26 March, 2023, 7:00 pm
Bula Fiji! Welcome to my new column where I will be sharing insights and practical strategies on mind wellness, selfcare, and self-awareness.
The mind is a complex structure. We exist as mind-body-spirit beings and often our wellness emphasis is purely on the physical body. Our minds also go through changes in health. So today, I would like to shed light on something we are all familiar with – Depression.
What is depression
Is feeling sad the same as being depressed? No. Not really. Feeling chronic sadness, emptiness, worthlessness, teary, and having recurring thoughts of selfharm and not knowing exactly why you feel these emotions, are significant signs of depression.
Depression is now categorised as a disease and can exist by itself or in different combinations such as Post Natal Depression (affecting new mothers), Bipolar Disorder (periods of major happiness and major sadness), Dysthymia (mild, chronic sadness existing for at least two years) and Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD (affects people during shorter, darker months in autumn and winter), to name a few.
Signs and symptoms of depression often go unnoticed because our society expects people to “suck it up and keep fighting”.
Most cultural and tribal customs associate mental health issues to “the devil’s work” and often blame and shame those who may be genuinely suffering and in desperate need of medical and psychological intervention.
Stigma and shame are associated with anyone showing vulnerability in acknowledging weakness.
Depressive symptoms can lead to psychosomatic manifestations, meaning that the physical body will begin to show signs of disease due to the mind being unwell. These associated diseases are obesity, type-2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and other metabolic and autoimmune diseases. Physically, the body responds to these symptoms in the following way:
• Loss of appetite or sometimes increased appetite (emotional eating);
• Insomnia, or, for some people, too much sleep;
• Loss of energy – fatigue; • Inappropriate guilt – recurring thoughts of “It’s my fault”, “I’m not good enough”, “I don’t matter;
• Confusion or inability to make decisions – recurring thoughts of “I don’t know what to do” and
• Isolation, often remaining alone in one part of the house for too long, such as extended hours in the bedroom or extended hours on the balcony watching out into space
• Lack of physical movements – always preferring to lie down or sit for extended hours, or mindlessly watch TV or scroll on the device, not really engaging;
• Lack of interest or pleasure in any activity; and
• Inability to find joy in any situation – recurring thoughts of “Why is it always so hard for me?”
In 2009, after my brain tumour was diagnosed, I began questioning my life’s choices and began experiencing feelings of deep sadness, guilt, emptiness, a strange void, rapid weight gain due to emotional eating, and thoughts of self-harm.
My GP was able to diagnose these symptoms as depression. She recommended that I seek counselling and psychological help. My daughter, who was six years old at the time, was suffering vicariously as a result of my condition. I made a conscious decision to follow my GP’s advice.
I lived. In May 2012, I had my brain tumour surgery, months after escaping a 10-year violent marriage. My daughter and I started a new life. And I began a personal journey of healing and self-discovery where I had to start speaking my truth and living my truth.
It was extremely difficult and most challenging to learn ways to cope the incessant mental chatter, depressive symptoms, physical health symptoms, single parenting. I had to learn how to start each day with hope, prayer, and gratitude. Soon, it became clear to me that all change occurs first at the level of thought.
Thoughts affect our words, words affect our deeds. Good thoughts. Good words. Good deeds.
Managing depression with your mind power
Every brain has a mind of its own. No matter what our experiences, we do not have to identify ourselves by our experiences.
The divine creator has blessed us with a mind that has enough power for us to change our thinking and begin to manifest good and joyful outcomes.
The following strategies may help manage depressive symptoms;
• Full blood test to diagnose any thyroid dysfunction, blood pressure abnormalities or vitamin deficiencies;
• Find a person you can confide in without fear of being judged (counsellor/ psychologist/ therapist) and talking to that person to process your feelings to find healing;
• 30 minutes daily exercise; • Cognitive behavioural changes (becoming mindful of changing thoughts that don’t serve you to thoughts that do serve you);
• 5 minutes of silence to listen to your intuitive voice, your soul’s voice; and
• Practise self-love, gratitude, and forgiveness (having an attitude of gratitude and forgiveness is not enough, you need to practise it daily with strategies, for example, keeping a daily gratitude journal and writing down all the things you are grateful for that day
Mind clarity through journaling
Challenge the why in your life take a pen and paper and write why as the topic. Underline it. Now, write down all the feelings you are experiencing today and try to explain why.
Keep challenging the why until you start seeing some clarity happening.
For example, “I feel tearful today because I feel empty inside. I feel empty inside today because I am not working, and I really wish I had a good job and my own financial independence. I am not working because I lost my job. I lost my job because I was not meeting my targets…” (and these “WHY challenges” continue until you find clarity).
Write a description of your ideal self in the present tense as though you are actually living that ideal life. For example, “I am wearing my black suit today as I have my first day at work. I am starting my new position today as Department Manager. My shoes are brand new. My shirt smells beautiful…”
Thought switch — divide the page into two columns. In the left column, write down your limiting beliefs and in the right column, write down the opposite of those beliefs. For example, Limiting belief: “I don’t think I am qualified for the job. I’m sure they will not hire me”. Opposite belief: “I am perfect for this job, and I look forward to starting my new job and making a positive difference to people around me.” Always remember…You are not your experiences. You are the force that overcomes them.
• PRINCESS R LAKSHMAN is a counsellor, clinical nutritionist, writer, narrative therapist, and certified life-coach. She is passionate about mind wellness and an advocate for kindness and self-care. She lives in Sydney and will soon open mind wellness hubs in Fiji to provide free mental health counselling and workshops exclusively to Fiji residents. The views expressed are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of this newspaper. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org