Dealing with the Blues

I am grateful to be living in an area where I no longer experience winter. However, the post holiday season can be a difficult time for many of us. We spend so much time preparing for Christmas, Hanukkah or special days as well as the New Year and suddenly, it’s all over. If you live in the northern hemisphere, you suddenly notice that daylight is short and there are three to four more months of winter to deal with. The January Blues are very real for many people. Seasonal Affective Disorder may also play a part in our sense of depression.

I have dealt with depression for far too many years. Sometimes I have been able to manage on my own, or with the help of a friend. At other times I’ve taken natural medications such as St. John´s Wort. For about five years I took prescription antidepressants. Clinical depression is very real and most of us experience it at some point in our lives. Some of us are able to come out of it without taking anything and others need varying degrees of assistance to deal with the depression. Everyone is different and so it is important not to compare with others but to treat it properly.

Since I have been in recovery dealing with depression has become easier. After a few years in my program and, with my doctor’s advice, I was able to slowly wean myself off of the medications for depression. However, that doesn’t mean that I am ‘cured’. I still have to be conscious about how I am feeling.

So what do I do when I feel myself spiraling down? There are a number of things that help me. I get my butt to a meeting. When I am down, I don’t want to see anyone. And that’s probably the worst thing for me. I need to get out of my head. Going to a meeting helps me to get out of myself and engage with others. A meeting also reminds me that I am not alone in all of this. I do have a lot of support. After the meeting I can talk to my sponsor.

Exercise also works. It doesn’t have to be a three hour marathon at the gym. A walk to the store instead of driving, or taking the dogs for a extra walk. Getting the body moving releases endorphins which help to regulate our mood. There’s a very steep path near my home up to the top of a mountain that doesn’t take more than ten minutes to climb, but it leads to a great view, it’s good exercise and my dogs love the run.

As much as I griped about it when I was first in recovery, I now often write a Gratitude List. There are always at least three things that I can be grateful for. Again, writing this list takes my focus away from those things that I find depressing. How can I be depressed when I have been given so much?

Clinical depression is very serious. If none of these suggestions help to alleviate your depression, seek professional help as soon as possible. There may be a chemical imbalance in your body and like I did, you may need to take a medication to help correct the imbalance.  It may be that you need to talk to someone who is a professional and has more experience than your sponsor or your friends in the meeting rooms. In the same way that if you had a bad head ache lasting a week without seeing your doctor, don’t let depression go untreated when it lasts a week.

We all have down days. It’s normal. But remember that the better days are on the way. We don’t have to remain down. It’s not the end of the world. I’ve often shared that even in Recovery, I still have ups and downs in my moods and how I feel, but the extremes of feeling really good or really sad now seem to be gone and for that,  I am grateful.

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russian blue kitten on brown woven basket

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Early To Rise

I have been getting up at 5:30 AM for the past couple of months. That’s new for me. I hadn’t set an alarm clock except for when I was going to be travelling, for years. I would go to bed at 11 o’clock or so and wake up anywhere between 6:30 and 7:30, depending upon my dogs and the neighbourhood roosters. But honestly, I was finding the evenings long and it seemed to take me more time in the morning to pull myself together to face the day.

Five thirty seems early but here, close the equator, that’s when the sun rises slowly over the mountain behind my home. I find I really do enjoy sitting on my terrace sipping hot water with lemon and sort of meditating, sort of thinking, slowly waking up and greeting the day. By 8:00 AM I have written a 500 words or so in my journal, done ten minutes of Tai-Chi, fed and walked the dogs, and cooked myself a nutritious breakfast. Before, by that time, I had barely finished my first coffee. Now, I have accomplished a whole lot.

As I get older, I find that I like routine more. Contrary to what I thought before, I actually find it gives me more freedom. I don’t have to think about what I am going to do upon awakening. I know before I go to bed how I am going to spend the first couple of hours of the day and prepare for it. It is still a very relaxed routine. However, I feel like I have accomplished a great deal very early in the day. There aren’t the distractions of later on in the morning, it’s quiet and meditative.

Of course, getting up early means going to bed earlier. By 9:30 PM it is lights out. Before then I have usually been reading something for a half an hour, slowing down my pace of the day. Sometimes I finish the chapter but sometimes the Kindle slips out of my hand onto the bed and I know it’s time to turn out the light.

I find that I need a solid morning routine as well. I like having that sense of accomplishment very early in the day. I have done things that are important to me without seeing them as a chore or work. I want to have conscious contact with my Higher Power. It’s important for me to write. My body is enjoying the benefits of some morning stretching. In essence, this routine helps me to awaken my mind, body and spirit. I have accomplished a great deal and feel like I am ahead.

beautiful bloom blooming blossom

Photo by Arulonline on Pexels.com

Perhaps you don’t think you need a morning routine. Perhaps you think you’re not a morning person. But give it a try. Getting up even 15 or 20 minutes earlier and spending that time in some sort of silence, meditation or inspirational reading will give a you a jump start on your day, boost your sense of self worth, self confidence and accomplishment. Try it for a week and see how it changes your day, how you relate to others and to yourself. I know it works because I am seeing the benefits in myself. You will too.

Feelings

“The great part about recovery is that you can feel again. The lousy part of recovery is that you can feel again.” 

My goal, when I was still in my disease, was to numb the feelings that flowed through my head. I wanted to escape how I felt about myself, about others and about situations. I couldn’t deal with how I was feeling so I tried to eliminate them completely. Loneliness, depression, fear, anger and resentment were some of the stronger feelings I felt more or less at any time and often in a combination of two or three. I had only one way to deal with them, and near the end, even that didn’t work. I didn’t know how to live with them. I guess I missed that course in life: Dealing with Feelings.

For the first three or four months in recovery I was on the proverbial ‘pink cloud’ where everything was wonderful. Then it hit me. I had started to work on Step Four and I was realizing all of my defects of character. As the saying goes, a sober horse thief is still a horse thief. I might have been in recovery, but I was now a ball of emotions and feelings that I had to learn to manage. I had begun to feel again. I remember going on a bit too long at one meeting. Afterward, another member asked me it I had a sponsor. “Of course I do!” I replied somewhat proudly. “Maybe you should use him,” suggested the member.

It was in the heart to heart discussions with my sponsor that I first started to learn that to deal with feelings I first had to accept them. Using examples of his own life, he showed me how he worked through those strong feelings in early recovery, just as I was doing: by working with his sponsor, by talking about them and by discovering their source, the ‘exact nature’ of those feelings. Why was I angry? Who or what was I angry at? Was there threat to me? What can I do to diminish my feelings of anger? I learned how to do the same with other feelings as well.

Analysing my feelings helped to diminish their strength and power. I learned that I needed to acknowledge what I was feeling and where it was taking me. I didn’t have to allow the feeling to take me into depression or loneliness, anger or fear. I had a choice. My feelings didn’t have to dictate my reaction. If I was lonely, I could go meet a friend or pick up the phone and call someone.  I  didn’t have to wallow in loneliness, allowing it to spiral me downward into deeper and deeper sadness. Often I would just get on my motorcycle and drive and drive and say the Serenity Prayer over and over until I felt peace replacing the strong feelings that threatened my recovery.

My life is manageable today and I lived more in tranquility than chaos. The frequency of those strong feelings is diminished. Strong feelings still do come up but not as often and I know that I can’t avoid them. I have to deal with them. It’s my choice when I do so, but sooner rather than later works for me and frees me to enjoy my life and not be burdened by it. I am grateful.