I want you to stop and think about this question for a moment. Don’t continue reading until you’ve pondered it for at least one minute.
As many of you know I deal with depression on a consistent basis. I need to insert a caveat at this point – I do not walk around my life in a cloud of depression. I am on regular medication and thanks to my father I take some herbal supplements that help as well. But, from time to time those things aren’t enough and I become mired in my own thoughts that drag me into a depression.
My recent bout, however, left me more bruised than in past times and I made a dinner appointment with my friend/therapist, Liz. There are two people in my life that I can count on to give me no nonsense advice without sugar coating it, one of those people is one of my best friends, Justin. The other is Liz. Where Justin’s advice is often a hard slap across the face, Liz’s advice is more gentle but still gets directly to the point.
While we were eating she stopped me from talking and asked me a simple question “What have you done for yourself lately?” I opened my mouth to respond to her but then realized I didn’t have an answer to that question. I tried to play coy, “What do you mean?” She smiled at me and said, “You know exactly what I mean. What have you done for yourself?”
The pause was palpable. I racked my brain. What have I done? I’ve been reading, but even that was diminished during my time in Purgatory with my depression master. What had I done for me? The answer was, “nothing!”
She looked at me, that smile playing on her face again, “You know, I’ve noticed you are less depressed and more able to be at your best when you take time to do things for you.”
Could it possibly be that simple? Was my depression lessened when I took time for me? How is that possible? Doesn’t Buddhism teach us to do for others? In fact, doesn’t all religion tell us to do for others, sacrificing ourselves in that pursuit?
Please understand, I am by no means a religious martyr. But, as a teacher my job is to give of myself, as a friend my hope is to give fully of myself, as a brother and son my desire is to give fully of myself. And, I do endeavor to do just that. So, what is this about doing for me?
It was a logical and plain idea. Many psychologists have talked about the need to refuel yourself emotionally and spiritually. Even Oprah has touted the necessity. I am loathed to admit it but my emotional and spiritual tanks are on empty. They still aren’t nearly full enough. As I looked back at the recent months I completely understood where Liz was coming from. I’d stopped going to yoga, I was just too tired. I’d stopped meditating because I wanted to try to sleep. I stopped writing because it was mentally exhausting for me. I even stopped reading my spiritual books and put them aside for books of a more secular nature. I wasn’t doing a damn thing for myself and my batteries were drained.
It’s been about a month since that meeting with Liz and I have made some positive changes. I’ve been reading some great books by Pema Chödrön and Dr. Wayne Dyer. I’ve joined Weight Watchers, I started running (though found that my knees have NOT liked that idea). I’ve also shared my love of yoga by teaching it at my school a few times to teachers and students. (I knew things were bad when I gave up yoga.) And though I have not started back on a regimented mediation schedule, I have been taking more time to stop and breathe and be mindful. I call these my mini-meditation moments. It works for me and as a former English teacher I love the alliteration.
Am I still struggling? Yes. Am I on the right track? Yes, again. Now, I want you to think back for a few moments. What do you do for you? Maybe you don’t feel depressed, but I know you feel stressed. Stress attacks us on many fronts. It could be the joyful stress of expecting a new baby, or a wedding. It can also be emotional stress; the change of a relationship status, the loss of a loved one. There’s also physical stress, feeling tired, overwhelmed, ill. These things take a lot of our strength, often without us even knowing it. So, what do you do to make sure you are replenishing your batteries? Take some time for yourself, each day. Even if it’s just for twenty minutes. I guarantee it will help. It’s helping me.