I experienced my first bout of depression in the year of 1996. I was 16 years old and had just fallen one spot short of my lifelong dream of making the Olympic team in gymnastics. I didn’t really know what was going on at the time, but I just had this lack of drive, moodiness, tearfulness, and sense of loss.
I would go into the gym and try to train, and I just wanted to give up. Prior to the Olympic Trials, I could work through challenging days knowing that there was a goal in sight. Now, even though I had a goal of making National Team the next summer, I just didn’t have the drive in my heart anymore. Something had been really lost when I didn’t make the team, and the depression was the manifestation of that loss.
Unfortunately, that wasn’t my last experience with the deep sadness and despair that accompanies depression. It came back in 2001, and I can recall my 21st birthday was basically spent bawling my eyes out. Depression clouded my existence from the ages of 23 to 25 following my collegiate gymnastics career, and then I had some reprieve as I pursued my masters degree as a physician assistant.
But…once again, it reared its very large head while I was pregnant with my son in 2013 and has come and gone ever since that time.
So, I want to say that if you’re struggling with the darkness of depression, I can empathize. It makes for a very difficult existence at times, and it sometimes drives you to actually not want to exist anymore. So, how do we use mindfulness and meditation to turn towards the darkness and hopefully find some light?
Before I go any further, I just want to state that in many cases it’s helpful to seek professional support with a psychologist, therapist, or some other support well-versed in working with this challenging experience. At times, medication and formal medical intervention are necessary, as well. It’s not something you should have to face alone.
Now with that said, here are five tools that we can utilize in any moment to bring some relief during these dark times:
I have found that through Recognizing, Allowing, Investigating, and Nurturing (learn more about RAIN in my article here ) it’s possible to bring kindness and a nurturing attention to the emotional pain.
This process brings a lot of important qualities to the depression. First, it allows you to name what is present and then allow it to be there. Sometimes the allowing can be challenging, and that’s why it helps to work with someone else during this process, if it’s possible. With practice, however, you start to realize that you develop a capacity to stay with the emotional turmoil, become curious about it, and then offer yourself the compassionate attention that is so needed.
Writing about what you’re feeling can be helpful to simply get it out of the mind and body onto paper as something tangible and visible.
Ground Yourself in Nature
If it’s too much to stay with the inner turmoil, step outside, or if your health allows, go for a walk amongst the trees and the beauty of nature. Nature can support us. You can become aware of the smells around you, the scenery, and the sensation of your feet on the Earth. This allows you to come into the present moment and shift the focus to all of the external sources of natural support.
Call a friend or someone you know who can just listen and be with you free of judgment
As I said before, this is not something you need to force yourself to handle alone. Having someone, a pet or, if you’re religious, a spiritual figure that can listen and offer comfort can make all the difference in the world. Knowing that you have support and love is critical in these moments and allows you to be held with kind attention, acceptance and understanding.
There is a process where you can become mindful of the emotional distress within the body and then find a place in the body or through the senses where there is ease and comfort. This process allows you to gently touch into the pain but not overwhelm yourself in sadness, i.e pendulating back and forth.
It’s like getting used to cold water by dipping your toe in at first and then placing it back on warm ground and then placing the whole foot and then the leg, etc. This same process can apply to “dipping” into emotional and physical discomfort.
For example, as you’re becoming mindful of what depression feels like in your body, you may notice tension or contraction in the area of the heart. (This is just an example, and you may experience depression very differently in the body.) You may notice the edges of the tension and move towards the center of the most tension. As it starts to feel like it may be too much to experience, you can find a place in the body, such as the feet or hands or notice the blue sky or something that feels comfortable and shift your focus to that for a moment. Once you feel a sense of ease, you can gently go back to the area of tension.
You can repeat this process a few times, going into the pain and then shifting to something pleasant, and over time, you may notice things changing, possibly releasing and opening up a little.
For anyone struggling with the deep despair of depression, I hope these practices serve to bring you ease and support. If you feel in need of additional support through this process, I would love to serve as a guide. Please contact me here .
Wishing you peace, hope, and love along your path.