The Answer Is Not In A Pill, It’s In a Process
Listen to this article on YouTube or Soundcloud.It is beyond unfortunate that our culture is so accepting of popping pills for ailments that need a completely different remedy: self-awareness, attention, and honor. All too often, I see people struggling from the side-effects of medications or new disorders they’ve developed as a result of following their doctor’s well-meaning instructions. While medication certainly is useful and has its place, it is over-prescribed in our country and doing so deprives many of us of a deeper connection with ourselves. If you are experiencing mood symptoms such as depression or anxiety, it is your personal choice whether you treat these experiences with medication or other options.
Medication is not bad or wrong; at times, it is life-saving. However, the information we receive seems heavily weighted toward popping a pill to feel better. Here, you will find other options and ways of thinking about depression and anxiety. Please filter this information through your wisdom and do what is best for you and this short, meaningful life of yours.
Why depression and anxiety are not your fault, AND at the same time, your responsibility.
It Is Not Your Fault
Feeling depressed or anxious is not your fault. Emotions make sense. There is a cause-and-effect law of nature that we can apply to emotions. If you are feeling depressed or anxious, there is a reason, even if it is not immediately obvious to you.
Let’s take Sally, a high-achieving, married, mother-of-two.
Growing up, Sally learned that being angry didn’t work. When she expressed anger, her parents cut off affection and withdrew attention. She soon learned that her parents responded similarly to her expressions of fear, hurt, and other emotions that were painful and uncomfortable.
Now, in her thirties, Sally has learned to smile and “brush it off” when things bother her so that she doesn’t “make a big deal” out of things or upset the apple cart. People describe her as easy to get along with and laid-back. It is no surprise to me that Sally suffers from depression. She reports feeling like a shell of her former self and now has trouble experiencing all emotions, even joy, and mostly feels numb. Her doctor recommended she try taking an anti-depressant medication, but something inside her told her that was covering up and not addressing the true problem, so she sought my help.
I soon learned that whenever Sally suspects an emotion may bubble up, she does everything she can to shut it down and go back to feeling “fine.” Sally had so much emotional buildup clogging her every atom, it is no wonder she was bogged down with depression. My work with Sally was helping her feel those painful emotions she had stuffed away for all those years. I taught Sally some of what she already knew, deep in her intuition: how to walk through the hell of her emotions, look at them, feel them, and move through them, until she found herself. Through this process of facing, rather than medicating or numbing her emotions, Sally found bravery, the knowledge that she can do very hard things, and a self-respect she hadn’t previously known.
Another example is Ralph, a 40-something man with a high-powered career.
Ralph was anxious, didn’t know if he would ever find a relationship, and ran away each time he started feeling interested in a woman he was dating. In fact, this was Ralph’s M.O. Whenever he felt anxious, he either worked harder and achieved more to ensure his competence or found another way to run from and avoid facing his fear head-on.
It turns out that Ralph had this response to anxiety starting from a young age. He implicitly learned that once he quieted or escaped the anxiety, he felt relief. He recalled staying home “sick” from school as a young boy to avoid social situations when he felt unsure. This worked for a while. Every time he felt anxious about his work performance, rather than feel the fear run through his body and view it as an opportunity for growth, he worked even harder than his 60-hour-per-week job required and made sure there was no room for doubt. As a result, he quickly advanced in his career.
He also applied this philosophy to dating, and every time Ralph felt anxious (i.e., vulnerable because he really liked the woman he was dating), he figured out an exit strategy and reasoned that it was for the better and she just wasn’t meant for him.
In short, Ralph’s coping style was to run away from anxiety any way he could. Now in his 40’s, Ralph suffers from an anxiety disorder and was prescribed Xanax by his doctor. However, learning more about how anxiety (and emotions, in general) works, Ralph knew that escaping the feelings every time he was anxious, whether through hard work, break-ups, or medication, were contributing to him experiencing more and more anxiety and dissatisfaction as life marched on.
My work with Ralph was to help him turn and stand tall, toe-to-toe with anxiety. Ralph learned to move towards, instead of away from, anxious feelings, and has gained confidence, self-respect, and a loving dating relationship he enjoys as a result. Ralph’s work life also became less stressful and much to his surprise, his performance did not suffer.
What do Sally and Ralph have in common?
They both had mood symptoms they did not understand and were prescribed medication. They both also intuitively knew that for them, medication was hiding, not solving their problems. For both of them, treatment involved facing their emotions, connecting to the physiological sensations coursing through their bodies, and learning to welcome them in.
Last, and certainly not least, both Sally and Ralph learned to feel comfortable in their skin again and live life feeling purpose and meaning. For both Sally and Ralph, mood symptoms were signals that something was wrong. Their emotions were not getting the attention they needed and behaviors geared toward avoiding or pushing them down were moving them farther and farther away from the wisdom their bodies were offering through the experience of emotions.
In both cases, depression and anxiety was not their fault. Mood symptoms were a result of the behavior patterns they had learned to keep themselves feeling safe. They did not purposely engage in coping strategies to make them feel worse in the long run. In fact, they did not even know this was happening. They thought they were being skillful.
Feeling depressed or anxious is not your fault. There is always a cause and effect. This means, there is no need or even logic in harshly blaming, criticizing, or berating yourself: that emotion you feel makes sense. We can trace it back to a certain event or series of events that caused whatever is happening in your life now to happen. The take-home message here is, if you feel it, it makes sense; that does not mean that you need to live in it, dwell in it, swim in it, buy real-estate in it, or act out of that place of emotion.
As a holistic psychologist, I view depression and anxiety as a disconnection from the self. Depression and anxiety are not your fault, AND the only one who can change things is you. Not a doctor who gives you a pill or anyone who offers a remedy. You are the only person who can change your experience.
Emotions are a physiological process, meaning they happen in your body. When an emotion fires, your biology instantaneously changes: your breathing, heart rate, temperature, and even blood pressure may fluctuate with each emotion that passes through your body. When you process your emotions, you are aware of your body. When you make a connection with your body by paying attention to your emotional experiences, you not only get rid of emotional buildup, you gain access to so much more. When emotional buildup isn’t getting in the way, you are able to feel grounded in your experiences and more readily identify what is important to you. In short, you free yourself to live with meaning.
That begs the question, “How?”
Once you begin to understand that your symptoms are signals for you to pay attention to, you can start to evaluate why your body, brain, and mood are trying to get your attention. You can ask yourself questions about how you feed yourself, exercise, rest, and how your daily behaviors are in or out of line with what is truly important to you. Take a look at today. Are you behaving in ways that produce pride? If you do not regularly engage in daily activities that you feel proud of, it is impossible to feel proud of your life. Where are you disconnected from what truly matters to you, and what step can you take today to move closer to living your values?
It’s a Process.
Dealing with depression or anxiety is a process. The answer is not in a pill, it’s in a process. The process is one of truly looking at yourself, without judgment, and listening to what your body and emotions are telling you. Then you can make this information actionable by asking yourself, “Where can I take a step forward today?” Don’t think of it as, “I’m at point A and I want to be at point B, but I don’t know how to get there.” Rather, ask “What is one little tiny step forward that I can take today that will start me down my path and my goal of reaching point B?” It could be something as small as “Today I’m going to drink a cup of bone broth”, or “Today I’m going to take 3 breaths and notice how my body feels before I take that first sip of coffee in the morning.” It could even be, “I’m going to open and read a page of that book that is important and meaningful to me.” Recovering from depression and anxiety is about the process and the relationship you build with yourself. Recovering means engaging in daily behaviors that support your best life.
The process of healing and self-connection is not about harshness, punishment, will power, and a “just do it” mentality. This stance of cracking the whip to get yourself in line is short-lived and impossible to maintain. You may have experienced coming up with a “tough love” remedy time and time again, only to wind up back in the same stuck place. Rather than more discipline, you may need more of a connection to yourself, because if you can relax into yourself, trust your body’s experiences, feel what you are feeling, and connect to what is important to you, you will move in a direction that is in your best interest.
CONNECTING TO YOUR WISDOM PRACTICE
Listen to this practice on YouTube or Soundcloud.
Let’s begin with getting grounded in the present moment. Focus now on the bottoms of your feet. Really see if you can feel any sensations present on the bottoms of your feet. Just notice.
Now, bringing your attention to the parts of your body touching the seat that you are in. If you are standing, you can continue noticing the bottoms of your feet or notice the sensation of your clothes on your body. Wherever your focus, bring your attention to your body touching another object.
Now, turning your attention toward your breath. Breathing in and breathing out.
Notice: where in your physical body does your attention go when you are bringing your awareness to your breath? Where do you feel your breath in your body?
Bringing your attention now to the very end of your inhalation. Take a few breaths focusing on the very end of your inhalation, right before the pause leading to your exhalation.
When you are noticing the very end of your inhalation, where, in your physical body, does your attention lie?
Some hypothesize that this is the physical representation of Wisdom in your body. Breathe into this place, notice this place inside of you. Within Wisdom, there is usually an experience of peace. Some describe this as a settling, much like sand gently settling into the bottom of the ocean.
This is a practice you can take with you anywhere to help settle into your body and your body’s wisdom. Three steps:
- Ground yourself by feeling the bottoms of your feet.
- Bring yourself solidly into the present moment and notice where your body is touching an object – your clothes or a seat you are sitting in.
- Notice where you feel your breath in your physical body. Then start to focus on the very end of your inhalation. Focus on this point, wherever in your body it lies.
You can also practice asking this part of your body, also known as the physical place of Wisdom inside of you, a question. I like to practice with mundane, daily tasks, like how to prioritize what to do next or whether or not to go get a glass of water. Building a relationship with your body and your Wisdom requires time and attention. The more you ask and are present, the stronger your relationship becomes.