How Meditation Saved My Life
Breaking through the fog of Dysthymia with Meditation
Life With Dysthymia
I wish someone had told me how medicinal tears are for the body and the soul. I caused myself so much pain by refusing to feel emotion. I buried myself under blankets of sadness, and piled on distraction, until I wasn’t sure what I was feeling anymore. My muscles became tense, and I woke with pain in my shoulders, back, neck and thighs. I took anti-inflammatories for the pain, not realizing that my behavior, thoughts, and stress were the culprit, not this physical life.
I woke up each day and drank as much caffeine as I could handle to kickstart my day. I chain-smoked, switched to an e-cigarette, and enjoyed the temporary high of a daily stimulant pill that was necessary for me to get any sort of work done.
Music covered any silence… or a background television… a radio or a cellphone screen. I spent absolutely no time alone with myself…because I knew what would happen. When I allowed space to creep in around me, there nothing was to push away my thoughts, and the unraveling began. Years of self-destructive behaviors piled sky-high, just waiting for a light breeze or a half-empty moment to topple over.
Avoidance is just as much of an addiction as my evening wine. “If I evade these thoughts long enough, maybe they will go away,” I thought. Wrong I was.
I was diagnosed with dysthymia, or chronic, persistent depression when I was an early teen. Dysthymia is a milder form of MDD, or Major Depressive Disorder. It’s characterized by an enduring cyclical funk of moodiness and apathy lasting for more than 2 years.
I’ve had mine for the better part of a decade.
Suffering from dysthymia is a bit like having a “life hangover”. You don’t feel bad enough to see a doctor, but you definitely don’t feel your best. Some days are better than others, but you never do shake the sadness. Caffeine and other stimulants keep the creeping shadow away temporarily, but as the buzz wears off, so does my mask.
I caused myself so much more pain by refusing to feel emotion.
Throughout my day, I used to fantasize about who might care about me if I was gone, or how much relief I would feel if I just ended my life. I’d daydream up scenarios of how I would manage to make my ending seem accidental, so as to avoid familial pain. These suicidal ideations persisted most of my life, until I dropped into a serious bout of depression (MDD).
How Meditation Saved My Life
“No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear”
About 6 months ago, I suffered a great loss. I attempted to duck from life’s left-hook, like I’ve always done, but she hit me square in the face. I still get a deep feeling of disease whenever I think about it, much like the discomfort of eating a greasy meal: Heavy. Nauseating. Unpleasant.
I began to spiral out of control. I drank heavily, I made decisions that both embarrass and shame me to think about. I imbibed in other drugs. Nothing that I did made me happy. There was no external validation that could hide me from the dark cloud that waited for me when the distractions faded away.
Then came the suicide attempt.
I was alone. I felt alone. I knew I would always be alone.
Grief is a mountain even the most stable personality is challenged to surmount. It shatters your compass. It breaks your gravitational alignment. It drowns you in your own tears. When I recovered from my attempt, I knew I needed to make changes. My grief, my dysthymia, my imbalances had almost claimed my life, and not for the first time. But this time was different. Unfortunately, more pain is what I needed to break free from my melancholia. I couldn’t put my family through that kind of stress, and I didn’t want to lose out on my freedom.
For the first time in my life, I reached out with an open heart. I had always hoped that something would change me, but I had never made the decision to change myself from within. I didn’t know how, but an adjustment must occur, before I made another attempt at an untimely end. I sought out help, and visited a Shaman.
Just a single one-on-one with a Shaman gave me enough resources to kick-start my healing.
Shamanistic healing broke my cycle of self-loathing, self-pity, shame, guilt, and other low vibrational emotions. However, it was up to me to keep from falling back into this old pattern. My dysthymia is like a wind tunnel. It sucks you in and doesn’t let you go until it decides it’s finished circling. My “Sha-mom” handed me a mass of resources, including books, exercise habits, rituals, and of course, an open invitation to reach out. Of all of the spiritual wealth she shared with me, I resonated with meditative rituals.
Whenever I feel the rugged edge of shallow breath, I practice a ritual of self love that I still use today. I place my hands over my heart, and breathe in deeply, imagining a ball of liquid light glowing in my heart. As I exhale, I envision the light flows into my hands. Upon inhaling, I pull this warm, liquid light back into my heart, and repeat until my internal rhythm return to a normal pace. During this breathing technique, I observe my thoughts, and send myself supportive, loving messages.
I never realized before how I “spoke” to myself in my head. My gratitude ritual opened up a more gentle internal dialogue. All of a sudden, my mind felt comfortable expressing herself and her fears. She began to speak to me in a way I’ve never experienced. Now I respond, I speak her (her-me-myself-whatever??) more, and more often. Had I ignored her my entire life?
Each morning, I spend just 10 minutes with myself, watching the sun rise, or cupping a fresh tea. Some days I do absolutely nothing. Ive discovered that my beliefs and values were directly creating what I was experiencing in my life.
Each afternoon, I practice this light-heart-self-love technique. Then I imagine the light soaking into my brain, dissolving all thoughts, structures and matter. I picture this light exploding from my crown chakra, and expanding into the space around me, returning to source. I give back everything that doesn’t serve me, and continue to fill the imagined space in my brain with light.
Each evening, I end the day by meditating on what I’m grateful for. Sometimes I add these into a gratitude journal to remind me in times of need.
I began to notice “gaps” in my thoughts. The tiny spaces before my mind began racing again….they felt really good! As awareness expands, the gap between thoughts open up. I’m now able pay more attention to the thoughts that arise in my mind. Some of them are dark; The things I’ve pressed into the recesses of my mind. They were the things I’d previously ignored; The things I didn’t want to pay attention to. Meditation uncovers these patterns and creates space for change.
I started to cry during meditation. Not heavy, grief-filled tears, but softer, emotional releases. When I focused on parts of my body that hurt, I saw that there was emotional pain stored there, and I allowed myself to witness it. Gradually, my muscle pain began to dissipate. I noticed almost immediately that my neck stopped hurting. Then the middle-and-lower back pain dissolved. My energy returned, and I cut down my coffee habits. I stopped smoking, which I never thought I would do.
I’m learning new ways to meditate all the time, and though I know I don’t have all the answers, I’m 100% certain that medicinal meditation saved my life.
I’m still human, and days are variable. When I get overwhelmed, I return to my heart-hands routine. When I begin to feel blue, I do the same. At times, I still have suicidal ideology. I have to remind myself to make my internal dialogue more gentle. But those patterns that once ruled my life? I became aware of their existence. Once they were illuminated, I could see the destructive nature for what it was: a bad habit. A unhealed wound. Something reversible.
I’m in the process now of challenging my “core beliefs”, which is slowly eradicating the hold that my depression had on my life. I see now that my reality is changeable, rather than external to my modification. I’ve ripped off those those blankets of sadness, and I see what lie underneath. I’m “clearing house”, if you will. Meditation now influences every area of my life. I find happiness in the moments of stillness, rather than covering them up with music and substance abuse. I’m still progressing towards my truth, but hey, I’m alive to say I have that chance, right?