I always stress over what to discuss with you when it's my turn to be published in On Faith.
I don't consider myself to be an expert on very many things if any. I'm not particularly well-traveled or educated and my life's path has not been the same as most people I've known.
While I don't remember where I heard it or read it, at some time in my past, I learned that when I don't know what to write about, then the best idea is just to write about the thoughts or feelings that are foremost in my heart.
So I'd like to tell you just a short story about my life. I've wanted to talk about it for a while, but my insecurity and apprehension -- and a fair amount of shame -- has gotten in the way. For whatever reason, now seems like a good time to share. Maybe someone out there needs to read my words.
Roughly 3 1/2 years ago, my descent began down the slide into depression. I've fought bouts of depression at various times throughout my life, and while revealing details isn't really necessary here, I will say a few of these periods were severe, substantially affecting my daily living. This round, after nearly a year of counseling, medication and mental homework, I'm on the upswing now, but this most recent episode has been the longest-lasting and more debilitating than any other.
Before starting treatment, I think I did a pretty good job of hiding what was really going on inside of my head. I performed my job and other functions of life, but really didn't get any joy out of anything.
Just went through the motions doing what I considered necessary to keep my mental condition a secret. I was embarrassed. I didn't want anybody to think I was weak, or for anyone to feel sorry for me; a whiner who can't handle life.
Convinced there was no hope that I would ever feel better, I believed there was no reason to be here. My salvation was knowing four-legged lives that depended on me. Finally, about a year ago, my mental state and hopelessness drove me to seek professional help.
Through counseling, I learned some self-help techniques that probably sound really simple and most likely you wouldn't think they would have such a profound effect, but they really do.
One of the things I started doing was keeping a blessing board -- a small dry erase board that was divided by weekdays. Each day, normally toward the end of the day, I reflect back upon my day for one instance or experience that I consider to be a blessing, or good or simply nice and write it on the board. The board serves as an end of week reminder of occasions that made me smile on the inside.
I started keeping a journal. Journaling was always difficult for me because I felt like I had to write out an elaborate description of my day.
But through the magic of iPhones or Androids, I found that I could just pull up a notepad and make quick entrances about something that happened that day.
For instance, "went for ice cream" or "went to the park." Long, pretty, or professional appearance isn't necessary. Jotting down thoughts helps get out some feelings. "The Indians didn't play well today -- disappointed." "Rained all day today -- "sick of rain."
I don't voice negative thoughts or feelings very often, but instead, I try to fight them, which only makes the feelings stronger. But this simple journaling technique helps me relieve the pressure of negative or unpleasant feelings.
Meditation helps me. The human mind is like a stream that never stops, so I don't try to completely remove thoughts. Instead, my version of meditation is focusing on one particular thing such as an object, a sound, or something I feel. Examples would be the wall clock ticking, or fan blades whirling.
Related to meditation, I also try to practice mindfulness. So many times while we are engaged in one activity we really have eight to 10 others floating around in our minds. We don't really pay attention to what we are seeing, feeling, hearing or doing.
Have you ever gotten in your car and arrived at your destination but when you think back about it you don't remember how you got from point A to point B? That's because your mind was flooded with thoughts of things other than where you were at that particular moment and what was right in front of you. You were on autopilot.
One way I practice mindfulness is to really pay attention to things on the side of the road like flowers, bushes or architecture while driving. I started noticing red-winged blackbirds hanging out in a certain area and looked forward to seeing them every day on my drive to work. Some crops of corn were much higher than others in the same field. I observed trees and flowers moving through the growing cycle.
Every night when I turn out the light to retire for the evening, I lie still, looking around, taking note of objects in the room -- window blinds, lamp, artwork on my wall, ceiling fan. I acknowledge where I am at this particular time and what my surroundings are.
I made a list of the things that I enjoy doing and made it a priority to implement those practices into my life. I stopped thinking about what I should be doing and focusing on doing things that made me feel good and brought joy to my life.
One of the practices that I believe has helped me the most is practicing thankfulness every day. I'm not going to call it prayer, but I guess it resembles prayer. As I'm lying in my bed at night after I practice mindfulness for a few moments, I reflect back on my day because I've been mindful and I can remember things I've seen, heard or been exposed to.
I name all the things that I'm thankful for having, seeing, or experiencing that day: cardinals at the bird feeder, the pink crepe myrtle tree, the breeze flowing from the fan, my cat Jasper purring in my lap. Thankfulness for the ordinary has increased feelings of joy and satisfaction in my life.
The practices I've mentioned will help increase focus and satisfaction in your life. They're good for your mind and soul even if you're not depressed. Consider giving them a try.
When I first started seeing my therapist, my visits were every two weeks. Now they're spaced out about a month apart, sometimes longer depending on my schedule. I wouldn't be in the better place I am today had it not been for my employer's EAP program. I'm fortunate, but some aren't.
Can we work together to end this lack of necessary mental health care?
Dixie Collinson is a member of the Open Door Unitarian Universalist Fellowship.