Friday, 30 December 2011

"Looking Back, Looking Forward, Being Present"

They say that there are only two certainties in life: taxes and death. Well, I would add that time has a way of marching on, no matter what.

Every year it seems that as soon as Christmas Day has come and gone we are immediately inundated with reminders of the "year that was", with retrospectives in the media of the headline makers from the past 12 months. We are urged to make new year's resolutions. Lose weight! Exercise more! Don't eat chocolate! It's a natural time for reflection on the past and to dream about the future - one door is closing and another is opening.

For me, 2011 brought my descent into the darkest depths of depression. Already suffering in late 2010, by April I was in a very dark free-fall. For many months it was a matter of daily survival for me and time felt like my enemy. I was simply trying to make it to the next day and I would often think, just hang on for the next hour. Sometimes I thought, I just don't know if I can do this. I would often climb into bed and pray that sleep would take over to dull the pain, if only for a little while. Time moved at a snail's pace and it seemed to boldly underline the pain that I was experiencing every moment of every day.

But like most things in life, if you look hard enough, there is a silver lining. Eventually I realized that time was actually on my side. With each new morning that came (like clockwork!) it very slowly started to feel like the universe was waiting for me to heal. As I made the arduous climb back up I gradually started to view time as a gift. I began to remember things that made me smile, people who I loved who loved me back. I thought about the people in my life who weren't healthy for me, and one or two were set free.

Every day, with this gift of time, I grew stronger, healthier, happier. I set small goals for myself: today I will go for a walk; tomorrow I will write in my journal. As each daily, then weekly goals were achieved I felt a sense of accomplishment, kinda like, OK, I can do this. As with the darkest days of my depression I was again conscious of time, but in a different way. Instead of wishing it away, I was learning how to be present in the moment and appreciate the little things in life. I learnt to be grateful for time.

So what if we looked at things through a different lens this year? How about instead of setting ourselves up for certain failure (NO chocolate? None at all? Simply not possible and who wants to live in that world anyway?!), we set ourselves up for success? Instead of focusing on what we mustn't do, let's imagine what we can do. Dwell in the possibility. Think in the positive: I WILL go for walks with my friend. I WILL volunteer my time doing XYZ. I WILL hug my kids more often. I WILL ask for help in life when I need it. And I WILL mean it when I say, "How are you?"

Yes, I had a jump start on reassessing my life in 2011 - where I've been, who I want to be and where I hope to never go again. But I encourage you to take the time to do so as well. Be the best YOU that you can be. Take care of yourself, grow, and learn. 'Cause you are the only YOU that we've got!

KB xo

P.S. I have included an interesting exercise below, sent to me by a dear, kindred spirit (thanks, T!).

Closing the Year:  Looking Back, Looking Forward, Being Present
This is a wonderful exercise designed by Jamie Smart, a Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) guru, to check-in with oneself regarding the past year, future possibilities, and present moment. The process is called “Closing the year”, and it’s a simple ritual that will help you to go into the new year with maximum energy. Spend 5 or 10 minutes doing each of the following steps:

1. Brainstorm all the things you’ve accomplished this year, the memorable experiences you’ve had, and everything you’re grateful for. Spend a few minutes making a list of everything you’ve managed to achieve. Use a pen & paper for maximum effect!

2. Next, brainstorm the things you no longer want in your life; make a list of the things you’d like to leave behind.  We all have things in our lives that are past their ‘use by’ date. Physical objects, unhelpful habits, limiting beliefs, thought patterns that hurt, people we wish to no longer spend time with, etc.

3. Think about your dreams for the future. What do you want to bring into your life? What experiences would you like to enjoy? What new skills would you like to learn? What would you like to do? How would you like to be? Make notes, draw a picture or speak into a recording device to help you remember your dreams. Spend as long as you like dreaming about the future you desire. If you don’t know what you want, you can ask yourself the ‘miracle question’: If there were a miracle in the night, and when you woke up tomorrow, everything in your life was exactly the way you’d like it to be, how would you know there’d been a miracle? What would you see, feel, and hear that would let you know a miracle had taken place?

4. Brainstorm the things you’d like to bring into your life. What are the things, experiences, qualities, and ways of being you’d like to experience more of in the future? Make a list of these. They can be quite general: Spend more time with family? Get fitter? Enjoy earning more money? Spend more time in the present moment? List the things you’d like to attract into your life.

5. Make a list of your goals for the year ahead. What would you like to accomplish? What would you like to learn? What would you like to get? Who would you like to meet?

6. Read through your list of accomplishments and congratulate yourself for them. Put this list (#1) on your left. Read through the things you’d like to leave behind, and forgive yourself for any mistakes you feel you’ve made. Put this list (#2) on your left also. Take the materials relating to your dreams (#3) and put them right in front of you. Review the list of things you’d like to attract into your life (#4) and put this list on your right. Read through your goals for the year ahead (#5) and put this list on your right also. (If you are left-handed, reverse the order of the lists!)

7. Sit quietly for a few minutes. Imagine all the good feelings, thoughts and energies from your accomplishments coming into your body (you can visualize this as a stream of light, sparkling dust, or anything else you imagine). Then become aware of any of the energy that’s tied up in the things you want to let go of, and see it returning to your body. Look to your dreams, attractions and goals: any of the energy that is tied up in those (eg. in wishing or wanting) can also return to you in the present moment. Notice how it’s possible for you to feel even better about those dreams and goals when your energy is in the present.

A great deal of people’s awareness is often wrapped up in wishes for the future, or memories of the past. It’s great to have access to these dreams and memories, but it’s also good to have out energy available to us in the present moment.

8. Allow yourself to be fully present in this moment. Become aware of the fact that all your accomplishments and activities of the past year were accomplished in an earlier present. Become aware of the fact that all your future accomplishments and experiences will take place in a future present. Really experience how it feels to be fully present.

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

"Happiness Is a Warm Puppy"

While Christmas shopping this year I made a special trip to Urban Outfitters to find a particular item from my mom's Christmas list: Rosebud Salve. As I entered the store my eye was immediately drawn to a square, thin, bright pink book entitled, "Happiness Is a Warm Puppy." For those of us who were children in the '60's and '70's and grew up with the Peanuts gang, this book, with it's classic cover illustration of Lucy hugging Snoopy, is iconic. When I saw it I was instantly transported back to my childhood visits to my Grandparents' home where I would always pick up their dog-eared copy and flip through it. It was an immediate, comforting, happy, and loving memory.

So why is this important? Why am I writing about this in my first blog entry? As a person who has waged a war on depression for the better part of 20 years I have, at times, forgotten that I was loved. Or loveable. I have often forgotten how to laugh and smile. I have many times lost my ability to take comfort in the little things in life, like a good book or happy memory.

And yet depression has also taught me much. I have learned empathy. It has shown me the strength and resilience of the human spirit. It has allowed me to connect with people on a meaningful level. I have learned to truly savour the little things in life like a really good cup of coffee, a belly-laugh with a friend until you are both in tears, or a hug from someone you love who you know loves you back. To live in the moment.

There is so much that we don't know or understand about mental illness. Stigma and misconceptions abound. As an unofficial expert (!) after 20 years, even I don't have all the answers or a complete understanding of my own story. I am still growing, learning and hoping. I hope for greater understanding in the world but I also hope that I won't have a recurrence.

So why start a blog? Because I made a choice 19 years and 364 days ago (well, approximately!). When I was first diagnosed with depression I decided that it was my secret and that I would keep it to myself - it was nobody's business. Well, that lasted all of 24 hours, if that. Because that's not who I am. I made a pledge to myself then, without quite realizing it, that I would be as open as I could be about this illness. I have always been comforted through talking about things and as I shared my experience a couple of things happened. First, I realized that I was not alone. Secondly, I was able to give others comfort by listening to their stories. Since then I have kept that pledge.

Over the years many people have opened up to me about their own struggles with depression and anxiety. I know people who have tried suicide and those who have been touched by depression and suicide. The only shame in any of this, in my mind, is that we still don't feel comfprtable enough in our society to ask for help or really stand up and share our stories.

When we were kids and someone came to school with a broken arm we all asked to sign the cast - how cool to have a cast! We have breast cancer survivors - we're proud of what these women have overcome, and so we should be. But what about mental illness? No, we're not there yet. So there's your answer - that's why I need to do this.

I am committing myself to starting conversation, offering comfort when I can and sharing my experiences in an open and honest manner. And, just maybe, I'll show that there is hope - after the darkness comes light.

Oh, the book! Of course I bought it (alas, the Rosebud Salve was not to be found!). Today I am happy with my life and I am optimistic about the future. But the next time that I feel blue (and there will be days) I will pull out my treasured Peanuts book, flip to my favourite page, and read, "Happiness is a warm puppy." Thanks Charles Schultz!

"To New Beginnings"

Christmas and Hanukkah are over. The new year is just around the corner. Most of us are considering how we are going to get back on track...