Morning pages. Doing Nothing. Questioning our thoughts. I’ve written about all of these, but always from a place of basic happiness, not from a place of depression. That makes a certain sense – these days, I am basically happy. But what about the days when I am not? What about the days when depression rears its unwanted head? The fact is, these skills are useful on down days ordinarily, but I’m not exaggerating when I say that they can be life savers when you are coming from a place of depression, whether mild, moderate, or even severe (though in the case of severe depression I would strongly urge you to consult with a mental health professional, as well).
This week I am going to focus on writing morning pages and doing nothing, but stay tuned for part 2, where I will talk in-depth about how you can question your thoughts when you are depressed.
Doing nothing. Ah, the glory of doing nothing. You’d think this one would come naturally when you’re feeling depressed, but it really doesn’t. Generally, when we are depressed we seek out distractions, such as TV, the internet, music, or food. While these may require very little effort, they lack the restorative power of doing nothing.
Doing nothing means sitting down in a chair (or you can try this while taking a walk or doing any other rhythmic activity) and really not doing anything. You sit. Then you start to watch your thoughts (this is not the same as trying to control or eliminate your thoughts). Instead of getting wrapped up in whatever depressing stories your mind is generating, just let them be. I’m not asking you to ignore or change your thoughts, but to disengage from them. So when you find yourself thinking something like “I don’t have time for this!” you can respond to it with “Huh. Interesting.” rather then “Oh my God, I have to stop right now and do 6 million other thing immediately!”
When you notice that you are getting absorbed in the stories again, bring your attention to your breathing or your heartbeat. It isn’t necessary to stay focused on them the whole time – this isn’t meditation – but they can be a convenient way to draw yourself out of the thought story and back to the present moment and a place of relative detachment.
Back when I suffered from serious depression, I would think about how nice it would be to kill myself. Not because I necessarily wanted to die, but simply so that I could get a break. I wanted everything around me to stop so that I could rest and regroup. While I still have not found a pause button on life, this practice of doing nothing comes damn close. If you ever find yourself searching for the same relief, I urge you to give it a try. These days, when I find myself wishing that everything would just go away, then I sit down and do nothing and it really does help.
Morning Pages. These are an idea introduced by Julie Cameron in The Artist’s Way, but popularized and used throughout the internet. The idea is to write three pages of stream of consciousness, ideally first thing in the morning. This allows you to get some of the crud wandering through your mind out and into the light of day.
My first experience with morning pages was during a time of pretty bad depression, and they were tremendously helpful! I won’t lie to you, though – looking so closely at my thoughts was very difficult. But watching myself spew the same old complaints onto the pages again and again and again forced me to confront some of the things in my life that simply did not work, and then to change them. If you are serious about making changes in your life, then I can’t recommend these highly enough. Trust me, once you’ve written about the same problem enough time, you will make a change!
Morning pages can also be very helpful if the people in your life are less than supportive about your depression. If you don’t feel like you can go to anyone else, you can at least spill your thoughts out onto these pages. It’s not the same as getting support from a human being, but it can help in the interim while you find somebody flesh and blood to talk to.
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Check back next week for part 2, when I will talk more about how you can question your depressed thoughts.