Retrain Your Brain – Part 1

I am going to my happy place in British Columbia waters

I am going to my happy place in British Columbia waters

February is a tough month for many people in the winter climes (I am sure it is elsewhere, too, but I can only speak to my own experience). In Stockholm, and while growing up in Halifax (Nova Scotia), this was the month where new snow is dropped upon old, rocky, salty piles of more experienced snow, and thick ice coats the roads and sidewalks, making it a joy and adventure to walk to work…(no, there are no heated sidewalks around). And although Vancouver does not get snow like Halifax or Stockholm, I was still faced with the dark, dreary, rainy month of February, where there is no holiday in sight (DO not tell me that Valentines Day is a holiday…pawh, awful thing, manufactured…do not contribute to it!). In addition, people like me are still broke from the holiday season and thus cannot escape to a beach…, and if you are challenged with depression or other sunlight requiring disorders, well, February is where you start to get really…extra…SAD-MAD-BAD!

Confession. I am a statistic. I have chronic depression, the bad kind. The kind that will never go away. But that is okay; depression is part of who I am, how I operate. I  feel like a part of me is missing when it goes away on a sunny holiday (only a little bit). From the moment I was born, my little baby self was already going to be exposed to a world of depression, and that is how my developing brain experienced the world, too. Nature vs Nurture folks! My poor mom had postpartum depression on top of an existing condition and it only got worse as the years passed (psychotic manifestations…). She did not get help until she was 71, and even then, it was only medication.

My official process of retraining my brain started in 1999 and I was fortunate to be in university, which meant the help was accessible. TPTB hooked me up with a psychologist who used CBT (cognitive behaviour therapy). As a biology and psychology student, this style of therapy made sense to me. All I had to do was retrain those neural highways, help those little neurotransmitter path-building buddies of mine to shimmy on down another path, or ideally create a new one of my choosing, right?

Ummm, well it turns out that these neural/mental paths are not permanent (both the negative and positive ones) and you have to constantly work at it and be vigilant. Check in with yourself, acknowledge when things are not quite right, ya know? Do not be afraid to ask for help. Start with your friends and family, and go to your doctor. If your doctor sucks (like mine did this summer) then find another doctor or find out if your company or city or province or state has someone to help you. Do not let up until you make someone listen to you. It is imperative!

I accept that I will always be prone to piles of dark snow filled rock that  impede my pathways to positive thought, no matter the time of year. I have my own blend of cost free internal and external therapy that works for me…and all I really know is that it is training time for me brain. My job sucks the big one right now and it is spiraling out of control and well, there are no resources for me, so thus, I write. To complete strangers instead. But by doing this, I am in the process of retraining my brain.

Be your own mental health advocate.

My little Tio sunning himself in Vancouver. Cats make me happy.

My little Tio sunning himself in Vancouver. Cats make me happy.

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9 responses to “Retrain Your Brain – Part 1

  1. Have you ever seriously considered thought-stopping meditation? It is a skill to be sure, but once learned it gets easier and easier and gives more and more pleasure. The mid-brain that is addicted to generating unpleasant or destructive thoughts can be subdued with this method. The first step is not believing a word it says; the second is observing as it vainly produces thoughts that you are not interested in; the third is the jolt when it produces it’s first truly random thought, the fourth is the wonderful realisation that many of these thoughts are self-generating and not deliberately thought by you at all. At that step you have the delicious joy of feeling the difference between the ‘monkey mind’ and your true essence which is invariably peaceful and joyful. The eventual epiphany comes when you understand that the I observing is different to the My of ‘my thoughts’. You’ll still create very interesting pathways of thought, you’ll still wander down the alleyways of private reverie, you’ll still love your unique mind, you’ll still question the intelligence of those around you! And you start with just one minute a day, which is more than long enough for the average monkey-brained person – those monkeys sure like leaping around from one thought to another. Trying to sit in a lotus for 40 mins is just a terrible way to start. Being able to casually observe your thoughts without engaging with them for a full minute is plenty to start with. That’s how I did it anyway. Have you ever meditated?

    • Thanks for the suggestions Anna. I meditate in my own way as I have never found traditional meditation works for me. For me, part of that is hanging with the cats, which soothes me and calms my brain. Hugs.

      • Yep, dem cats dey defo a therapy! I have meditated with all my cats before, it seems to create a connection or energy that they can feel and they become incredibly loving and glad to be with you. My current cat is a gentle little chap and a little wary, but when I rest my mind with him he just doesn’t want to leave my side. However, when I go to him for comfort and want to be with him without that connection, I seem to fail to meet the criteria for that real connection. He is a teacher – as all pets are. Traditional meditation methods eluded me for a while, but fortunately there are a billion approaches … or should I say 7 billion! Off for a week’s retreat soon, so will no doubt encounter as many different approaches as there are people on the course.

  2. I have suffered from chronic clinical depression since I was quite young as well. I am a big proponent of CBT and the like, but I also know there are no quick-fixes. It takes prolonged conscious effort. It takes time. What I do know is that my ability to feel happy and joyful has increased steadily with time. I do spend time in the little dark pools now and again. But now I do so with the knowledge that the dark times are temporary–I’m not as obsessed with always being happy, not as adverse to pain as I used to be. I am embracing life by noticing the little joys and miracles that surround me constantly. Thank you so much for this post. It made me feel much less alone, and opened me up to writing on this topic.

    • Hi Carolyn! Thank you so much for your words and for following me. It is a great comfort to know that what we write does touch people. I am also honoured that my writing inspired you. What a great way to start my day!

  3. I am pleased to read your story. I am happy that you can share with us. I have several friends with depression and I am always interested to learn more from those who travel this difficult path.

  4. First off, thanks for following my blog. I am poking around yours. Really liked this post? Have you ever tried medication? I can’t take antidepressants because of my Bipolar. But St. John’s wort has been wonderful– I take research grade. It gave me back some of the creativity I lost to anti-psychotic meds. Medication can help– cognitive therapy was lost on me until I was medicated.

    • You are welcome…it was the common interests that I liked, and i found you thanks to a mutual blogger who just nominated you for an award…As for me and my pal depression, I have been on medication for about 12 years now, and for the most part it helps, but I still have times of deep lows. I don’t think I have lost any creativity but who knows. Thanks for your kind and thoughtful words.

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