Note from Kate: Today’s blog is part-one in a three-part series on depression. I understand everyone is different and every case of depression is different than the other. As some of you may know, September is Suicide Awareness Month. Personally, this topic is as significant to speak about as child abuse. Hiding my story or attaching shame to it is not my style. I want to shout these tricks at the top of my lungs because if it helps just one person- it’s all worth it.
In an earlier post, Journey to Health, I shared my personal experience with depression and adverse childhood experiences. I also shared how I overcame health conditions such as an autoimmune disease that wreaked havoc in my liver and spleen. From my personal experience with my new illness and the aggressive medications to treat the inflammation, it was only a matter of time before my body and mind would react.
However, depression picked the wrong girl. I’m one of the most resilient people I know. Behind my mother and sister, of course.
“She stood in the storm, and when the wind did not blow her way, she adjusted her sails.”
In my senior year of college I was told news no daughter wants to hear: my stepfather was diagnosed with terminal cancer. My stepdad attended every talent show and soccer game from the age of seven, took me to the ER for my first broken bone and taught me how to drive, change a tire and helped me piece back my first broken heart. While I never called him Dad because I had a negative connotation with the term, he loved my sister and me as if we were his own.
By the time they found the cancer, it had metastasized to his spine, liver and brain. I moved home before hospice began to help take him to radiation appointments, make meals and soak up every moment possible. My heart ached watching him suffer and it felt broken when he passed. Had I not placed a solid foundation for a healthier mindset before his diagnosis, I would’ve fallen back into the black abyss of depression. It’s such a scary thought to have because grief is no joke.
“Grief is like the ocean; it comes on waves ebbing and flowing. Sometimes the water is calm, and sometimes it is overwhelming. All we can do is learn to swim.”
So what helped me when the bigger waves of grief came crashing down?
Tool #1: Support
Social Support: I have a few close friends who I allow into my life. After my stepdad passed, some flew in for the funeral service even when I said not to come. Others showed me love with meals, cards, daily calls and voicemails to let me know I mattered to them. Spending time with those who feed your soul with love is important but especially during life's storms.
Professional Help: I was in my early 20s when my stepdad passed. At the time, I was working full-time in corporate San Francisco and couldn’t take any more time off. I went to work the day following his service. I was also working part-time as a personal trainer and questioning my next career move. Between work, helping at home and expenses, I felt like I had no time to grieve. I quickly recognized it was in my best interest to seek professional help because while I have experienced depression before, I had never experienced a grief so overwhelming. I’m thankful I sought help in the right counselors and therapists.
Healers: In addition to attending Vinyasa yoga for health, I began to incorporate restorative yoga into my daily routine. Yoga with the right teacher is a wonderful starting point to healing your wellbeing and nervous system. When depression was present in my life, my heart and body ached. Most days, I would use Savasana to “feel” for the first time that day. I would let tears stream down my face while the teacher played soft music. This is what we do on yoga mats: we sit with our feelings and become vulnerable and real. We open up space for healing. Healing and healers come in all forms and it’s truly what’s best for you. I’m also an advocate of sound healing, bodywork, massage, acupuncture and tai chi. Touch can pierce the heart in just the right way. All the tension, anger, frustration and sadness you hold on to can be unblocked with touch. For me, finding a massage therapist that was professional, respectful and talented at their craft was a real gift.
Animals: Anyone who owns a pet already knows they offer comfort and unconditional love. My dog, Irish, who is now 10, came into my life in a time when I needed friendship and comfort most. I’m truly astounded that this creature is capable of the empathy that I so craved. And when I moved home to be with my parents during hospice, it was as if Irish could read the sad thoughts that disabled me and wanted me to know I was loved in the midst of my suffering. If you are suffering but can’t have pets due to your living situation or expenses, try volunteering at a local shelter or walking a friend’s dog to help alleviate stress or bring a smile to your day.
As humans, we’re all designed to experience sadness and depression. Life happens and we all have a mixed bag of adversities to work through in different seasons. Just as we are designed to feel helpless, we are also designed to heal and live our most radiant lives.
Stay tuned for tool #2 next week!
Quotes by Elizabeth Edwards and Vicki Harrison