February 24, 2012

Depression and Magic: 13 Steps to Finding Balance

For those of us who suffer from chemical imbalances or other causes which create severe, ongoing depression, it's often difficult to get into the mindset which will allow us to effectively commune with our deities, reach spiritual heights or even engage effectively in magic or ritual.

Life becomes a vicious cycle of aching for the relief our pagan path brings, yet not being able to "snap out of it" (the depression or anxiety) in order to achieve it, then feeling more depressed for our inability to "fix it".

How much can we "take" before we're no longer resilient?  When my "Major Depressive Disorder" and "General Anxiety Disorder" are at their worst, I tend to think of myself as being like a rubber band that has been stretched to the point that there isn't any elasticity left - because of tremendous hardships in my past and present, and because of medical and emotional disorders I can't control - lying limp and lifeless in a little circle as the world passes by, taking moments with it that I couldn't take part in or enjoy, and that can never be recaptured.

The peace, calm and comfort that would follow effectively practicing our faiths (I suppose this is true for anyone of any faith) could bring enough of a spark of relief for us to move forward and upward...if we could only begin. Sometimes though, even with heavy medications, we're stuck in a low plane of existence. We want nothing more than to be able to "build a bridge and get over it" as many will suggest, but "willing" that to happen requires strength beyond measure.

Working through that black cloud of depression can be a daily, and sometimes hourly task, but it is essential to finding and maintaining balance.  Here, I'll share my own basic steps toward healing.  Take what you need for inspiration and discard what doesn't fit - but, most importantly - do a little something every day toward your goals...it WILL pay off. Brightest Blessings to you, my friends.

 1 Identify the necessity.  Embrace the fact that you're challenged with depression (and that it's OK). Accept you for who you are.  You're not alone and you're not "bad" or "messed up" just because you fight depression. Thousands of others fight it, too.  By the way, if you ever stop feeling ALL emotion (including sadness, anger, pain) and everything is bland or you believe others would be better off without you around, consult a professional immediately!  Just call 1-800-273-8255.  I've been to that sort of hell, twice, where there is NO emotion, no purpose, nothing at all.  As long as you're "feeling" something, there is plenty of hope.
2Take charge of the demons.  Consciously CHOOSE to regain control, no matter how difficult it is, you will not allow yourself to succumb to the deep, dark depths of sadness and indifference.  Think of how you would react if someone abused your child or grandchild - no holds barred, right? - attack your personal demons the same way!  After all, if you're not the best you can be - if you're letting the demons eat away at YOU - how will you ever hope to be strong for someone else when they need you to stand up for them?

 3Alter your outlook.  Practice thinking positively.  Rather than waking up in the morning with the thought: "great, I woke up alive again" (I guess it would be really tricky to wake up dead), LOOK for the beauty in the coming day.  "The sun is shining.  Today is a brand new day. I see my flowers blooming outside in the garden.  The song of the birds is so pretty to hear.  Maybe I can work on that craft project after breakfast, or take a relaxing walk in the woods tonight after dinner."

 4Let go of the past.  When things go wrong, or we make a mistake, we tend to roll every disappointment or poor choice from years long past into one big ball of guilt and pain.  You know, the "I've never had a relationship that lasted more than 3 months - what's wrong with me?" or "Every time I try to __________ (fill in the blank), I fail. I'm such a screw-up." or "I'll always be living in poverty - just look where I came from.  I should have finished school..." etc, etc.  Eliminate the words "never", "ever", "always" and so forth from your vocabulary.

Yeah, DON'T get caught up in the score-keeping and self-pity.  Instead, tell yourself, "I did the best that I could at the time (something) occurred in my past. It's over and done.  It was enough to make a grown man cry, but I learned __________(fill in the blank) and how to cope with __________.  Damn!, I got through that mess pretty well!  Now I need to reconnect with those skills inside me and put them to work again. I can do this!"

 5Inspire yourself and others by example.  I love the sayings, "Be the change you wish to see in the world", and "Recover or repeat".  Sometime in our late teens or early twenties we begin to realize that nobody is going to "do it for us".  If we want something, it's up to us to get there and either reap the rewards or shift directions to attain our desires.  No matter how much is handed to us - materialistically speaking - we won't fully appreciate it or value the work it took to achieve it - unless we've worked to get it for ourselves. All the "stuff" in the world isn't going to make a person happy.  Remind yourself of these things often as you guide those who are looking up to you for inspiration.  Recover from your pitfalls or be doomed to repeat them (either in your own life or mirrored in the lives of generations of your offspring who are following your examples). 

6Be realistic.  Lifting the veil of depression isn't an easy task, and it isn't going to yield instant results. Remember that millions of people are battling personal setbacks every day.  Everything from losing a child to Cancer to caring for a parent with Alzheimer's.  Don't ever think that you're alone, or that your own personal struggle isn't "as bad as" what others are facing.  It's okay to say how you feel. It's okay to cry.  Just be sure to follow it up with steps 7-13 below.
7Engage in activities that brighten your mood.  Surround yourself with pleasing sights, sounds, hobbies, scents, people, pets and tasks you enjoy.  Allow all of your senses to experience the beauty and wonder all around you.  For me, this might include feeling the hot sun on my skin, breathing in the fresh outdoor air as it cleanses my house, listening to the birds tuned perfectly as they sing, using my hands to create something useful and visually appealing, touching the soft fur of my cats or dog, watching as my garden grows, learning to use wild and not-so-wild herbs in healing and magic, playing with my grandchildren, walking in the woods alone...and so much more!  By the way, physical activity and exercise releases "feel good" endorphins (this isn't scientific terminology because I'm not a scientist) - a major boost of "goodness" for sufferers of depression.

 8Empower yourself.  Contrary to step one of the twelve steps of AA (and others), I will never give up my own power!  I did that a few times when I ended up in abusive relationships. I will NOT wither into being powerless over anything!  The control of myself, my present and future IS within my abilities and desires.  No one else and nothing else can control me (unless I allow them - or it - to do so).

 9Ask for help.  Ask your SELF first.  That's right, look straight in the mirror and say, "You know what _______ (fill in your name), you're stronger and more valuable than you realize!  (Your name) is a powerful and capable force who deserves the very best!".  When you need to, ask for professional assistance, and if you commune with Deity, ask for guidance and protection there as well.  You might also consider letting your most-trusted friends and relatives help you, too.  Sometimes we just need someone to "vent" to, or someone to take a walk with us ~ down the most difficult OR the most enjoyable path.

10. Live in the moment.  Tackle challenges as they come, step by step.  Do not let them build into something described in number 4 above.  Also, do what you can to enjoy every moment, every day!  Engage in those things that will build more of the good memories - you know the ones - the memories of silliness and laughter you shared with a sibling or friend; the time you tried to teach your older brother how to blow a bubble with his gum and it flew across the room and landed stuck on the TV screen; the first time you fixed Thanksgiving dinner for the in-laws and didn't realize there was a bag of giblets you were supposed to remove before roasting the turkey...those kinds of things.

11. Plan for the future.  Plan as if you're going to live forever, live as if you're going to die tomorrow.  Build short-term and long-term goals for yourself.  It can be something as mundane as learning to paint with oils, planting a vegetable garden, or reading a book to your grandchildren this evening.  It can be a serious and long-term undertaking such as authoring a book, getting a degree in business management, or attaining the level of High Priestess in your Coven.

12. Gauge your progress.  Keep a journal to help you identify self-destructive patterns.  Make an effort to write one positive thing or expand on just one goal each time you make an entry.

13. Give back to yourself; reward yourself.  You know what sparks your interests, even if it's only a tiny little flame of excitement every so often.  List those things that bring you the most pleasure and give yourself permission to feel good about yourself and what you've done, the wisdom you've gained, and the obstacles you've conquered (no matter how trivial you may think they were).  For some, or perhaps sometimes, a major accomplishment might be getting up out of bed and leaving the sanctity of their room, or attending a public gathering away from home.  As you work through to achieving your goals, big or small, be sure to pat yourself on the back for your efforts, lessons learned and successes!

The steps described above are my own.  This post is not intended to substitute for professional medical or psychological care.  I'm sharing my struggles and solutions here because I genuinely care about others and want to help whenever and wherever I can.  I'm also sharing a bit about my personal depression and methods of dealing with it as a part of the Pagan Blog Project 2012 for the Letter "D".
Inspired by her Native American roots and Bradbury lineage, Polly Taskey is a writer and grandmother in the northern USA.  She shares her wisdom and pagan interests through Pagan by Design and The Moonlit Grove.


Charlotte Webb said...

Oh hon, thank you so much for posting this, it's incredibly helpful. I've suffered from depression and anxiety for getting on for 7 years now and I stuggle more than not to practice my faith. Or even keep my faith sometimes.

As I said, thank you for posting this, it's really, really helpful x

Crystal Hall said...

Thanks for this, it's a beautiful entry.

Charity Bedell said...

For 13 years I have been working with depression.  For 13 years I have been a practicing witch (a pattern see).  I started in my religious journey as an aid to help me seek my healing power and my personal spiritual identity.

These steps are wonderful.  The only thing I would add is a step about  creating a set of rituals for personal empowerment and spirituality.

Polly said...

Charlotte, Crystal and Charity: Love and Light to all of you! THIS is one of the things that helps lift my own depression...when I feel I have done something to "give back" or to help others. <3

Charity, great idea! I had considered adding rituals, prayers and self-blessings, however, I realized not everyone partakes in ritual. Perhaps this is something I can expand upon within the private support threads in my Message Boards - and for those who do not visit there, maybe I will share ideas in this blog as well - or write up some sort of "guide" and publish it on docstoc for example. Thank you for the brilliant inspiration.  :)

Wendy S. said...

I have Bipolar Disorder, which is much different than identifying myself as being Bipolar and so glad you addressed a topic that is hard to understand and even more challenging to work with, esp. when we most need to rally our spirits and souls for magick. Great post

lesley.lightbody said...

Wonderful post - I'm fighting the slippery slope to blackness at teh moment and with hard work and goals i'm hoping to not have to go back on the Meds ...  I thank you for sharing - there are more of us that suffer than we think x 

Elena-Maria said...

This was wonderful. I do not have a diagnosis, but sometimes I feel I maybe should see someone to talk abaout how I from time tom time fall so deep that I feel the end of the world is near. 

Polly said...

Wendy. you made a great point. We're not our illnesses - they don't define who or what we are.  I'm glad you enjoyed the post. Thank you! Bright Blessings

Lesley, I agree that there are many more of us than is readily apparent. I know what you mean about the meds. Unfortunately, my brain doesn't "do" what it is supposed to and even with meds I fall down that slope now and then. I am always seeking alternatives though. Blessings

Elena-Maria, what a beautiful name! Trust your judgment. You know yourself better than anyone. You don't need someone else to tell you you're depressed, but I would highly suggest bringing it up with your healthcare provider. There are so many options for treatment and help now that weren't there years ago. Love and Light

Brenda Lee said...

Beautifully written post. I'm so sorry you and others battle some kind of depression. The more I'm on twitter, the more I hear about people that are troubled and battle it every day. So truly sad. I hope you and they continue to  find the strength to conquer it. ~hugs~

Polly said...

Brenda Lee, how very thoughtful of you! Thank you for reading and the warm compliments as well. hugs back ~

Patricia Langley said...

Thank you for your wonderful post. All of what you said makes perfect sense to me. :)  

Rowan Hale said...

Thanks for posting this. I found you through the Pagan Blog Project, but wrote about a similar topic for Pagan Blog Prompts. It's nice to find other pagans on the web who deal with depression. Your steps are great - I very much agree with empowering yourself, and going to bat for yourself.

Araminablue said...

Thank you so much for posting this. I was just posting about my own appreciation of feeling positive enough and having the energy to get out in the garden, for prayer, weeding and meditation. I then came across your page and was inspired by your honesty and thankful for suggestions which I will certainly be keeping in mind!

Polly said...

Charlotte I'm so happy to hear that you've found some helpful ideas! I truly understand the things you've faced. :) Blessings to you!

Anonymous said...

Truly, I cannot thank you enough for this blog. I'm so blessed to have stumbled upon it when I did. I believe it has really hit hoe and helped me immensely. I even took notes! Thank you....
Please continue the work you are doing it is doing more goos than you know!

Polly said...

Anonymous, thank you for your warm comments. I'm so pleased to know you've found this entry helpful! :D

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