Before I was depressed I was an intellectual cynic. Self help, I believed was for gullible people, full of fluff and crap and was no good for anyone. I regarded the Mind, Body, Spirit (MBS for short, sometimes I would call it the BS section) section at the bookshop where I worked with its bizarre mixture of angels, crystals, meditation and ‘heal yourself’ books with great suspicion. I wouldn’t have said it (to their faces) but in my mind it was for weirdos.
So it was with a heavy heart that I have to admit that I was wrong. Well, partly. I don’t agree with a lot of those books still. I do retain a bit of my inner cynic.
The first thing I did when I realised I was depressed was I decided that it was not worth hanging on to the belief that people who looked for help in such places as a self-help book were somehow different to me, that these books didn’t apply to me because I was a rational, staunchly atheist, scientifically minded philosophy student. I needed help and I was going to find it and to hell with those who would laugh at me.
So now 3 years later I’m a fully fledged yogi, meditator and it turns out no one actually cared too much about any of this. I suppose I’m not at school anymore (I was friends with a very stifling group of girls at school who would laugh if my hair was parted strangely, no joke) This is a relief. I like being an adult!
I read The Mindful Way Through Depression first last year and this was my introduction to a sustained meditation practice. At first I thought it’d be too easy and obvious for me because I’d been practicing yoga. I was wrong again! Before then I had only been able to practice my yoga when my mood was not so all consumingly awful. It was beyond my comprehension to sit with a low mood. Learning how to be with myself when all I want to do is watch tv and forget I exist has been one of the hardest but most rewarding things. I know myself better now, I know my feelings are nothing to fear, they have no substance. They’re just thoughts and they come and go just like my tears sometimes do when I’m sitting there.
Having this knowledge of my mind and my moods for the first time gave me a sense that I was helping myself recover, I wasn’t waiting in the hope that the depression would somehow just go away. I realised that in some ways it was my thoughts which were keeping me in my depression. I understood for the first time that desperate cycle: I have a bad feeling, I have a bad thought, I feel bad, I am bad, I will feel and be bad forever and ever and ever. With sustained practice my thought patterns now have become more like: I have a bad feeling, I feel bad, end. I feel the feelings, in my chest (that hollow ache), in my throat (that clawing) and I know what they are. I am not scared of them.
The second book The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion I have only just finished. This book builds on my mindfulness by adding the idea of self-compassion to it. I think I feel more compassion (self and otherwise) than a lot of people but that doesn’t stop me beating myself up about this or that trivial thing. My counsellor pointed out I was very hard on myself and it’s true, I am. That needs to change.
This book has helped me, it has introduced the metta meditation which I practice everyday on strangers when I’m walking around. This sounds odd but it helps connect me to other people because I usually feel so alienated and different. According to the book that means I’m an ‘outsider’. There’s some quotes that applied fantastically to my experience but I think that merits an entire post.
Self-compassion helps me cope. It helps when I wake up sad and all I want to do is stare out of the window and cry. It helps me realise that this is not my fault, that I am suffering as everyone suffers. We have to acknowledge our own suffering and others but not condemn ourselves or them. We just have to wish us all well. This book has given me some fantastic tools to help this process and I can feel it healing me.
These two books, no exaggeration, have given me my mind back. I can’t say if reading them has helped my depression along but when I wake up sad or I have a sudden downturn I know how to help myself. I truly hope if you, or someone else you know, is suffering that you try to read these books. They are well worth putting aside any cynical misgivings.