The brain fog was settling in again! Molly was familiar with the out of control experience of depression. The change in appetite, the struggle to engage with life, low energy, fuzzy thoughts and the sleep deprived nights with constant negative thoughts, it was a difficult storm to bear. Those negative ruminating thoughts often turned to self deprecating loud voices. You are worthless, you are lazy, you do not belong, you are not good enough, just a failure….on and on they would plague her awareness. Molly would condemn herself for the depression.
She had been an innocent bystander to a confusing and difficult life. As a child, harsh, critical words were used by her mother and her dad; both unpredictable presences in her life. At times he would come home inebriated, then the mean dad would emerge, taking out his frustrations on her mom. The memories were painful to recall. But no one knew of the hardships; they were a family secret. Molly was still keeping secrets as she silently masked her depression, fearful of what people would think.
Hiding the depression only magnifies Molly’s symptoms, isolating her from life giving remedies of change. Instead of fear, she must accept the depression as a brain dysfunction, have compassion for her struggle, and seek treatment.
Major depression is a common condition affecting at least one in six people during their lifetime. It is a serious clinical mood disorder in which feelings of sadness, frustration, loss, or anger interfere with a person’s everyday life for weeks, months or years at a time.
Facts about brain changes in structure and physiology, as it relates to depression, are emerging with more and more clarity. Studies are proving that most people with depression have been shown to have reduced hippocampus volume compared to non-depressed people. These structural brain differences may be due to life stress and/or a predisposition or vulnerability for depression. Childhood stresses are not the fault of the child and brain predisposition is not a sign of a personal weakness.
There have been studies that strongly indicate that the occurrence of childhood stressors, such as abuse and neglect, have an impact on adult health, both physically and emotionally (i.e. depression). Having depression puts one at a higher risk of developing chronic disease such as stroke, heart disease, Parkinson’s disease and dementia. Less serious conditions such as anxiety, insomnia, pain, fibromyalgia are also linked to depression.
The brain is an organ, just like the kidneys, thyroid, heart etc, that can all have problematic physiological changes that impact a person’s quality of life. When the brain has problematic physiological changes such as depression, people feel unmerited shame. Friends and family members may not know what to do to help, so often the problem is minimized or ignored. It is clear that depression should not be ignored or hidden by the person experiencing it. The first step toward health is to acknowledge the problem and accept the depression as something that does not define the person, but is a part of their journey in life.
The acknowledgement and acceptance of depression can lessen the suffering, allowing a more calm response to the reality of depression. The more a person condemns themselves for being depressed, the more depressed and hopeless they will feel.
Having self compassion is to let go of the constant loop of self condemning thoughts. There may be many causes for your depression…stress, a negative family, abuse or trauma. That doesn’t mean you are broken or that you will not make it through this sadness. Being compassionate toward yourself means having a sympathetic, understanding and kind disposition toward yourself. Those condemning thoughts are not what is true about you.
Instead of believing those condemning thoughts BE:
C urious about your self. Find a picture of yourself as a child. Study the picture and imagine what it felt like to be that child. Feel your “child’s emotion”. What does that precious child need to hear to have fears soothed? What words can your adult self tell the child? Those words may be the very words you need to hear presently to soothe your current fearful thinking.
A ttentive to what you are thinking. We all have habitual ways of thinking that are destructive and untrue. Below is a list of common automatic negative thoughts that can create toxic physiology in the brain.
1. “Always/Never” Thinking: thinking in words like always, never, no one, everyone, every time, everything.
2. Focusing on the Negative: Seeing only the bad in people or situations.
3. Fortune telling: predicting the worst possible outcome to a situation.
4. Mind reading: believing that you know what another person is thinking, even though they haven’t told you.
5. Thinking with your feelings: believing that what you are feeling is accurate.
6. Guilt beatings: thinking in words like “should, must, ought or have to.”
7. Labeling: attaching a negative label to you or to someone else.
8. Personalization: innocuous events are taken to have personal meaning.
9. Blaming: blaming someone else for your own problems.
Being attentively aware of your thoughts means, to engage rather than passively allowing your brain to think unattended. We have the ability to observe our thinking and make a choice on how we choose to think. How we think can determine our brain health as well as the health of our entire body.
L istening to your own story. Journalling is one way to “listen” to your story. Studies have shown that writing about troubling thoughts and deep emotions for 15 minutes a day prior to going to bed over a period of 3 to 4 days has as a positive impact on our immune system and health. The initial writing may be confused and jumbled but over a period of days there begins to emerge a clarity about the life narrative. This clarity de-stresses the brain, lifting the fog.
It is important to also reach out to a reliable friend who will LISTEN to your concerns, not to fix, but to be present with you, to journey with you in the depression experience. Isolation magnifies the depression, connection will help ease the symptoms. Connection is healing for humans that are created for relationships.
M indful of moments. To be tuned into the present moment and not derailed with a cascade of thoughts of the past and future takes practice. Mindful mediation can help the brain maintain a present moment focus. Science has proven that mindfulness mediation is very powerful in helping multiple health issues, including depression. One technique is called a body scan that involves relaxing all the tension in each part of your body focusing your attention on the sensations in your body and letting thoughts go.
Another form of mindfulness is a spiritual practice called Breathe Prayer. It is an ancient way of connecting with God by renewing your mind and heart with scripture. The focus will be on God’s word, letting all other thinking pass through your mind, floating away like a leaf on a stream.
Breathe in slowly and deeply as you whisper or think:
“The Lord is my Shepherd…”
Hold your breath and your consciousness of God’s presence…
And then exhale as you whisper or think: “…I shall not want.”
Focusing on the truth of God’s word can over-ride the brain’s tendency to focus on those negative thoughts.
Even David in the Bible struggled with depression:
I am bent over and racked with pain.
All day long I walk around filled with grief.
I am exhausted and completely crushed.
My groans come from an anguished heart. Psalm 38: 6,8 (NLT)
David did not remain in his depression. He made a choice to change his thinking:
Why am I discouraged?
Why is my heart so sad?
I will put my hope in God!
I will praise him again—
my Savior and 6 my God!
Now I am deeply discouraged,
but I will remember you—
even from distant Mount Hermon, the source of the Jordan,
from the land of Mount Mizar. Psalms 42:5-6 (NLT)
For you are God, my only safe haven.
Why have you tossed me aside?
Why must I wander around in grief,
oppressed by my enemies?
3 Send out your light and your truth;
let them guide me.
Let them lead me to your holy mountain,
to the place where you live. Psalms 43:2-3 (NLT)
David had an enduring hope and trust in the character of God. This hope and God’s everlasting love for you can be the focus that strengthens you through life’s journey.