This post is dedicated to my friend who is learning the gift of a quiet mind through her efforts in battling depression and anxiety.
My mind has never been quiet. As a five year old child, I remember laying in bed late at night pondering the meaning of life, being perplexed by being human in the first place and even overwhelmed and almost obsessed with Christ's crucifixion. Later in life, I would brainstorm all sorts of scenarios, including some very unhealthy but understandable daydreams about ways that I could escape my abusive situation.
As an adult, having freedom and control of my situation encouraged healthier ways of being until something went awry like a car accident, a break-up with a boyfriend or a family situation. When those things would happen, I would have difficulty focusing on anything but them and studying, engaging with friends and even watching TV with any attention was a struggle. Since life has ups and downs, hoping for everything to go my way didn't pan out to be a very effective mind-quieting strategy.
After having a baby, experiencing disappointing childbirth and breastfeeding experiences and then almost immediately being struck with severe postpartum depression and anxiety, my mind had had it. It became clear that I had to do something and that my own perfectionism and perceived self-control was not even going to begin to cut it. It took rock bottom for me to accept that I needed to allow medication and therapy be the vehicle by which I got well. I still had to put in the time and effort, but I also had to believe that the treatment would work...to accept it and then be sure not to fight it.
This second pregnancy and postpartum period have been a blessing for so many reasons. I was able to employ so many of the tools I had learned three years prior to help prevent exacerbating any PMAD I might encounter. I was able to learn how to set appropriate boundaries and determine who and what my triggers were so that I could use the techniques I had learned to cope. I practiced yoga and used self-talk regularly. I buoyed myself with the knowledge that I had survived a devastating postpartum experience once and that I could do it again if I had to. Thankfully, I didn't. I was able to cut PPD off at the pass this time, suffering from symptoms of severity for less than three weeks. It was proof that through learning how to quiet my mind I had changed my life and the ways I lived life with those around me.
Growing up in chaos, creating chaos as a form of self-medicating an "adrenaline addiction", being plagued by obsessive or racing thoughts or simply having a worrisome personality can result in a feeling that one has lost control of one's own mind. That the brain is somehow separate from the rest of the body and that while the soul longs for the peace, the mind simply can't comply.
This sense of a noisy mind can be troublesome at least and debilitating at worst. Lack of focus and concentration can impact daily life and our work, both inside and out of the home. It prevents us from living fully in the moment and negatively impacts our relationships with others. We harm ourselves by our lack of presence in our current state and time and others by constantly being distracted or unable to engage in conversation or activities fully with our loved ones.
I am sure there are lots of reasons for this and professionals could easily rattle off a list that includes trauma, genetic predisposition to anxiety and/or OCD, overwhelming stress, physical pain, major life change like a move, job loss, marriage or divorce or birth or adoption of a child. The cause is less important, in my opinion, than the solution.
Coping skills are important tools that each and every one of us, whether diagnosed or "diagnosable" with a mood disorder or not, could benefit from. With those whose lives have been overwhelmed by a noisy mind for decades, more significant treatment may be needed to re-wire or re-train our brains to operate in a different way. Since the mind often goes off on a tangent without much input from us, unless we make a conscious decision to change our thought patterns, it makes perfect sense that effort to transform the M.O. of everyday thinking would be time-consuming and take dedication.
Treatment for mood disorders like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy employs thought-stopping and replacing strategies that may even include physical gestures partnered with specific techniques focused on living in the "here and now". While CBT is not a quick fix, in a comparatively short period of time (often just a few months), relief from obsessive and negative thoughts can be achieved. Certified therapists offer this type of treatment, but other strategies that can be achieved on your own are available, too. A regular meditative or yoga practice, using workbooks focused on changed behaviors and obsessive thoughts, reading books about mindfulness, engaging in your faith community and reinforcing your own spiritual beliefs and talking with friends who can support your in your decision to change your way of thinking and being can be helpful.
Quieting one's mind, being in the moment to enjoy and be engaged in everyday life and the benefits to our physical health by literally and figuratively unwinding are reason enough to make today the first day of brain boot-camp. Let the little people that love you, look up to you and want and need your complete presence be the tipping point, the cherry on top of the sundae or the last straw to being imprisoned by irrational, negative or obsessive thoughts. A healthy mind, and as a result a healthy body, are wonderful gifts that you can give yourself this holiday season.