Years ago, the biggest break for me came when I stopped reading bipolar and depression books, which I find singularly depressing, and moved on to other topics. But even then, I still couldn't figure out what continued to cause my depressions. And I monitored them again and again to see what the triggers were.
What caused me to quit the job with the writer whose book I edited almost two years ago and spiral downward into a five-month depression? What caused me to deal with my mother's illness so well and even handle her death, but spiral into another five-month depression after repeated arguments with my siblings? What caused me to feel so distressed over my son's difficult adjustment when he went away to college that I felt a low-level depression for the entire semester he was gone?
The answer, plain and clear, is stress. And when I read Neural Path Therapy by David Harp, M.A., and Matthew McKay, Ph.D., which has truly made a difference in my life, and saw that McKay is the co-author of another book, The Relaxation & Stress Reduction Workbook, I bought that as well.
As I began reading the table of contents, I thought, "Why didn't I pursue this avenue years ago?" It has been obvious since I was a teenager that stress is the cause of so many of my problems. I remember that even in middle school--which was the first time in any school where I had flexibility in my daily schedule--I arranged my classes to minimize the external stress. Rather than taking as many difficult classes as my friends, I took one more elective like chorus or glee club. Why?
Because it was clear to me that I could only absorb so much material. I knew I needed a lot of time to study, and I only liked to push myself to a certain level. And that has remained a constant throughout my life.
One of the things I have liked best about a career in writing--which I began in 1989 after many previous careers--is that writing never stresses me out. It is the one thing I do, other than pursuing hobbies and interests, that has never felt like a burden (except when I was very depressed and had medication-induced cognitive impairment issues). Or maybe, there is a level of stress in writing, but it's internally generated and that's always been okay with me.
What is interesting about McKay's book, which he co-authored with Martha Davis, Ph.D., and Elizabeth Robbins Eshelman, M.S.W., is the very definition of stress. They write:
"Stress is an everyday fact of life. You can't avoid it. Stress is any change you must adapt to, ranging from the negative extreme of actual physical danger to the exhilaration of falling in love or achieving some long-desired success. In between, day-to-day living confronts even the most well-managed life with a continuous stream of potentially stressful experiences.(to be continued)
"Not all stress is bad. In fact, stress is not only desirable but also essential to life. Whether the stress you experience is the result of major life changes or the cumulative effect of minor everyday hassles, it is how you respond to these experiences that determines the impact stress will have on your life."