Saturday, August 21, 2010
Depression is not an easy emotion to manage, as the millions of Prozac, Wellbutrin and other household-word drugs attest. It is as individual a disease as the person experiencing the painful mind-state, hence a myriad of treatments, some effective, some not so.
Chinese medicine is effective in treating depression. I have helped many patients find there way to happy thoughts and feelings using acupuncture and Chinese herbal formulas which calm the mind and treat the TCM patterns (Traditional Chinese Medicine) causing the imbalance in the body & mind.
Today I'd like to discuss how to shape your frame of mind to see the upside of your life rather than focusing on the negatives. And i do not mean to over-simplify or diminish true problems that may be arising. the point i wish to make here is that regardless of how real or difficult our life problems may be, it is our out look about them that causes us to fall into depression, a state of emotional pain and inactivity, or to focus on the positives of our situation so that we prevent ourselves from falling into the downward spiral.
The technique i am going to outline has worked effectively for me for a number of years. I have begun sharing it with patients who are grappling with difficult life issues and i'm being told that this inspiration is helpful.
This technique involves seeking the positives in any situation. that does not mean pretending a challenge is not difficult. rather, it means finding an upside so that one doesn't wallow in self-pity and victim hood.
I first began using this technique after seeing the movie "Water" at the Blue Ridge Film Festival. What struck me most about this deeply moving piece was the plight of the oppressed women. The movie is set in 1938, the time of Mahatma Gandhi in India. As the movie opens, a young female child is be woken and told that her husband ("Do you remember your wedding?") is dead and you are now a widow. Because the family cannot afford to take care of her, and they are now losing the income from her 'husband' to support themselves, she is being sent off to a 'widows home', where she will live her life in abject poverty. Gold bracelets are broken from her pump wrists, all trapping of wealth removed, her head is shaved. She is deposited at the widows home, where the widows sleep on grass mats on concrete floors in stark, desperate rooms with no furniture, and eat a small portion of bread and gruel for meals. The are ostracized from Indian society: treat as lepers and bad omens. Under these intolerable conditions they live out their lives.
As a woman, i was deeply affected by the images i saw. I felt that by some slim grace of divine intervention i escaped this fate by the luck of a birthright. What if i had been born some years earlier in India? might i have borne this unfortunate circumstance, rather than being a free, educated woman with many opportunities in 21st century America?
The images in the film disturbed me, and i found myself contemplating the circumstances of my life juxtaposed with those of the women represented in this film. Especially when I got low, feeling bad about something that may have happened my life, I would think of these women and look around at where and how i was living. immediately my outlook changed as i realized how fortunate i truly am, and whatever the trouble affecting me, it is minor compared to how difficult life could be.
I found this to be a reliable way of gaining perspective on my situation, and pulling me out of gloomy moods. I began consciously developing the technique as a practice. I would remember trips to mexico and the abject poverty i witnessed there, and added that to the images i would conjure up to remember how fortunate i am to be living here, in this country at this time. In time i found myself becoming happier. I didn't allow myself to go into self pity about an undesirable or 'unfair' circumstance. I began taking adversity in greater stride, realizing how difficult my life could be, and how fortunate i am.
A couple of years ago, I read the autobiography "Infidel" about a muslim woman in africa who suffered much mistreatment, including genital mutilation and being forced by her family into an arranged marriage on another continent. She describes the plight of muslim women as little more than indentured servants, beaten, uneducated and unable to leave their families and survive as individuals on their own. She escapes to Holland, gets freed from this prison of a tortured life, writing movingly about her experience. Her story was an eye opener for me. I was not aware of the pitiful life that muslim women in under-developed countries are forced to lead. Since i have found programs through Global Giving to help these women who are a forgotten percentage of the worlds population. These programs help these women escape abuse, become educated and live independently, an ability western women take for granted.
I added the plight of these Muslim women to my contemplative practice. As i have been cultivating this practice for many years now, i can now draw upon it reliably when times get rough. I think of how much worse my life could be. I draw upon the suffering of the earthquake victims and people of Haiti, the poorest nation on earth, and what it would be like to be in their situation. I think of the flood victims in Pakistan. Recently there was an article in the NY Times about a man who lost everything, home and jet ski business when a decaying dam broke during a summer flood in Iowa. He had no flood insurance, due to the expense of the policy. thinking of these people, i remember that i have a lovely and comfortable home, i have a livelihood that gives me great gratification. When difficulties arise, i remember that others have problems that are exponentially worse, and i can overcome the adversity i face.
No matter how real and difficult problems may be that arise in my life, they pale in comparison to circumstances like these. Though i may feel scared, stressed and blue, i do pull out of it quickly when i call forth these images.
You don't need to use my images, you can cull through your own life experiences to remember those who are suffering. When you think of those who are abused, hungry and truly have nothing, you will be able to put your life problems in perspective. This is a practice one must cultivate to see results. meaning, contemplate the lives of those less fortunate on a regular basis. then, when troubles appears on your doorstep, you'll have a foundation practice to work with to fend them off.
may you find these words useful to help you deal with adversity and difficulties. KB
Monday, August 16, 2010
There was an interesting article in the NY Times Magazine Sunday about a study demonstrating that exercise diminishes anger. The columnist, Gretchen Reynolds, points out that exercise is long known to improve clinical depression. In this study, University of Georgia men were better able to control their anger after exercising than when they didn't exercise. The researchers didn't test stress hormone or brain chemical levels, though they suspect serotonin is a player here, as low serotonin levels are thought to contribute to mood disorders.
Chinese medicine has known about the relationship of exercise on anger and depression for several millenniums. In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) theory, the Liver is responsible. The Liver system in Chinese Medicine has the function of moving our Qi (pronounced 'chee', or energy) throughout the body, through the meridians (channels) and organs. When we get angry, we tighten up. This constriction prevents the liver qi from moving, exacerbating the anger in a vicious cycle. As qi stops moving in the body, physical depression ensues, leading to mental depression.
The remedy is to keep the liver qi moving, and exercise is important to doing so. Acupuncture and Chinese herbal formulas also move liver qi to prevent anger and depression. I've successfully treated hundreds of patients with liver qi issues, and find they respond well to TCM. These liver qi issues can lead to physical problems, such as hypertension and migraine headaches when the stuck liver qi looks for an escape valve, and shoots up to the head. Digestive problems, such as acid reflux, ulcers, GERD and IBS are often due to liver qi not moving in the digestive organs. The stuck qi accumulates heat as it sits in the G/I area, the heat causes acid reflux, GERD and ulcers. IBS is due to the erratic movement of qi, stuck during stress, then moving, causing alternating constipation and diarrhea, related to the emotions. KB