Jul 20, 2008

Keeping the Horribles at Bay: Guided Meditations, Mindfulness and Depression

I spent my mad teens clinically depressed. I spent almost all of my vivacious 20s on various cocktails of anti-depressants prescribed to curb my self-destructive passions and mournful wailings. I've hit the dark bottom several times but I've bounced back. I even had 4 (more or less) stable years of fruitful and productive creativity during my Writing degree at UVic.

After graduation, for mostly financial reasons, I went off the meds. What followed was a crash harder than asphalt and my recovery took years. I began this excruciatingly slow crawl back to peace without doctors or their meds. I've been meds free for 7 years. Along the way I have used relocation, taoist philosophy, cultivation of joy, laughter, Love, the dogmas of Joseph Campbell and Jung as conscious and unconscious methods of assuaging the dark siren in me. Yet, the horribles continued to pursue me in the shadows, coming at me with relentless mocking self-recriminations and whispered despair. I posted affirmations on my walls but they provided flimsy muzzles. Then I came upon the practice of self-hypnosis and guided meditations.

Armed with my rudimentary understanding of the brain and neuroplasticity, I decided to reprogram my habitual thoughts. I wanted to counteract the extreme negatives by introducing extreme positives while in a receptive, relaxed state. I collected and tried out a number of different meditations. I chose the ones I felt the most positive in. The effects were fairly immediate. Absorbed snippets from the meditations would spontaneously surface to interrupt a negative eddy from deepening. For example, when I begin thinking of all the bad, irritating shit that's crapping on me, a recorded voice reminds me to rest my thoughts on the positive and everything will go smoothly. I've been practicing these meditations daily for 15 months and for me, it works.

A few months ago, I discovered mindfulness practice while researching depression. They've done clinical studies and found that Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy reduces the risk of relapse in those who had three or more previous episodes of depression (from 66 per cent to 37 per cent). I immediately added Mindfulness practice to my repertoire. I try to spend 30 minutes on Mindfulness and augment it with 20 minutes of positive-thinking based self-hypnosis. I find this combination works well for me. I am more aware of my moods as clouds and my negative thoughts as tiny whirlpools in a giant river.

Suggested meditations:

Thich Nhat Hanh - Mindful Movements

Mindful Way Through Depression - Guided Meditation Practices
BrainSync - Guided Relaxation with Kelly Howell
Bob Griswold's Super Strength Self-Esteem

Suggested reading:

The Lotus and the Synapse - An article in Newsweek
Meditation and Depression - Transcript from ABC's Dimensions Health
Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy and the prevention of relapse in depression - University of Oxford
The Mindful Way through Depression: Freeing Yourself from Chronic Unhappiness - A book

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Nadya said...

Hi Shehani! Have just spent half an hour perusing your blog and I really enjoyed it. So much of what you said - about those awful first months in Madrid, experimenting with different ways of keeping your demons at bay and reflections on Spain rang so true with me (I'm a foreign chick in Lavapies too). Your photos are great and so is your writing, keep it up :-) Nadya x

Shehani said...

Thanks Nadya! encantada! always awesome to meet another foreign chica in Lavapies who knows what it means to have to keep the demons at bay! I hope you're enjoying the barrio as much as I do! xx

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