Monday, February 25, 2013

Depression, Anxiety, Herbs, and Being Present

It's been a few months since I made this video for the Project for Awesome, in which I talked about mental health and my experiences with depression and social anxiety. Shortly after that, my family made a decision to move my grandpa, who has dementia, into a care home, and my grandma moved into a retirement home of her own will, leaving the house they had lived in for the past 60 years. My grandparents have been a huge part of my life, especially since I moved here for university 10 years ago, so this change has had a big impact on me. No longer can I just stop over and watch PBS with Grandma if I need some human contact. Knowing that my grandpa is confused and alone most of the time makes me feel guilty. At the same time, some friendships that I hoped would develop fell flat, a big disappointment as I try to break out of my loneliness. I spend a lot more time alone in my apartment than I did before.

In an enormous spiral of depression, I made a very deliberate decision to distract myself from my life. I did not want to think about my grandparents or my job or my lack of social and romantic life, so after work, instead of reading a book or writing down my feelings, I turned on the TV or got on facebook for HOURS. I did not clean the house. I did not get errands done. Sometimes, when my roommate was staying at a friend's house, I drank too much so that I didn't feel so bad.

I don't remember what caused me to go out and buy St John's Wort. Desperation? Probably. Honestly, I didn't think it would actually work, but a few weeks after I started taking it, when my roommate had again left me alone all weekend, I was shocked and amazed to find that I didn't feel like laying down and dying. I didn't feel particularly happy. From my perspective, I was still poor and alone and unhappy, but it was as if some invisible emotional force was keeping me from sinking into my normal depression. Huh.

My faith communtiy is doing some rather abstract practices for Lent, the first of which was "practicing presence and fasting from distraction." My friend Mara, who has experience in the Orthodox Church calls it "Protestant choose-your-own-adventure Lent." So I'm fasting from my biggest distraction, Facebook, and instead of dwelling on how sucky my life is as a single 28 year old with an employer who takes advantage of me, I'm taking a vacation from trying to fix my life. Until Easter, I guess, I'm just trying to be in my life, even though I am not content with it. That means not casting around for all sorts of things that I could do, like join a new club or look for a new job. I make appointments and things for later in the week, but I'm refusing to make long-term "this is going to make my life better" inquiries. I'm taking things one day at a time, as it were.

Sometimes I even take things minute by minute, and the combination of this presence practice and maybe the herbs seems to be changing my experience with stressful situations. I was supposed to mail a package on Monday, but things weren't working out the way I wanted before work. During work, I just decided not to dwell on it, because I couldn't do anything about it until afterward. It worked. On Sunday morning, I wanted to check out another faith community, but I got into my car a bit late and would show up late. I hate being late, but instead of putting myself in the position of arriving late as a new person, I decided to just not go, but drive over and see where it was, to soak up some sun and listen to Irish music on the drive. It was fine. No one was even expecting me to be there except for me. Normally, I would beat myself up over it, and even thinking about it now, my anxiety threatens to bubble up, but I am calm. I am a leaf on the wind.

1 comment:

totally-not-an-alien said...

i used to take st john's for some time years ago. it was meant to help me sleep an lighten my mood. i can't really say whether it did or not, but i can certainly say it made me sensitive to light.
it's nothing too bad, it's just always too bright for me, even on most winter days.
i guess it's worth it if you can keep your depression at bay without hard chemicals. just wanted to point that out.