(photo Chris Stapleton)
With the winter solstice just a couple days away, I wanted to share some thoughts on darkness and light. This year, Christmas is falling upon a full moon and this combination of influences lends itself to potent opportunities for reflection and illumination. As this year ends, and a new one waits to begin, hope steps forth to help you declare your intentions for your next phase of life. I know that staying healthy in my heart, mind, spirit & body is the vision I am holding for myself. The gray days of winter can sometimes steer me off track, especially in these days of such deep & heavy grief I find myself in. So, I thought this was worthy of a share for anyone out there who may be searching for ways to cope with the blues. I have mentioned my struggles but not so much what helps me out of them. I think mostly I never want to sound preachy or give advice because depression is so personal and I never want to come across as a know it all or shame anyone for doing/thinking differently. It seems social media leans toward soap boxing and that can lead to all kinds of unintended side effects, pun not intended.
By the grace of God, I am able to stay inside the safe zones of my pendulum swings of depression and non depression. I am uncertain if depression ever goes away, completely. For me it seems to always be at the very least in my periphery, if not in full focus. I’m not sure if this is a personality characteristic or a mentality or what. I only know what I know for me. There are things that help me. Sometimes I cannot find the motivation to maintain those things and I suffer for it. But I try to maintain a balanced diet, keep my sugar and alcohol to a minimum, sleep but not too much, make time for myself but not too much, walk or atleast get fresh air, breathe in and/or meditate beside the Big Lake, and, when I’m really thriving, break a sweat for 30-60 minutes a day. I think water intake is a huge factor in mood also. Again, I can only speak for myself. I drink atleast 32 oz of water daily, though my goal is more like 80. I also drink probiotic rich kombucha almost daily, hot tea and infusions like oatstraw regularly and I juice as often as i can with fresh fruits, veggies & herbs.
(This recipe WAS delicious, but I usually add more veggies, I just was out of everything and so I used 5 (very small) apples, 2 cups pineapple, 2 cups packed spinach, 1 large knuckle of ginger, a whole lemon and a whole lime, also, I forgot to write that I used one romaine head from a 3 pack). I love to add carrots, beets, grapefruit, kiwi, kale, parsley, avocado, pear… I try to buy organic produce that is on sale and make juice with whatever I’ve got. I think the nutrient density helps me stay balanced hormonally and energetically which contributes to well being and improved mood. I definitely notice when I’m not getting the nutrients in my diet, and I find personally that it is easier to juice than to eat the required amount of fresh veggies. I love veggies but have a hard time maintaining my appetite and chewing. Drinking my fruits and veggies feels truly like a tonic or elixir of good earth medicine. But eating your veggies & fruits is great for those with hearty appetites and strong teeth!
I have taken medication before. It wasn’t a perfect (or even all that great) fit for me. And to be fair, I gave it a true shot (a couple years!). It seemed to cause me other undesirable secondary effects that eventually caused me to wean myself from them. Which was very difficult, but again, juicing really helped with that too!
I’m not sure I could say any one thing on its own keeps my head above water. It is definitely a combination of helpers. Including my amazing talk therapist. She is a total 5 foot tall bad ass. She helps me keep it real, she reminds me how precious I am and also never lets me feel too precious about my pain and also, reminds me that the work is “the way”. It is a testament to her bad assiness and my determination to stay afloat that even in the darkest times of my life I show up at her doorstep to do the work with her. I don’t even try to pretend I could be walking (or married or sane or…) if it weren’t for her and yet, she also makes me see that I can.
Creativity can lie dormant when you feel off kilter.I fuel my creativity by any means necessary as it is as essential to me as water. I must create or plan out creativity EVERY SINGLE DAY. a day without it is… just unsettling– for me. It isn’t always elaborate, sometimes I can fill the urge with cooking, cleaning/reorganizing my home, gardening, day dreaming. Other days it is writing, painting, making, singing. I ignored this urge for a long time and suffered.It was a vicious cycle of self defeat. Once I opened the door of understanding that it was a basic need, I knew that I could not be healthy and ignore it.
Perhaps the most important factor for me is being grateful. Again, I don’t like to foster preachiness or shaming or soap boxing and this is not a blanket hearts and rainbows statement, for anyone reading this whose eyes just rolled when they read that. I get it. If you are anything like me, you can’t help but sometimes wonder if optimism in the face of great pain and struggle is sustainable for you. I understand that~ believe it or not. The thing I have learned by honest cultivation of gratitude is that it keeps me connected to the love that is constantly surrounding me. Being grateful is a hand reaching back toward the hands reaching out to you. Gratitude is an act of praise to Love. I have a hunch that depression is closely linked to disconnectedness that might start way way back before memory, sometimes, even something we carry as vessels for our ancestors. Cultivating gratitude is like tending a garden. A garden may grow without much attention, just as you can be thankful without much intention, as a human being with a good inner compass. But tending to your garden, the abundance of your harvest will spill out, so that you can share your bounty with your neighbors and anyone that comes over to your home. That is more than fluffy words, dear ones. That is deep truth.
I’ve had the great fortune to study under Susun Weed and she is a wise woman indeed. Here are some great considerations for depression in women that I hope can help you or someone you love to SHINE ON.
(photo susun weed)
By Susun Weed
Winter time is depression time for many women. Perhaps it is harder to look at the bright side when days are short, perhaps the holidays and family demands take their toll on us. Of course, depression can also be triggered by lack of thyroid hormone and by use of steroids, high blood pressure drugs, and ERT/HRT.
But most often the cause of depression is the belief (valid or not) that nothing you do makes any difference. Victimization and poverty lock women into depression. More than one-third of all American women have been victims of sexual or physical abuse; and women make up more than two-thirds of all Americans who live below poverty level. Yet our culture frowns on women who express their anger. No wonder depression is a woman’s issue.
“Look here,” Grandmother Growth motions to you as she spreads her story blanket at your feet. “See how depression is deeply woven with anger and grief. When our need for reliable, joyous intimacy is frustrated, and expression of our frustration would endanger us, depression comes and protects us. When there is no way to deal effectively with situations that enrage us, depression comes and helps us quiet our violent impulses.
“Depression is not an easy companion on your journey, but she knows much about life. In her bundle, she carries the anger you have carefully frozen with frigid blasts of fear and kept nourished with your pain. She carries your wholeness. She carries your ability to go beyond the pain, your ability to allow your rage to move you into health. She carries your wholeness. Will you let her teach you?”
Wise Woman remedies don’t seek to eliminate our feelings, or turn “negative” ones into “positive” ones, but to help us incorporate all of our feelings into our wholeness/health/holiness.
o Welcome the dark. Cherish the deepness. Give yourself over to a day or two of doing nothing. Then, get up, no matter how bad you feel. Set a goal for the day and meet it. Smile — it releases brain chemicals that make you feel good. Smile no matter what. Do it as an exercise. Hate it while you do it. But SMILE!
o Homeopathic remedies include Arum metallicum, for women with frequent thoughts of suicide who feel cut off from love and joy; and Sepia, for women who are disinterested in everything, angry at family and friends, and just want to be left alone.
o It’s more than idle chatter that depression comes with grey skies and happiness with sunny ones. For emotional health (and strong bones) get 15 minutes of sunlight on your uncovered eyelids (outside, no glasses, no contacts) daily. If you can’t get out (or if the sun doesn’t cooperate), wake up 1-2 hours earlier than usual. (You can stay in bed, but keep those eyes open.)
o Sing the blues; dance ’em too. Women have depended on songs and dances to carry them out of depression for centuries. Dance therapy is more effective than talk therapy for reaching and healing traumatic experiences. Even a single session may have a dramatic effect.
o Find your rage and write it down. Get a massage and let the anger move out of the muscles. Volunteer to help change something you are upset about, even a small thing.
o St. Joan’s/John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum) lives in very sunny locations and blooms at summer solstice. I call it bottled sunshine. A dropperful of the bright red tincture taken 1-3 times daily has helped many women relieve SAD (seasonal affective disorder), move through grief, ease the physical pain of depression, and walk on the sunny side! CAUTION: Hypericum in capsules is not as effective and can cause unwanted side effects.
o Oatstraw infusion (not tea, tincture, or capsules) has been an ally for depressed women since earliest times. Gentle Avena nourishes the nerves and helps you remember why life is worth living. To make an infusion: Brew one ounce by weight of dried herb (that’s a cup by volume) in a quart jar filled to the top with boiling water. Steep for at least four hours, then strain and refrigerate your infusion. Drink as many cups a day as you wish. Or make an oatstraw bath by adding two quarts of infusion to your bath water.
o Garden sage (Salvia) is an ancient ally for emotionally-distressed women. In some societies, only crones were allowed to drink the brew made from the nubbly leaves (at least partly because it delays menses and dries up breast milk). Make an infusion (see oatstraw); drink by mixing a few spoonfuls of the dense brew into hot water or warm milk; add honey to taste. The undiluted infusion keeps for weeks refrigerated.
o Behavioral and interpersonal therapies are as effective as drugs in relieving depression. Not only that, two-thirds of those who simply read about therapy improve significantly.
o Thirty minutes of aerobic exercise, especially soon after awakening, has been shown to help women whose depression is resistant to all treatments, including drugs.
o Sleep less. If you are a woman who overproduces a normal depression-causing substance which accompanies sleep you will feel depressed and often find it difficult to wake up. Sleeping more will only compounds the problem. Instead, stay up all night once a week. If you can’t cope with no sleep, even mild sleep deprivation (such as sleeping five hours or less for two nights in a row) dramatically decreases depressive symptoms in some people.
o Low levels of calcium, zinc, and B vitamins are associated with depression. Get more by eating more cheese and yogurt, more garlic and mushrooms, more whole grains and beans.
o Lack of vitamin B12 doubles the risk of severe depression for older women. This critical nutrient, found only in animal products, is destroyed by tofu and soy beverage. Drink real milk, eat real cheese, eat meat at least occasionally and watch your mood improve smile emoticon
o 1600 mg of SAM-e (A-adenosylmethionine) relieved the symptoms of moderate depression as well as imipramine, but no better than Hypericum (St. J’s wort). CAUTION: Of the brands tested by Consumer Reports, only Natrol, Nature Made, TwinLab, and GNC passed all tests.
oAvoid hormone replacement — ERT/HRT — if you’re depressed; it’s strongly associated with an increase in suicide attempts.
o Women who used to take lithium say they have gradually switched over to skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora). A dose of infusion is one cup/250 ml or more per day; of fresh plant tincture is 5-8 drops twice a day; of the dried plant tincture is a dropperful/1 ml several times a day. CAUTION: Skullcap can make you sleepy.
o For women whose depression resists all other therapies, electro-convulsive treatments (ECT), previously known as shock treatments, have been updated with special care taken to minimize harm. The women I spoke with who were using ECT told me it was incredibly effective, and the side-effects, including severe memory loss, acceptable to them.
From doing nothing, to ECT, the range of remedies available to depressed women is enormous. To help you choose wisely, these effective, simple Wise Woman remedies are in order of safety: the safest remedies first, and the most dangerous ones last.