Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Refocusing To Achieve Wellness (Part 2)

On Monday, I wrote that a severe depression last November and December was exacerbated by my inability to want to write, which is how I made my living for two decades. And I said that the only thing worse than being depressed, was being depressed and feeling that I was unable to pursue the career path I'd worked so hard to achieve.

After coming out of that depression in January (It didn't end for another three months, but the severity slowly receded), I went back into therapy after a 20-year hiatus. And in April I signed up to take a gardening class at UCLA Extension.

From the beginning, I was hooked. Not only has working in the soil outdoors made me feel better for the last few years, but I genuinely liked the people in my class, and I loved my teacher. What I realized from the beginning was that it was fun to be with people who shared my interest in gardening. There were truly a quirky group.

Most of them were pursuing this as a second career or a retirement career. And, they came from a wide array of backgrounds and occupations. There was an entertainment attorney, a banker, a mechanical engineer, a professor of textiles, the executive director of a non-profit breast cancer organization, and so many more.

Because we gardened together for half the class, we developed an unusual camaraderie. While learning about plant materials is a left brained activity, the gardening itself is a right brained activity. And, I have learned that when I'm depressed, I'm far better off doing right brained activities.

What I didn't know when I took that first class was that I would decide to immerse myself in the field, and go for the Certificate in Gardening and Horticulture, which means taking a total of 9 classes. What I didn't realize was that this entire endeavor would not only open a new world to me, but provide me with a focus during periods when I don't feel like writing.

What I learned from this experience and from therapy, is that it is critically important for me to feel focused when I'm depressed. It's bad enough to feel down, and despairing, but it's worse to think there's nothing I can do that affords me the same pleasure and satisfaction that writing does.

Now that I have this avocation that I enjoy so much, I realize I can face the "dark months" with a new enthusiasm and joi di vivre. How great is this?

What is your focus when you're depressed? How do you cope with feeling like you've lost your purpose?


Tamara (TC) Staples said...

I remain so happy for you that gardening is something you are loving to do. How wonderful to have something to turn to even when your mood is a bit down. We have talked before that for me it is cooking. I can walk into the kitchen and the world falls away for the amount of time I am preparing a meal.

However, the coping with feeling like I have lost my purpose is another question. I'm not sure I feel like I have ever found my purpose and I struggle with this CONSTANTLY! I would love for my purpose to be fiction writing. I am trying to get myself to a place where I can feel okay with that and not a more "altruistic" purpose. I think that each day I get a bit closer to this goal.


Wellness Writer said...

Dear Tamara,
As always, thanks for your thoughtful comment. I think that in a way, gardening for me might be like fiction writing for you.

From the outside, it doesn't seem like it has an "altruistic" purpose, but that doesn't really matter to me. What does matter is how enjoyable it is.

I guess that I've realized that some things--like the writing I do for my blog--fulfills certain needs. And others, like gardening and playing musical instruments fulfills other needs.


havisham said...


I recently found myself fifty and divorced. My ex decided he couldn't take my ups and downs any longer, and bolted in the dead of night. Literally. I woke up abandoned, and I'm working on rebuilding my life (I have a son, sixteen, who is autistic, and a grown daughter who's away at college). After the divorce fiasco, one of my best friends of years suddenly disappeared, deciding (I suppose) that my moods were too much for him. So I was sucker punched twice in a row by two people I'd trusted and loved.

I fell into a horrible depression, which lasted all of last summer, and during this time I found myself so absorbed in my job that it shocked me. I teach fiction writing online. That's what I focused on 110%. That's what saved me and kept me on the planet.

Also, I decided to dust off a writing project I'd avoided for a long time--a memoir--and asked my best friend (who is a writing coach) to give me deadlines. I hired her and we were off. The intensity of drafting 730 pages in 30 days was crazy, but it kept me going.

Soon after, though, I collapsed with a severe flu. I'm still recovering. And I "won" 16 free weeks with a creativity coach in the meantime. She's been helping me to dig into my dreams and search for other creative outlets (something to do when I need little breaks from the writing/revising).

I've rediscovered a love for working with clay, only in the past it was clay sculpture and throwing pottery on a wheel. Now--due to some wrist problems brought on by side effects from psychotropic meds--I'm studying working with polymer clays. I'm excited to get started, and have been reading everything I can get my hands on. Such an exciting area, and though it used to be thought of as a sort of cutesy pie craft, now it's growing into its own as a serious art form.

Thank you for this thought provoking site. I'll be back. I'm adding you to my blogroll.

Take Care,


Wellness Writer said...

Dear Sooz,
I'm speechless. I just can't imagine how awful it must have been to have your ex-husband and a dear friend abandon you.

But, I can understand how writing saved you. It sure saved me during the decade when I was so very sick. Without writing about my experiences, I don't know how I would have been able to survive the unconscionable behavior of the so-called healers who treated me.

Anyway, I think it's great that you've found pottery again. It's undoubtedly a nice balance to the oh-so-cerebral life of letters.