I have always struggled with anxiety, but it had gotten worse last winter, a lot worse. In December of 2017, I went to the doctor after having a series of anxiety attacks.
Cancelling on social events, unable to complete basic tasks outside of the home, and really feeling a deep unshakable sadness was what I described to him when I went in for my appointment. After meeting with my doctor, I was diagnosed with depression and told medication was likely my best option.
I left his office in complete and utter shock. "Me? Needing medication?!". I was stunned, upset, and made it home through a steady stream of tears. I felt shattered and at a complete loss for what to do next.
That is exactly how I felt. Like a complete and utter failure. Like I was weak. "People have it so much worse than me! My life is amazing and I am so fortunate. How on EARTH can I be depressed?".
"Emma, how could you be so pathetic".
This ran through my head on repeat. And I'd be lying if I said I didn't still think it from time to time.
After that day, many tears, and some processing time, I researched antidepressants and talked to friends and family who are medicated or have been in the past. They reassured me that there is no shame and that I should pursue the path I felt most comfortable with.
I know medication works for so many people. They feel better, free, calm. Still, I was hesitating.
Before starting any kind of pharmaceutical plan I wanted to try and take actional steps towards improving my mental health. I set concrete goals. I knew I needed to take aggressive steps toward building myself back up.
This is not to say that everyone can simply "mountain pose" their way to better mental health. There are legitimate reasons to take antidepressants and countless people in my own life who have been taking them for weeks, months, even years. For myself, I wanted to try a few things first and see what improvements I could make.
Immediately after my diagnosis, I made a list of things I could start doing TODAY that would improve my mental health.
I have struggled with body dysmorphia and eating disorders in the past and have always had a poor self-image. Okay, working on that issue goes on the list.
Next, I have crippling anxiety and there is too much on my plate. Okay, resign from some volunteer positions and find ways to lean on my colleagues and share the workload. Change roles at my job.
Lastly, I feel manic and I don't sleep well. Alright, I'm going to meditate before bed as many nights as I can. Hell, let's roll on some essential oils too. Can't hurt!
This was my plan of attack.
Just before the one year anniversary of my depression diagnosis, I was still fumbling along. Some days were better than others, but, as you can imagine, I had lost some of my consistency with my self-care. That easing off meant the anxiety came creeping back in.
So, for the month of November 2018, I made a pledge to meditate every day. Every. Single. Day. I did, and here's what happened and what surprised me.
How Did It Work?
It just so happens that for this month of meditation I was in Thailand. What better place to find my inner happiness, self-love, and a little piece of calm.
Do you need to be in Thailand to find your inner Zen? Of course not! I can't say the temples and elephant pants hurt though.
Each day I used either my Headspace app, meditated as part of yoga practice, or did my own unguided meditation.
Some days I meditated for 25 minutes, other days only 5. I didn't beat myself up when less time was devoted to the practice. I just had to do it. Some days I was super motivated and mindful, giving the meditation all of my energy and feeling great after. Some days I felt a bit more distracted and not as into it.
No matter what, I had to meditate every day.
How Did It Go?
By the end of the 30 days, there were a few changes and things I noticed.
I felt the mediation came more easily to me. I could dive into a meditative state much more quickly after 30 days then at day 1. It became more natural and familiar.
I felt calmer, looked forward to the practice, and definitely felt odd not meditating as often through the month of December. It became so much a part of my day-to-day.
My anxiety got better during this 30 day period. New situations an experiences in Thailand felt exciting and manageable for the most part. From venturing into the mountains on an elephant adventure to visiting temples, and crowded night markets, I felt more able to cope with these situations by the end of the month.
What Surprised Me
What surprised me the most after this 30-day test was how I reacted to situations in the weeks that have followed. I feel more level, more calm, and more able to handle stressful situations with ease, even though I have not been meditating consistently for the past month.
I don't know why, but I wasn't expecting the impact to be so lasting even without regular practice. Take yoga as another, more physical example. When I am doing it regularly I feel the benefits, I am better balanced, and have more flexibility. When I stop practicing though, the flexibility and mobility fade and things go back to normal.
The tools I learned during that month are being applied to my daily life and interactions in a way I couldn't have predicted. The techniques I learned have become essential in how I think and behave. It really changed me on a deeper level.
I plan on beginning my daily meditation goal again this month and looking forward to more consistent practice once again. It is comforting to know that the work I do and what I have learned is always there with me and I can tap into those skills when I feel the need.
It's the gift that keeps on giving!
My Depression Journey
Are anxiety and depression still things I am struggling with? Of course. Do I think I will pursue medication in the future? Honestly, I don't know. Things may change for the better, or worse and I am prepared to roll with it and play it by ear at this point.
I know self-care, meditation, yoga, reducing my workload etc. were positive changes to make no matter what. I'm glad I did and I know my mental health suffers when I neglect my self-care.
For now, my plan is to stay the course and move forward. Meditation has become a huge part of my wellness journey in ways I honestly could never have imagined.
Do you suffer from depression? How have you managed your mental health? I would love to hear your journey. Let me know in the comments or send me a message here.
If you are feeling depressed please seek medical attention. This post in no recommends stopping medical treatment for your depression. I wanted to share what has worked for me and is my own personal journey.
For resources on depression and suicide prevention click here.
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