Relative Something

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

Posts Tagged ‘Destigmatizing Depression

Practicing Life

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In the vein of practicing medicine –isn’t it a little scary that we say doctors are “practicing?”– I figure I am practicing life, but without a license from any official authority. Without a license, I’m not supposed to offer formal advice to others on matters of health and wellness, but that seems like a lost opportunity regarding the life lessons I have experienced through my years.

Alas, the act of living healthy is something I share with others by way of simply doing it. I’m practicing living healthy every day and attempting to add a little love in the world while I’m at it.

By far, the most significant step in my life’s journey toward optimal health happened when I sought treatment for depression. The years when I put my focus on diet and exercise prior to diagnosis of my dysfunctional mental health had me spinning my wheels. In the time since I learned to conduct my thoughts in a healthy manner, the benefits of my other efforts increased noticeably.

I dare say the steps I have put in place in my life would suit others equally well if practiced as a way of life. Too bad I’ve no license to prescribe such medicine and be compensated. On the other hand, I do have plenty of opportunities to give my advice for free.

The most significant point I express regarding the quest for best health is that it is an everyday effort for as many years as we may live. However many days (years) we might have traveled an unhealthy path must, at the very least, be equaled in time in order to undo. There aren’t any quick fixes that can be achieved by temporary endeavors.

You’ve got to play the long game.

The good news is that benefits are available along the way and the journey gets easier and more rewarding as you go. You don’t need to wait for some magic day when everything becomes rainbows and unicorns.

Eat well, exercise your body and mind, practice loving self and others with all your heart. Do it every day. Keep it up for the rest of your life.

Call me in the morning.

No charge. The nurse will show you out.

Have a good life!

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Hippocampal Neurogenesis

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Secret weapons. I have two of them. One is love. Okay, that one’s not so secret. The other one is my new favorite phrase: hippocampal neurogenesis. Isn’t that just the best? It’s fun to say and it describes the mental health benefits available from exercising.

You can read about the details in this March 2018 Psychology Today article, “How Your Mental Health Reaps the Benefits of Exercise,” by Sarah Gingell, Ph.D. 

I just discovered a link to the article earlier this week, and the marvel of new growth of neurons in the hippocampus has me giddy over this hidden benefit of exercising. In particular, the insights of these three paragraphs:

Evidence is accumulating that many mental health conditions are associated with reduced neurogenesis in the hippocampus. The evidence is particularly strong for depression. Interestingly, many anti-depressants — that were once thought to work through their effects on the serotonin system — are now known to increase neurogenesis in the hippocampus.

What does this all mean? Theories suggest that newborn hippocampal neurons are likely to be particularly important for storing new memories and keeping old and new memories separate and distinct. Thus, neurogenesis allows a healthy level of flexibility in the use of existing memories, and in the flexible processing of new information.

Much mental ill health is characterized by a cognitive inflexibility that keeps us repeating unhelpful behaviors, restricts our ability to process or even acknowledge new information, and reduces our ability to use what we already know to see new solutions or to change. It is therefore plausible that exercise leads to better mental health in general, through its effects on systems that increase the capacity for mental flexibility.

Exercise increases blood flow to our brains, bringing oxygen and nutrients to create new neurons in the hippocampus. As a result, we are rewarded with increased ability to process new information, and deal with change because of increased mental flexibility.

That means a lot to me because I can look back at some of the struggles I dealt with under the weight of depression and vividly recognize a particular inflexibility of my thinking, as well as an aversion to the stresses of change.

Today, I am all about hippocampal neurogenesis. You might say, it’s my healthy drug of choice.

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From Nothing

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When I spend my days away from the ranch, not taking pictures, not collecting experiences, the relative somethings get a little thin. Four days a week my hours are tied up with commuting and day-jobbing. By Friday, I have to work a little harder to fill this space with words and pictures. I will often be heard muttering, “I’ve got nothing.”

Thursday nights are what Cyndie and I refer to as my “Friday.”

Last night we celebrated with my bringing home Cyndie’s favorite half-baked deep-dish pizza for dinner. I walked in the door, placed it in the refrigerator and collapsed on our bed, falling into a deep sleep with Pequenita curled up on my legs.

It’s a manifestation of accumulated exhaustion. What a luxury.

One of the things that leaves me feeling like I’ve got nothing to write about, is how incomparable my healthy first-world exhaustion is to the suffering I witness others around me going through. How dare I frame my suffering as particularly arduous, when other’s lives are hovering on the brink, when disasters abound, when life challenges won’t be temporary.

I feel lost within my familiar surroundings, an unsettling perception. It’s an instance when I resort to waiting. That feeling doesn’t last. If I don’t fight against what isn’t really there, balance returns soon enough.

One of the reasons I strive to compose something every day is as a push on my ‘swing’ of daily maintaining my mental health. It’s an interesting conundrum for me when the healthy act of writing meets up with the well-known challenges of writer’s block.

One of my “go to” solutions is to simply post a picture. Sometimes, by the end of the week, I don’t even have that.

Before the point in my life when I identified that I was dealing with depression, a moment like this, with no idea what to write about and feeling lost, would have simply stoked a dangerous fire.

I’m thrilled to be able to report that my perspective and awareness are so completely different after treatment that times like this tend to end up being more of an inspiration than an ominous threat.

It’s so simple, it gets misconstrued as not even possible. It does involve some bigger picture observation, but after that, in each moment, it is simply a matter of thinking differently. The secret is in recognizing what is going on in the moment, and then directing my thoughts in an appropriately healthy way.

Through talk therapy, I learned how to recognize my dysfunctional thinking and perceptions. With practice, I have honed skills in changing my thoughts, which alters my chemistry. Happily, no pun intended, it generates a positive feedback loop that strengthens with each cycle.

One last part of my simple secret to overcoming my depression: trusting it can work.

My healthcare providers were convinced they could help me, and I trusted them.

It worked.

Look at that. When I started writing this post, I thought I had nothing for today.

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Depression Awareness

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My experience with depression involved a long, slow advance that could well be compared to the boiling frog parable. I was oblivious to the illness in my head while it was busy crafting all manner of dysfunctional thinking habits.

When my angst would occasionally lead to curious contemplations, the version of depression I would use as a reference involved the stories about people who hit rock bottom and lost jobs, destroyed marriages, became sick from substance abuse, and eventually suffered run ins with the law.

That did not describe my life, so I figured depression wasn’t my problem.

Ultimately, I was lucky enough to discover that depression was precisely the boiling water in which I was engulfed.

Maybe if I had an easily accessible clinically validated screening questionnaire available to me, I could have become aware of my condition a lot earlier than I eventually did.

I’m hoping the progress with de-stigmatizing depression and all it’s related mental health afflictions, along with efforts like the recent partnering between Google and the National Alliance on Mental Illness to offer an online tool to help diagnose depression, will shorten the suffering for all those who aren’t sure about what’s going on with their health.

Check this out: Learning More About Clinical Depression…

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