A Simple Cure for Moderate Depression?

Amber's Cindy clown

Photo by Amber McCaig

I haven’t blogged for nine months. I could go on at length about busyness, holidays away, and Christmas commitments, but I suspect the reason for my absence from the blogosphere is more likely to be related to the subject of my last post, Dealing with Stress in my Forever Life.

When I wrote that post, I thought I’d found the solution to my first world problems, but apparently, I hadn’t. The stressful feeling became more consuming as time moved on.

When I moved back to Australia, I lost control over certain areas of my life. As an expat, I did what I wanted to do when I wanted to do it, but back here, I found myself pulled in many directions by  my children, extended family, grandchildren, and old friends.

My routines were out of whack, and making time for writing and those activities I’d filled my expat life with seemed lost.

As the months passed, and I continued to struggle with what wasn’t quite right in my life, I began experiencing sleepless nights, and last November the heart palpitations arrived. Over the next three months, the palpitations became more frequent, and were accompanied by a tight knot of anxiety in my chest that made me feel physically ill.

I realised I was moderately depressed and needed help. I made an appointment with my GP, and requested a referral to a psychologist.

The advice the psychologist gave me worked like magic. At the end of the first session, she asked me to do three things:

  1. Spend ten minutes twice a day breathing to a pattern of ‘in to the count of 7, hold to the count of 5, and exhale to the count of 7’. Ten minutes is a long time to simply focus on counting the air entering and leaving my lungs, so I set a timer to do it. That was the only way I could be sure I would commit to the exercise for the allotted time, and it was important, because ten minutes was long enough to send calming hormones around my body, signalling there was no need for the exhausting flow of adrenaline.
  2. Keep a journal. I’ve kept a journal since 2007. It’s a wonderful way to solve problems, but it hadn’t solved my anxiety. The breathing exercise did that.
  3. Get back to the rewrites of my second book. I’m not ready for that, but I had an urge to return to blogging, which is why I’m here today.

I did the breathing exercises twice a day without fail, and after one week, my improved state of mind astounded me. Over the following two weeks, my palpitations and anxiety vanished. If I felt them threaten again, I didn’t worry, because I had a weapon to stop them.

It’s been three months since my appointment with the psychologist, and I’m ridiculously happy. I sleep well, and have magically gained a sense of control in my beautifully chaotic and fulfilling life.

Writing is still missing, but I’ve given myself permission to take a break from it. I’m hoping that by writing this blog, I’ve recommitted to writing in a small way which will eventually lead me back to the rewrites of book number two.

As I wasn’t seriously depressed, the thought flitted through my mind that I was wasting the psychologist’s time, but that was crazy thinking. It was the best decision I made, and I’d highly recommend the same for everyone struggling with anxiety or depression.

Are you guilty of avoiding getting help for depression? And if you’ve been depressed, did  a simple breathing exercise help you?

 

 

 

Dealing with Stress in my Forever Life

On this day, two years ago, we arrived back in Australia after living in other countries for the prior ten years. It has been exciting, wonderful, and fun to be back, but much to my amazement, it has taken me the best part of these two years for me to settle into life here.

I now see my expatriate life as a Temporary Life. Even though I made friends and a life for myself in each country we lived in, everything was done with the subconscious knowledge that I wouldn’t be staying in that life forever. My Forever Life would happen when I moved back to Australia.

So I fought against the notion that my dreamed of Forever Life was making me stressed. I touched on this in a previous post, Repatriation can be Hard.

That stress peaked a few months ago, forcing me to examine why it was happening. My life has been blessed and it shamed me to complain when I’m very aware of  how lucky I am, but shame just added to my discontent, so I asked myself three questions:

  1. How can I share my time among all the things I want to do without getting stressed?
  2. How can I replace the close friends that died while I was away.
  3. What is my purpose?

The answer to question one came to me when I took a step back from all the high expectations I placed on myself. My tendency towards obsessive compulsiveness means that I spend far longer on tasks than most other people. Recognising this, I gave myself permission to ignore my To Do List for a week. That helped me discover that when I didn’t stress about what I wasn’t achieving, I had more time and energy. My stress was the problem, making me too tired to manage everything. Since then, I’ve learnt to let myself off the hook when I’m feeling overwhelmed, and I’m now achieving more. 

Which brings me to question two. I was seeking replacements for the friendships I had before I left. Friends that lived close to me, people I could drop in on at any time and know I’d be welcomed. I was looking for a particular kind of friend to fill the hole that wasn’t as obvious in my Temporary Life, but was a gaping wound in my Forever Life. It wasn’t that I didn’t have friends, my problem was that I didn’t have THOSE friends.

Then, I read something that resonated with me when I altered the words a little to this:

Instead of trying to find the perfect friend, find the perfect in the friends you have.

The close friends that died while I was away are irreplaceable, so I grieve for them when I miss them, but it’s okay because I have other wonderful friends who now fill me up and make me happy.

And it was one of those friends that guided me to question three when she told me she was reluctant to retire because she feared feeling purposeless. She’s a nurse, as I was, and thinking about what she’d said, I realised that we had both felt our lives held real purpose as mothers and nurses. We were carers and we still are, but I now care for my family, friends, and grandchildren. It’s not a purpose that engenders the same level of appreciation that caring for strangers did, but acknowledging that the role is important to me has stopped me from resenting the time it was taking from the many other things I wanted to do. Caring is my purpose.

These questions helped me to be a little more forgiving of myself, and to pay more attention to what I have rather than what is missing from my life. My stress was caused by imagined problems.

My Forever Life isn’t perfect, and it’s bound to present me with further worries from time to time, but I hope to keep these lessons in mind. 

What do you do to relieve your stress?