Imagine an empty space where your heart is supposed to be, like it’s missing.
That’s what depression feels like for me.
It doesn’t always start like that; sometimes it’s a gradual (and sometimes unnoticeable) descent into that darkness. When I can feel it like that, though, it means it’s gotten pretty bad.
I’ve been having a rough time with this episode. Progress, while definitely being made, has felt slow, and I’m less optimistic than usual. It’s been pretty frustrating.
BEING MINDFUL OF YOUR BODY
The core concept of DBT is to be “mindful”. That’s when you are right here, right now. You are aware of your present experiences, not off worrying about the future or pondering the past. And most of all, you are not judging anything, including how you feel or what you’re thinking. It’s a state of being, observing, and participating in the present moment.
(I have heard people say, “If you have one foot in tomorrow and the other foot in yesterday, you’re pissing all over today.” How accurate that can be!)
One of the ways you can practice mindfulness is to pay attention to your body and what’s happening with it. Not only does it keep you in the present, if you are able to do it nonjudgmentally (i.e., not freak out), it can help you identify your emotions, which can be difficult and confusing at times.
After all, how are you supposed to deal with your emotions if you don’t know what it is you’re feeling?
After some practice, it can also help you predict things like anxiety attacks (“Oh, I’m starting to feel that knot in my stomach again”) so that maybe you can head them off. Or, “Uh oh, I feel that hole starting in my chest; maybe I should call my therapist and get some guidance.” It allows you to be proactive.
Granted, it does take a lot of practice, but just keep the payoff in mind. If you could notice, right at the beginning, that you might be feeling anxious, you could do something about it so it doesn’t get any worse. And anxiety sucks just as much as depression (to me), so I think it’s worth it.
WHAT IT FEELS LIKE (PHYSICALLY) WHEN I’M DEPRESSED
My body talks to me when I’m depressed. Does yours?
When I’m really feeling it, as I did for a few days last week, I can feel it in my body. Aside from that awful hole where my heart should be, I notice the following:
- Anxiety (sometimes)
- A feeling of heaviness in my arms and legs that makes it very difficult to get off the couch, and almost impossible to leave the house
- I feel the need to be doubled-over or hugging a pillow to “protect” my heart
- Slowed movements
- Usually, a loss of appetite, though I may snack a lot anyway
- Slowed heart rate
- Aches and pains come to the forefront
Those are some of the physical things I feel when depressed. Here are some of the myths I tell myself when I’m struggling:
- I feel worthless
- I don’t matter
- Nothing matters
- This is never going to end
- I feel like this ALL the time
- What’s the point in living if it’s just going to be the same shit every day?
- No one gives a shit
- Nobody would notice – or care – if I was not here anymore
And on and on…
Of course, my brain knows these are all lies, but when you’re in the tight kung-fu grip of depression, it’s damn hard to argue with your own self-defeating, dysfunctional beliefs.
WHAT ABOUT ANXIETY?
I have noticed in the last year that the hole in my heart is sometimes a sign of anxiety, not necessarily depression. It can be hard to tell the difference.
When I’m anxious, like yesterday when I almost had a panic attack, it feels like this:
- The hole in my heart (sometimes)
- Shakiness, inside and out
- Racing heart
- Restlessness, lots of energy
- I often feel like I need to move at 100 mph (though I try to keep a lid on it)
- Hyperventilating (which is rare anymore) and and/or bawling my eyes out
And here are some other things I feel or do when I’m feeling super-anxious:
- Confusion in my head (racing thoughts)
- Feeling like I’m coming and going at the same time
- A terrible sense of impending doom, like something incredibly bad is going to happen, up to and including death
- I feel the urge to damage myself (sometimes)
- I drive faster, even though I may feel a little paranoid about getting pulled over
On the other hand, I can be exactly the opposite when anxious: I often shut down and am very quiet, being very deliberate with my movements and thoughts. In fact, one day this week, I had an anxiety attack during TMS, so the nurse took my vitals. They were perfect: my blood pressure was 115/75, pulse 61.
I even told her that would happen. I said, “You can take them, but I’ll tell you right now that they’ll be perfect.” I have no idea how that’s possible, given that my body was in fight-or-flight mode, but it is. And it wasn’t the first time.
Yes, yes, I know – some of these things contradict each other. But that’s how our brains (and bodies) are: Complex and complicated.
I’ve come to realize that I’ve had pretty bad anxiety since I was a little kid, when I used to lie in bed every night, eyes transfixed on the doorway to my room, paralyzed, just waiting for someone to come in and kidnap me. It didn’t matter if the door was open or closed, or if the bathroom light was on or off. I’d lie awake for 1 ½ – 2 hours, just waiting to be stolen. This lasted for years.
Yeah, let’s just say that anxiety and I go way back.
There are some really great smartphone apps out there to stay in the present rather than start worrying about “what ifs” or telling yourself “I should have…” (No judging if someone doesn’t have a smartphone. We just got our first ones two years ago!) Here are a few that I use, in case you’re interested:
- Stop, Breathe, & Think: http://app.stopbreathethink.org/ (for your desktop) or FREE from Google Play and from Apple. This is my favorite meditation app. You can check in with yourself (how are you feeling before you start and after you’re done) if you want and then choose from 16 different FREE guided meditations. There’s also a few “packs” of meditations (even one from K.D. Lang, who does a marvelous job!) you can purchase if you want to. “The K.D. 5-pack”, for instance, is $1.99 for life. The other packs are very, very, very cheap, too. Give this one a look, especially if you’re not sure “how” to meditate. I, for one, need the guided meditations because they tell me what to focus on.
- DBT911: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=se.annadroid.Dbt112&hl=en This is a great app for people who have been through DBT as well as those who have no idea what DBT is. It helps you through times of crisis and stress and keeps you in the present. FREE from Google Play. I can’t figure out if it’s available from the App Store.
- One-Moment Meditation (OMM): http://onemomentcompany.com/app/ Excellent app for bringing yourself back into the now. It’s a very simple, one-minute meditation and tells you exactly what to do. FREE from Google Play and the App Store. (Make sure to watch the cartoon, it’s cute!)
- com: https://www.calm.com/ This is supposed to be a good one for meditation, although I have not tried it yet. They have a ton of meditations to try, but only some of them are free. You might want to give it a shot for free and then decide if it’s worth purchasing the others. Available from Google Play and the App Store.
WHAT ABOUT YOU?
What does your body tell you when you’re depressed or anxious or otherwise feeling “negative” emotions? Do these sound familiar, or do you have other symptoms? Or do you have absolutely no idea where to even start?
IN A NUTSHELL:
- If I’m listening, my body tells me when a depression or anxiety is starting.
- That hole in my heart really, well, breaks my heart.
- My brain talks to me, too, in bad times, only it tells me lies.
- Body and mind are soooo complex.
- It takes practice to get to know yourself.
- Depression and anxiety aren’t really interchangeable, but they can happen at the same time. And they both bite the big one.
- Think about trying one of the apps I’ve listed, or another one you know about. It could really help you get on the right track.
As always, questions, comments, complaints, challenges, and suggestions are welcome. Leave a comment or email me at Laura (at) DepressionWarrior (dot) com and I promise I’ll respond quickly and thoughtfully.
Keep on Keepin’ it Real, kids!