with compassion, and by that I mean, I forced myself to do things that I knew intellectually were good for me, even if in the moment I had zero desire to do anything. I texted my bestest friend in Austin. I called my only friend in Munich. I made myself go run.

Non-attachment. In the end, I decided to stop thinking that depression is a battle where there’s going to be a winner (Happy Silke), of course. I can’t continue that charade, where there is only 1 outcome and it’s me never feeling down again. Sorry, it turns out that depression is part of who I am.

Acceptance. I let go of the fantasy and admitted to myself (and to my husband) that there will be hard times and I will have depressive episodes – probably for the rest of my life. And, if that’s the case, then I better get it together enough to do what I can in order to live as successfully as possible when I experience those episodes. I have 3 children and a husband who count on me to be here. I have friends and family who love me and want me around.

So, I better have a big old Rosie the Riveter tool belt full of tools I can use at my disposal – therapy, books, writing, meditation, social engagement, exercise, practices and habits that help me deal with depression – because I am going to need every single one of them and probably a combination of several to live successfully with depression.

I accept my depression and I am learning how to live successfully with it.

May I have the serenity to accept the things that cannot be changed, the courage to change what can be changed, and the wisdom to know the difference.

Amen to that!

 

Serenity Prayer

 

 

Personal Evolution

In its most simplest definition, evolution is change over time. In biology, this change results from a mutation – actual changes in the DNA – or migration, the genes leave one place and go elsewhere, or by genetic drift, in which life circumstances shift the allele (gene form) frequencies in a population.

Alternatively, change can result from environmental influences on the organism. For example, certain species of birds have red/orange/yellow plumage because of carotenoids, which aren’t endogenously made by the birds but are only available in the diet. Changes in feather color, when carotenoids aren’t available, undoubtedly affect the bird’s ability to camouflage itself from predators and attract reproductive partners, paving the way to evolution.

Whether it’s genotypic or phenotypic in nature, change happens to an organism but not necessarily because of what the organism does. An elephant seal can’t stop hunters from killing it (leading to genetic drift); a flamingo can’t make more crustaceans (which provide the carotenoids needed to give the flamingo pink feathers) appear magically in the water. In biology, by and large, evolution happens to the organism.

This is where personal evolution differs from biological. Personal evolution is all about our role in the process. Personal evolution is about the choices we make to grow ourselves in ways that always help us navigate our world more effectively.

Life doesn’t just happen to us. Happiness doesn’t happen to us. Suffering doesn’t happen to us. No. We have a hand in creating those states of being. And, I believe that it is largely by our own doing that we experience personal success or failure, that is happiness or suffering. The choice is ours, whether we want to act in ways that move us forward, toward being our best selves, or to act in ways that cause our regression, moving us toward our more unskilled selves.

It has take my almost my whole life to learn this truth. (Good Goddess, I can be a slow learner!) And even though I’ve learned the lesson, I’m not totally, or even highly, evolved. Not in the least.

You see, personal evolution is both a life long process and an indirect path. It’s not an arc from point A to B; it’s a sine wave. It oscillates up and down but hopefully moving in an overall direction toward greater wellbeing.

Life is like the ocean – still and serene at times, crashing with violent waves at other times. The only constant is that it changes, and when it changes and it’s turbulent, we have to learn how to navigate those waves. This is how we evolve, how we survive and thrive. We learn to adjust and harness that wave energy to support us rather than letting the waves pull us under.

This is personal evolution, choosing to act in ways that support your own wellbeing regardless of what life throws at you. As Jon Kabat-Zinn wrote, “You can’t stop the waves but you can learn to surf.”

 

Personal evolution involves making choices that help you navigate the waves, ensuring your wellbeing.

Personal evolution involves making choices that help you navigate the waves, ensuring your wellbeing.

 

 

I Got the Perimenopause Craziness

I have spent the last week mostly wearing pajamas and in bed. I haven’t been running. I haven’t been meditating. I’ve haven’t been writing. I sure as hell haven’t been Up With Me! No, I’ve been in the throes of a perimenopausal slump.

I got the perimenopause craziness. And it sucks. (I know you feel my pain, women of a certain age.)

Like my life is not challenging enough. Like I don’t have enough to deal with living in a foreign country where I don’t speak the language and don’t have any friends. Like I don’t have enough to deal with working full time, raising a child, and trying to keep my marriage and sanity intact (and doing that just barely, I might add).

Now, I deal with all THAT and with night sweats. I deal with all THAT and volcanic anger followed by sobbing followed by anxiety. I deal with all THAT and the inability to remember anything. [Note to readers with a gentle constitution: this is where you skip down to the next paragraph because it’s about to get all TMI in here.] And, on top of all this hormonally imbalanced behavior, I no longer have a period. I have a hemorrhage instead. I’m fairly certain that I’m passing whole pieces of my uterus, not just its lining, every month.

Damn you, perimenopause craziness!

Yes, I use progesterone cream. Yes, I take Vitamins B and E and fish oil in a who-cares-if-it’s-scientifically-proven-to-work-I’ll-try-anything attempt to stabilize my mood swings. And some months, it’s all fine and good, and I think I’ve passed whatever godforsaken phase I’ve entered. And then it cycles back when I’m least expecting it.

Wait! I thought I already did that blood clot thing [Oops, sorry, readers with a gentle constitution] 2 years ago. Well, here it is again. Time to do yet another load of laundry. Today.

Wait! I thought I was done with the unpredictable and volatile mood swings after last year. Nope, here they are again! Sorry, honey, for screaming at you then breaking down in tears. For no reason whatsoever.

Heavy, heavy sigh.

Peeps, it’s true. I got the perimenopause craziness. Sometimes, I suffer from it (in which case, so does the rest of my family). Sometimes I live with it (yay me!). Sometimes, I don’t even remember that I have it (thank you, Most Merciful Goddess). Regardless, it’s real, and it’s my life, and…

This, too, shall pass. I just have to keep telling myself (and those who live with me) that truth and believing it.

Oh, that it were this easy. Instant cooling that lasts 4 hours. Nope, it ain't that easy.

Oh, that it were this easy. Instant cooling that lasts 4 hours. Nope, it ain’t that easy.

Weekly Musings

Weekly Musings – a summary of the week’s highs, lows, and in betweens…

 

Musings on January is Appreciation Month!

  • I started the habit of starting my meditation time by writing a short gratitude list in a journal expressly for gratitude.
  • I spent more time being in awe of natural wonder in my every day life. Some days, I purposefully took my iPhone on my runs and I would stop and take pictures when I saw a beautiful sunrise or snow on the trees.
  • I spent more time in the present moment while eating. I put away anything distracting (something to read, to look at, to do) and just ate my meal. Even if I was eating alone.
  • I gave money to a podcast I love. I sent Krista Tippet and the On Being Staff a letter of gratitude and a check. I wanted them to know how much their show has helped me.
  • What I didn’t do (because I just read about it this morning) but I am going to try. At the end of the day, I’m going to jot down the things that made me smile or laugh (brought joy) that day. Over time, then I’ll have a repository of small moments of happiness. I have been doing it this week. For example Emmy said to me, “In art, we’re learning about Keith Haring, and I made a large drawing of stick figures holding hands and a big heart over them.” I stood there in awe, honestly, because my daughter is 7 and her regular classroom teacher (there is no separate Art or Gym teacher at her school) is teaching her about Keith Haring. I was totally blown away and thought, “That is so cool!!” and I couldn’t help but smile.

 

The Podcast I’m Currently Into

The One You Feed. Wow. How have I never heard of this before? I stumbled onto it doing a Google search for the best self-improvement podcasts. The One You Feed is a series of interviews “about how other people keep themselves moving in the right direction and the conscious, constant and creative effort it takes to make a life worth living.” In the last week, I’ve listened to interviews with Sharon Salzberg on loving kindness and happiness, Kristin Neff on self-compassion, Jeffrey Rubin on flourishing, Krista Tippet on listening, and Jonathan Fields on creating meaning in life. It is so right up my alley, and I highly recommend it for your self-help, Up With Me! junkies like me.

 

Musings on February is Acceptance Month!

  • Every morning this week, during my meditation time, I read a passage that shows me how to practice acceptance – to be open to the experience, to be compassionate with the uncomfortable feelings, to reduce clinging to the “need” to have things be a certain way. These are some of the wise words that are helping.

“The basic discipline that arises out of our meditation practice is to catch ourselves when we get stuck…Instead of getting hooked by certain emotions, we renounce them. In this usage of renunciation, we are not beating away the emotion or suppressing it…we are resting with whatever emotion arises and staying with it with gentleness and inquisitiveness.”

Lodro Rinzler, Sit Like a Buddha

 

“When we label a thought, we step back from it, we remove our identification. There’s a world of difference between saying, “She’s impossible” and “Having a thought that she’s impossible.” If we persistently label any thought, the emotional overlay begins to drop out and we are left with an impersonal fragment to which we need not attach. “

Charlotte Joko Beck, Everyday Zen

 

“When life is not fitting our expectations of how it’s supposed to be, we usually try to change it to fit our expectations. But the key to practice is not to try to change our life but to change our relationship to our expectations – to learn to see whatever is happening as our path, not as obstacles, but as opportunities to awaken.”

Ezra Bayda, Being Zen

 

“Emotional chaos is the result of reactive mind states: anger, anxiety, frustration, irritation, restlessness, worry, insecurity, doubt, obsession…You do not have to helplessly submit to your mind being tossed around willy-nilly by these inner storms. There is a way to move from the emotional chaos of the reactive mind to a state of clarity in which you are able to respond to people and situations from a responsive mind state…The responsive mind isn’t swayed from its larger purpose merely because you intensely desire or dislike someone [or something]…When you are living from your responsive mind, you will not get lost in your displeasure and react in a manner that isn’t reflective of your genuine self.”

Phillip Moffett, Emotional Chaos to Clarity

  • The truth is that this week I have had some experiences that have generated feelings of intense anxiety. And, Oh My Goddess, I so wanted to just pour a big glass of wine one afternoon when the feelings were “too much,” because you know my default state is to avoid uncomfortable emotions. But, instead, My Best Self came through for me, and I did some acceptance practice, taking those words of wisdom above to heart. I literally said to myself, “Feeling anxious, but this is just a passing feeling.” And I repeated this phrase. Then, instead of having a drink, I went for a 30 minute run. I got outside, in nature, and got some of that energy out. Did my anxiety go away as a result? No, not entirely, but the overwhelming urge to stifle it did go away. Step 1.

 

Those are my musings. What about you?

  • What did you listen to or experience this week that inspired you, motivated you, or helped you on your path?
  • What brings you happiness and purpose?
  • What isn’t working? What made you mad or sad or say, “Life sucks!!”?

 

 

February is Acceptance Month!

I’ve decided I’m going all Gretchen Rubin Happiness Project this year. Each month, over the course of the year, I am going to focus on a topic that I want to develop in myself. And during that month, I’ll read about, write about, think about, and (hopefully) put that topic into practice.

For February, I’m all about ACCEPTANCE, which, defined by Merriam Webster, is “the act of receiving or taking something offered.”

But I’m not talking about accepting a gift – for which I am almost always grateful, even when it’s not something I would have picked out for myself (or even given to anyone I know). I’m talking about accepting life on its terms, as it is, full of its unfiltered and sometimes unwelcome messiness. This is in contrast to accepting life on your terms in which case when it’s uncomfortable and inconvenient, you choose to ignore it (suppress/deny what doesn’t feel good) or let your emotional response overwhelm you (get angry – or depressed or anxious or whatever – at the supposed source of the discomfort/inconvenience).

This doesn’t mean you passively resign yourself to shitty situations (“Okay, this is how it is, but I have to live with it even though it totally sucks”). Nor does it mean that you disengage (“Okay, this is how it is, but I’m just going to pretend it’s not happening, because it totally sucks”). It means, you acknowledge the situation as it is (This totally sucks!) and you allow yourself to feel what you feel without the emotional response becoming you. You give yourself breathing room to feel uncomfortable and inconvenienced but you don’t let it take over.

So, here’s how I’m going to cultivate acceptance this month.

Body Awareness. I’m going to try to be more aware of my emotional and physical states, that is, how I respond to certain situations. I will allow (read: force) myself to feel without either getting totally sucked into or avoiding the feeling. When I get sucked in or try to avoid altogether, I give the emotion more power. It becomes bigger and badder, when really it’s just a temporary state that will eventually go away. It’s okay for me to feel angry or sad or anxious. It’s not okay for me to embody that feeling and become mean, depressed, or overwhelmed because of it.

Less Judging, More Compassion. I’m going to try to catch myself when I start to judge – blaming myself or someone else because life doesn’t always work out how I want it to – and respond with compassion. This means de-personalizing, because I am…ahem…truly not the center of the Universe. So just because someone did something that upsets my rhythm or makes my life temporarily challenging, I don’t have to take it personal and declare them a jerk. And, if it is personal, then I’m going to have to operate under the assumption that I don’t know the whole story. As Victoria Fedden writes, “We must have compassion for A**holes.” Sometimes the A**hole is someone else, and sometimes that A**hole is me.

Finally, I’m going to try to be less attached to the idea that my well-being and happiness are dependent on things going as I imagine them in my head. This is the most difficult part of acceptance for me. My mind is conditioned to the idea that life has to be a certain way, and when it’s not, things are wrong, and I can’t be happy. But, life is how it is, and for much of it, I have zero control. Moreover, my well-being and happiness are not going to come from always being comfortable or having every convenience, and I just end up getting mental rope burns by hanging on to that delusion. So, I need to work on detaching myself from expecting that life be a certain way.

Big sigh. I have my work cut out for me. This makes eating without my cell phone at hand and keeping a daily gratitude list easy in comparison.

Wish me, luck, because here I go, cultivating acceptance.

Cultivating Acceptance