Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Staving Off a Depression (Part 1)

Over time I have learned that when I feel a depression on the horizon, it is critical for me to assess my situation, see what factors might be contributing to it, figure out whether I'm engaged in the appropriate wellness activities, and set a schedule for moving forward. It is also important that I seek help if I need it.

As my regular readers know, my annual depressions have a seasonal element. And each day I am feeling the days getting shorter, and I am noticing signs of depression. I counter balance this in number of ways.

1. I reduce my stress level to the minimum. This year I had to cancel a conference I was going to participate in, and while I feel bad about that, I can live with it.

Then, I sat down at my desk and listed the other projects I'm involved in. I love my Botany class, and I'm committed to completing it. I have two gardening pro bono projects, both of which I'm committed to. I'm helping someone who's got a vision for a Wellness Center, and I'm going to participate in that project as well. I'm supposed to write a gardening article, but I'll pursue that at a later date. I've been taking a digital photo class, but I've decided not to participate in a group photography show.

2. I outline all the component parts of each project. When I'm depressed, my organizational ability suffers. So...I've decided to sit down this week, and figure out every element of every project and organize it in a notebook.

3. I need to exercise more, and come up with a plan for doing that. I know that exercise is more effective than antidepressants. And while I walk my dog Jack twice a day, I need to participate in some additional activities.

A few weeks ago I said that I was going to jump rope, but I can't seem to make myself do it. I've decided that I really need to try a yoga class. I've talked about doing this forever, but I haven't done it. There's a yoga studio ten minutes away and I'm going to try out a class early next week. I'm also going to check out a local swimming pool, and find out when the exercise classes meet.

(to be continued)


KJ said...

I have always wanted to try yoga. I need to exercise more. I love riding my bike but it is still so hot here. Maybe by next month. I can't wait to read the continue!

Wellness Writer said...

Dear KJ,
It's been really hot here as well. And I do like bike riding, although I haven't owned a bike in a few years. So...maybe I need to buy a used one, and that's something I'm going to check out as well. Thanks for reminding me. There's a great bike path at the beach, and that's the one place that's cool.


lili said...

I don't even know how many depressions and euphorics episodies I had, because they were so many that I have forgoten the number. I guees I can feel exactely what you feel when you talk about the days getting shorter and the signs of depression to start to ''bite''.
I use to walk alone, I have a cat lol.
I still take meds, and I think that will be for all my life, I'm bipolar and I know that I have a dicease that can be treated but not cured.

Hugs and kiss
Helena Marques

P.S. Sorry my english :)

theadventuresofayoungbohemian said...

I couldn't agree more that it is *critical* to assess the situation at that point. Else so much progress can be lost so easily! And what a waste for want of relatively simple steps. Not always easy to recognise that tipping point, though I doubt as I need to point that out to someone as knowledgeable as you, Susan.

A botany class! I've not heard of someone doing such a thing for a long time. Sounds delightful but what is it you do, exactly -- if I might ask?

Wendy Love said...

You certainly have a plan of attack Susan. These are good war tactics... be prepared for the enemy before he gets there! My only exercise is a walk everyday which is like a daily vitamin for me. If the weather makes that walk impossible, it is not a good day. There is something medicinal about that walk for me, it is theraputic. I have often been asked by friends if they could walk with me and I say 'sorry, but no' because it is not only the walk but the being alone with my own thoughts that seems to be so helpful. I could not give up my walk. Even when we travel, as we arrive at a motel I will be looking around and wondering where might be a good direction for a walk, and whether or not it would be safe. Sometimes, when travelling I have walked in malls too, but that is not nearly as nice as 'experiencing the cosmic rythmn' as I have heard it put.

Writing Works said...

Sounds like you have a great plan!! I think that being involved in too many activites could make anyone depressed, so to filter through them and decide what's important is important to do!

Good for you for doing that!!

Wellness Writer said...

Dear Helena,
Welcome to my blog, and don't worry about your English. You expressed yourself perfectly.

I've had a lot of episodes too, but, for years I've kept detailed mood charts so I know when they hit, what medications I was taking, how they affected me, how long I was sleeping each night, what activities I was engaged in, and so forth and so on.

And yes, it must be difficult to take a cat on a walk :).


Wellness Writer said...

Dear Young Bohemian,
For me, it actually is easy to recognize the tipping point. In years past, I could feel the depression coming, and I had three days to begin taking medication before it hit head on.

Now that I'm off medication, and only take Adderall when I need it (and it works immediately), I don't need to be so vigilant.

But, I'm trying to stay off the Adderall because it has side effects I don't particularly like, and I think it extends the episodes.

So, I'm carefully monitoring everything, and seeing if that will make a difference.

In answer to your question, I was a freelance writer and author, but I stopped working for a few years to focus completely on regaining my health.

Now, I'm getting a certificate in Gardening and Horticultural with the goal of writing about gardening.


Wellness Writer said...

Dear Wendy,
These are war tactics (sort of). After such a horrific depression last year, I'm fighting this with everything I've got.

I, too, enjoy walking without talking. But, for 16 of the last 18 years I walked with my dogs. Then, they both died, and I was dog-free for a year, and stopped walking.

Now that I have Jack, I'm back, and it's really an important part of my healing process.

P.S. I hate walking in malls!

Wellness Writer said...

Dear Writing Works,
I do have a great plan...at least I hope so. And it is important to filter things, isn't it?


Tamara (TC) Staples said...


I think it is so healthy to realize when you have committed to an activity that doesn't really feel good after all and having the courage to gracefully withdraw. I get depressed when I find myself going off on tangents of what I "should" do yet I don't really want to do. Once I cancel out and get back on course with my writing, cooking, and other things that I really do enjoy, the depression lifts almost immediately. Of course, I am soon off on another tangent but I am getting much better of realizing it and nipping it in the bud before I go too far astray.

Many hugs,

Tamara (TC) Staples said...


I found the article I was reading about S.A.D. Forgive the long quote in your comment section but I don't have your email address.

"Suddenly I understood that there is an energetic calculus in our brains and minds that effects this downward shift: When our intelligence system perceives that there is not much to gain by carrying on with the tasks of life — when we are overcome by too much loss or are facing a period of too little gain — we get “depressed.” (By the same token, the seasonal shutdown psychiatrists call seasonal affective “disorder” is actually a normal, if uncomfortable, recalibration for the energetically barren winter months that our species confronted during our ancestral past.) This kind of motivational downshifting forces us to radically reconfigure our lives and our selves in an effort to keep us energetically solvent. My brain was shutting down my motivational system to keep me from wasting any more behavioral energy on a dead-end path."

It is from an article called "The Creation of I" that was in Spirituality and Health. Here is a link to the entire article if you are interested. http://www.spirituality-health.com/spirit/archives/creation-i


marja said...

So good to be planning, Susan. I'm trying to do the same thing, as my time of depression starts when Christmas approaches. Christmas has been the pits for me the past few years. I'm really working on changing that this year.

As far as exercise is concerned: I've never been athletic or enjoyed exercise so that had always been a problem for me. But several years ago I joined Curves and that has been the answer for me. I can go whenever I want - no set schedules. And it has a social element: all the machines are in a circle making it possible to talk to others while I work out. (another good thing to combat depression.)

I find that it's not too hard to motivate myself to go to Curves and that's so important. (Curves should be paying me for this little commercial, don't you think?)

Love - marja

Wellness Writer said...

Dear Tamara,
Thanks so much for sharing the quote, and I'll check out the article tomorrow. Since this is a huge problem for me and has been for years, I'm interested in anything that might shed light on it.


Wellness Writer said...

Dear Tamara,
I'm so tired that I guess I read your comments out of sequence. Actually, I used to feel bad when I started something and stopped it.

But, now I don't do it nearly as much. And I realized that most people I know rarely try new things. And since I'm willing to embrace a lot of new activities, I don't need to feel bad when there are things I don't enjoy doing.

Glad you coming to that conclusion as well. It takes some of the pressure off, doesn't it?


Wellness Writer said...

Dear Marja,
I think it's positive that both of us are trying to find ways to make the next few months happy ones. And yes, I do believe you should get some sort of stipend from Curves!


inamaze said...

Wow, the fact that you can set it all out like that is amazing. It's also great that you can recognize your limits and that you respect them even if you have to back out of some activities.

I love walking outdoors. It helps me a lot with my anxiety. Although where I live we have more winter than summer which can cut down on the walking. But it sure makes a difference when I can do it.

Wellness Writer said...

Dear inamaze,
Welcome to my blog. Interestingly enough, I've always been able to analyze the problems, but understanding them didn't enable me to overcome them.

The only difference this year was that I went back into therapy for nine months and it was with an extraordinarily insightful person, and seems to have made all the difference.

Yes, being outdoors is grand, isn't it?


cravinglife said...

Hi Susan,

This post really resonates with me as my bipolar symptoms are also strongly affected by seasonal changes. I dread the fall when the light changes, the sun shines less and the days almost disappear altogether.

I too am exploring various ways to get more exercise into my daily life. I understand that exercise is an effective tool for managing mood changes, much better than anti-depressants, but understanding is much different than actually making a change, isn't it?

You mention yoga as a possible manaagment technique and form of exercise, so I thought you might be interested in a new study that is taking place at CAMH which explores the link between depression and yoga. Apparently CAMH's Mood Disorders Unit is conducting a 16-week study on this exact topic and is seeking participants who are currently experiencing depressive symptoms and are interested in testing out yoga as a form of therapy and management. At least this is what I'm gathering from their website.

This is the description from CAMH's website:

CAMH's Mood and Anxiety Program is conducting a study investigating a specific type of yoga that has been shown to reduce symptoms of depression. This study will examine whether or not this type of yoga, in addition to current medications, will be helpful in reducing symptoms of depression, as compared to psycho-education. If you are currently experiencing symptoms of depression, please call 416-260-4209 for more information or click here.

The link is:


Thought you might be interested in this. I look at it as great motivation to make a change in my exercise habits i.e. lack of exercise.


Wellness Writer said...

Dear Lili,
Thanks ever so much for all the info. Actually, while I wasn't aware of this study, there is tons of other information on the value of yoga for depression, including a book of that name by Amy Weinstein.

For some reason I've known about all this for at least three years and have never been able to force myself to do yoga.

I far prefer sports to exercise, but the research on yoga suggests it's helpful for any number of reasons.

Why I've resisted I can't tell you except that I far prefer sports to exercise. Still, yoga could help me on a number of levels.

So...as soon as I finish responding to your comment, I'm going to call the yoga place and set up complimentary session for next week.

Thanks again.


Tamara (TC) Staples said...


I also try many, many new things. I used to see this as a weakness of mine because I don't always follow through. I am trying to now think of it as a strength. If I try something and it doesn't work or I don't enjoy it then at least I tried!

I also read your comments about Yoga. Funny, I do the same thing. I was a runner and LOVED it. I stay disappointed that I can no longer do that. I never did it for the exercise but for the love of running. Exercise is very difficult for me now because a little too much and I become rundown and exhausted with increased pain for weeks. I am trying to get into walking and learn to think of it like I used to think of running. I have done Yoga before and really felt some benefits but something keeps me from getting back into it.


Wellness Writer said...

Dear Tamara,
Something else we share. I began playing tennis when I was four years old, and that used to be my sport. But, I would quit for years when I was depressed and it became harder and harder for me to return to it.

A few years ago, I took up badminton...another great sport. But, I can't do it when I'm depressed.

The thing about yoga is that I might be able to do when I'm feeling low, which surely should act as an impetus, shouldn't it?

Go figure.

P.S. Please read the follow-up response I'm going to write to you as a comment.