Relative Something

*this* John W. Hays' take on things and experiences

Posts Tagged ‘Depression

Think Sticktoitiveness

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Stick-to-it-iveness.

If there is one simple key to self-improvement that could serve us well no matter what aspect of our lives we wish to address, I would select —whatever action toward better health you choose: repeat it every day.

Repeat it every day. Don’t stop. If you miss a day, don’t give up. Pick up the next day and the day after that. For a week. Then a month. Six months. A year. No reason to stop now. Keep doing that healthy thing every single day.

Look at the inverse. What do humans do that make themselves suffer negative consequences?

Smoke cigarettes? They smoke every day.

Eat poorly? Day after day.

Not get enough exercise? Harbor negative thoughts and feelings? Don’t get enough sleep? Neglect friends and family? Neglect themselves!

Most of the afflictions we heap upon ourselves grow into problems because of unhealthy choices enacted repeatedly, day after day, over an extended period of time. It’s illogical to think an easy remedy would erase the results in a fraction of the time it took to travel a great distance away from good health.

Turn around. Go the other way. Take a step toward optimal health and then do it again the next day. And then three hundred sixty-five more days after that.

Because. Progress accumulates.

I took the first steps to interrupt my slowly intensifying depression in 1993. As can happen in many situations, things got a little worse after the initial diagnosis and early treatments, but eventually progress settled in and incremental improvement began to develop. Slowly.

Sometimes, in waves. I can almost measure progress by decades. This year, I am noticing new levels of relief that reveal I am continuing to improve, even decades removed from the day doctors released me from medication and therapy treatments. A year ago, I didn’t notice that my mental health was anything less than prime.

It is only by experiencing this unprecedented level of healthy mindset lately that I’ve gained a sense that it wasn’t as good as this before.

Every day, I do something that helps. I also DON’T do things that harm. I don’t do negative self-talk like I used to. I make an effort every day to not do that. I do get exercise, I eat healthy, I smile, I pay better attention to energy, I send love, I sleep well, I write a daily blog. Doing these things regularly and over time, continues to provide accumulating improvements to my mental health.

This year, I am noticing improvements that weren’t so apparent last year.

It really does pay to stick to it.

I invite you to stop doing something today that isn’t healthy for you in the long-term. Replace that with one thing that is healthy that you can do every day. Do it for more days than you ever thought possible. Then do it for a few more years after that.

Here’s to the ongoing journey toward optimal health.

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Fluid Planning

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There is one aspect of a healthy balanced mind that I am enjoying in particular in the years since overcoming the dysfunctional thinking that was a huge part of my depression. I find it much easier to accept unexpected changes to plans.

I think my old pattern of rigidity was an attempt to protect myself from any possible discomfort I might experience over not being adequately prepared for some new scenario that might pop up. My new perspective resulted from an exercise of examining what the worst possible outcomes might be for situations that I was earnestly wanting to avoid.

In the end, there was never anything that deserved the level of angst I was nurturing.

Cyndie and I had big plans for this coming weekend. It has morphed a little to become “not as big” plans now. We are going on a little “stay-cation” to her parent’s house in Edina, leaving Jackie to take her first shift of managing the ranch for an extended few days.

I had intended to pack enough things last night to allow me to leave from work today and go straight to the Edina house for the entire time. Then on Monday morning, I’d only need to drive the short distance again to work. Now both ends of the plan have shifted.

Cyndie was assigned a responsibility to manage affairs for an aunt who is moving from her own home into a nursing care facility. This event is claiming her full attention this week and she just isn’t ready to be away as early as we originally envisioned.

That actually eased my burden of trying to pack the bike in the car before work today, because I am going to want it with me over the weekend to continue my conditioning efforts before the Tour of Minnesota begins in another week.

In fact, the night off allowed me a chance to get out and ride for an hour last night. That was a particularly pleasant outing due to perfect weather conditions.

Now we are thinking we’ll pack up and head for Edina tomorrow morning.

The back end of the plan for the upcoming weekend has also changed for me. As the date closed in, I realized I have an appointment to drop off my car at the body shop to repair my deer-dented doors and pick up a rental car.

I’ll head home Sunday night to fit in that detail.

Other than those two changes, the middle of the extended weekend plans are still standing firm. For now.

What’s the worst that could happen if those end up changing, too?

Nothing that we won’t be able to adjust to, …kind of like the way horses get back to grazing so quickly after something rattles their calm.

Here’s to mastering the art of being comfortable with the possibility that plans might change.

If you want to take it up a level, the next step is mastering the art of visualizing the best possible outcomes, and allowing it to become your ongoing default perspective.

Then you get to celebrate with reckless abandon when something changes, and the outcome ends up even better than the best possibility you imagined!

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Written by johnwhays

June 7, 2018 at 6:00 am

Two Wolves

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Last week, Cyndie and I squeaked in time after a hard day’s work to watch the Disney movie “Tomorrowland” (2015) that arrived in the mail on our Netflix subscription. We liked it a lot. It includes significant references to the popular teaching legend about two wolves, which highlights the importance of how our thinking influences our lives.

We have been repeating variations of the punchline with noticeable frequency in the days since.

A simple synopsis taken from the movie:

Casey Newton: “There are two wolves” … You told me this story my entire life, and now I’m telling you: There are two wolves and they are always fighting. One is darkness and despair, the other is light and hope. Which wolf wins?

Eddie Newton: Whichever one you feed.

This resonates for me, because it reflects my direct experience from my years of chronic depression through the ensuing years following wonderfully successful treatment. I learned to feed the good wolf instead of the bad one.

This recent focus on the two wolves legend has renewed my attention to how often I still automatically default to a negative perspective, despite my desire and intentions to do otherwise.

I stepped in the house at the end of a long, strenuous day of laboring on our property and Cyndie checked in with me, commenting on the vast number of things we accomplished. Without missing a beat, my response grabbed the equally vast number of tasks that remain in need of attention.

Luckily, that default response no longer goes unnoticed by me. I caught myself and admitted I was feeding the wrong wolf.

It’s as if I feel the cheery perspective of the state of things requires a counterbalance to keep it from being a false representation of reality. But, thinking about it, I could see that no matter how I chose to frame it, either mental perspective did not physically change how many projects we did or didn’t complete that day.

The reality of whether the grass needs mowing or downed branches need to be turned into piles of wood chips does not change based on how I assess our achievements of the day.

So why not feed the good wolf?

In life’s ongoing battle between darkness and despair, and the alternative of light and hope, which one should we be feeding? I vote for light, hope, love, peace, compassion, understanding, and even more love.

Thank you, Tomorrowland, for sowing the seeds.

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All There

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It’s all there. The good and the bad. Really, it’s always been that way. Disasters and human rights abuses are scattered throughout history, right along with the victories and accomplishments.

We can choose which of these we allow our attention to focus.

Wars take lives, medical advances save lives. Weather disasters destroy, ingenuity builds.

In my old life, the negative held an illogical amount of my attention. I aligned with the adage of Murphy’s Law, “anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.”

When a hard day at work feels like things went wrong just because they could, it is too easy for me to slip into a dreary doldrums of woe. It is the natural direction my mind, and subsequently my body, would tend to go. It takes a conscious effort to think otherwise.

Luckily, after receiving a diagnosis of depression and being offered treatment with education, medication, and talk therapy, I learned both the ease and the benefit of choosing to think differently.

Bad things still happen, just like they always have.

Yesterday, at work, I decided to start a new adage. My natural inclination to be pessimistic shows through a little bit, but you can see my intentions are noble.

“Anything that can go wrong, might not.”

See what I did there?

Thinking positive!

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Written by johnwhays

April 25, 2018 at 6:00 am

Manipulating Neurochemistry

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How are your stress levels today? Don’t think about the answer. Feel it.

Cyndie and I have faced some questions about how we are doing lately. It hasn’t been as easy to answer as usual for us. It was a tough winter, but listing our grievances doesn’t feel good to share. It doesn’t paint the picture as accurately as we know it to be.

Our move to the country and accumulation of animals for which we need to tend has put distance between us and our friends and family. Some connections with people and activities have broken, and only a fraction of new local connections have sprouted in their place.

We have gained a brilliant wealth of new relationships with our animals, and precious though they are, it is not the same.

Yesterday we had an opportunity to drive the suburban roads again that consumed our everyday back when we lived in Eden Prairie. The dramatic contrast to our present-day environment was revealing.

Is it worth it? The struggles to cope with the never-ending challenges of weather and the unrelenting daily routine of required chores to care for our horses, chickens, dog, and cat? Some days, more than others. It’s life. It’s something we chose. (By the way, that’s a luxury –having the choice– that is not lost on us.)

Our challenges can be framed as onerous and laborious; burdens that could be lifted by giving up our animals and moving back to the conveniences and camaraderie of our life-long friends and families in the suburbs.

The difficulties of the last few months, and the years of owning and caring for our animals can also be framed as invigorating, rejuvenating, inspiring, and fulfilling. It is adventure of a very high order.

When we choose to frame the ups and downs of life in the positive, we manipulate our neurochemistry in healthy ways. That is a choice we have power to control. I spent an unfortunate number of years manipulating my biochemistry in the opposite direction by mentally framing my life in the negative.

We won’t prevent harsh realities from challenging our decisions by simply thinking positive all the time, but we will be better served to meet those challenges when we give our brains the healthiest balance of on-going positive neurochemical support possible.

Life here is challenging, but we are doing well. Really well. Thanks for asking.

It feels right.

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Relative Sadness

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There is an aspect of grief that I visualize as wrestling an octopus. You can be engaged in the action for an immeasurable amount of time without ever having a clue if you’ve come close to pinning his shoulders to the mat.

Where the heck are octopus shoulders, anyway?

I’d love for nothing more than to have an official slapping their hand down to declare the match complete, or at least to call time on the end of a round. The clock never runs out though, and the round goes on endlessly while grief and I just keep wrestling and wrestling.

It occurred to me yesterday that I was somewhat unconsciously avoiding going out to the barn since last Sunday when Legacy’s life ended there. It’s a struggle, because I normally find great comfort in standing among the horses, but there is currently a profound disturbance of energy here. I’m feeling little capacity toward consoling our other horses and even less confidence in my ability to contain my own sorrow while in their midst.

Between the understandable waves of tearful sadness, there remain the troughs of intangible gloom. I recognize that space well.

It defined the bulk of my adolescent and early adult life, which was shrouded by dysthymia.

At least now I am armed with much greater knowledge and understanding of the dynamics of these mental squalls, and I recognize the current grief casting a pall over our lives is completely situational. There is unending love cradling our sorrow and it is nurturing our healing and growth.

After Cyndie and I walked Delilah around the property yesterday afternoon, we all ventured to the barn to look in on the horses.

I worry they might be feeling neglected after the intense attention paid to Legacy, and then his sudden departure followed by this incredible void.

They seem to me to be in a state of shock. All we can do for each other is vibrate our energy of sorrow and loss.

I’m not crying; you’re crying.

Dezirea actually stepped away from me, as if she couldn’t handle my grief. Hunter and Cayenne tolerated my attempts to give them some loving scratches, but I didn’t get a sense that either of the three of us felt much solace out of the exchange.

Cyndie spent a little more time with Dezirea. I think Dezi seems particularly sad. I am wondering if she is feeling some stress over the possibility she will inherit the ultimate responsibility of a leadership role, being the elder mare. It could just as easily be filled by any one of them, or maybe they will devise a perfect balance of power across all three.

It’s just that the four horses that were organized into a little herd over five years ago worked out so tremendously. They were a band. An ever-shifting combination of two sets of two. It was incredibly, preciously perfect.

Beyond our ability to fully appreciate when they first arrived.

Now they’ll never be able to get the band back together again…

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Aww, here comes another slippery hold from that octopus, dagnabbit.

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Written by johnwhays

January 20, 2018 at 7:00 am

Feeling Love

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In my lifetime, the art of feeling love has been a struggle to fully achieve. Luckily, I have had plenty of opportunity to practice. Most precious of all has been having Cynthia Ann Friswold around to repeatedly offer her guidance.

Quite frankly, some of that guidance comes across in a disguise that deftly pushes buttons that I’d rather not have pushed, but that’s part of the secret. Love isn’t always rainbows, flowers, and chocolate. True love is much more complex than that.

As a depressed person, I was distracted from being able to fully love. A combination of treatment for depression and couples therapy for our relationship was key to opening my eyes and my heart to love’s true potential.

Adding animals to our family has expanded my understanding of love to even greater depths.

Last evening, as I was holding our Buff Orpington hen while Cyndie worked diligently to remove globs of dried poop from the chicken’s tail feathers, I silently conveyed our love to the bird imprisoned by my grasp. Between a few isolated moments of flinching in discomfort, she generally rested her head against me and waited out the task.

We can hope she was able to tell our motives were pure.

Cyndie wanted me to offer the hen a red raspberry treat in reward for her patience of enduring the awkward procedure, but the Buff showed no interest. She just gave it the eye, with total detachment.

I had no idea that owning chickens might involve needing to bring them in out of the cold in the winter to wash and dry their butts. It’s a good thing they have gotten us to fall in love with them.

Owning horses is a whole ‘nother level of love.

Before our four Arabians had even arrived, back when we were having paddock fencing installed, a water line being buried, and a hay shed being built, the excavator arrived in his giant dump truck and chatted out his window with me at our first meeting. He asked what this project was about, and I told him my wife wants to get horses.

In a high-pitched voice of alarm, he exclaimed, “HORSES!?! It would be cheaper to get a new wife!”

Yes, there are costs to owning horses, but the rewards are pretty much immeasurable.

How do you measure love?

All I know for sure is, I’m feeling an awful lot of it in this latest phase of my life.

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Written by johnwhays

January 11, 2018 at 7:00 am