what zombies have to do with self-growth

I am not a fan of the horror genre. Except for zombies. When my son became intrigued by zombies, I explored all the movies – from the very first – with him. And the more I think about zombies, the more I realize we can learn from the genre.

Recently, I came across this older article exploring why exactly our society has developed this fascination with zombies. In a nutshell, its premise is that the zombie craze “mirrors a level of cultural dissatisfaction and economic upheaval”. According to the researcher that is quoted, Sarah Lauro, “We feel like, in one way, we are dead”. This article quotes her as saying, “We are more interested in the zombie at times when we as a culture feel disempowered.”

I don’t quite agree.

Yes, zombie stories intrigue us when we face challenges of our own, but not because we feel dead. And I’m not sure that it has to do with global disempowerment, either. Rather, I believe it is more personal. The greater attraction of the zombie genre is this: survival.

These stories show us that it is possible to survive against horrific odds. They show us people who keep fighting even when we might have wanted to give up because there just doesn’t seem to be a way out. They make us believe that yes, we are able to keep going even when nothing makes sense, to be resourceful when options are limited, to be creative when everything we used to know changes, and to remain essentially human even when surrounded by monsters. They help us remember that sometimes the only power we have and actually need is that of perseverance, because it will get us through the hopelessness. That is uplifting and encouraging! Especially when life becomes challenging or the future seems bleak.

For me, it has little to do with cultural dissatisfaction or economic upheaval. It has everything to do with fighting my personal monsters. I believe this is the attraction of all successful dystopian stories: the implicit truth that even at life’s worst, we keep fighting.

However fictional they may be, they contain true empowerment because they remind us we are indomitable. We are heroes, purely for not giving up.

And that is amazing.

From the AMC show, The Walking Dead

From the AMC show, The Walking Dead

Advertisements

10 ways to conquer depression

It is a source of continual amazement and delight to me, the way we manage to find the light.

How do you help yourself feel better when darkness strikes? How do you lift yourself out of the mire?

I have received the grace of, by this time in my life, discovering many ways to navigate through darkness back to the light. Many of these ways overlap or are very closely related to each other. Sometimes one simply needs that slight variance for it to click into your brain and work, to really speak to you and do the trick.

  1. The 10% rule: A friend once taught me to ask: What can you do right now that will make you feel 10% better? It can be something as simple as listening to a song, or gaining back a sense of control by doing the dishes, or making a gratitude list, or going for a walk. There are billions of little things you can do right now to feel 10% better. And then 10% more…and 10% more, until you have bootstrapped yourself out of the pit. It is often easier to sneak your way into feeling better than to aim for an all-or-nothing victory. Conquer the darkness by stealth!
  2. The smile rule: Moving the facial muscles into a smile is the most direct way to affect the brain. You can enhance your brain chemistry by smiling. Or by walking. Or by meditating where you focus on cultivating an inner smile: smiling with your eyes, the inside of your mouth, your heart … until you smile with your entire chest, opening up to the world … and on, and on, and on. Softening your whole body into a smile … I know of few other things that can so quickly bring as profound a sense of contentment as this.
  3. The enlarged container rule: There are times when all we need is to be taken out of ourselves for a while. We get so wound up and tied into knots dealing with a problem that it can overpower our entire existence. It is good to sometimes do something that will completely distract us from the war. And I’m not referring here to the numbing things we are so good at, like eating or watching television or over-working. I am talking about things that will enlarge our container so that we can view the world with perspective again. Visiting friends, going out into the world, walking or exercise, listening to a sermon, podcast or TED Talk, doing something deliberately engaging or delightful. Whatever it is, just do it to show your brain that there is more to life than this current challenge.
  4. The bottom rule: Sometimes it helps to stop fighting the darkness and simply accept it, stop thrashing about as you fall into the pit and quietly settle to the bottom where you know you can’t go any deeper. It sounds immensely counter-intuitive but it’s not. There is incredible relief in knowing you can’t fall any deeper – this is as bad as it’s going to get. From this point onwards, the only way is up. Just this quiet acceptance, this falling, can help conserve vital energy you need for climbing back out instead of burning it up through resistance. Saying to yourself, ‘Okay, here I am. It’s that time of darkness again. I have dealt with it before. I can deal with it again.’
  5. The observer rule: Step outside yourself and observe the darkness as if it were a completely separate person. Look into yourself with compassion and childlike curiosity. Treat it as if this were a story and the main character – you – has just been required by the author to undergo a serious spurt of character growth. How would she grow through this challenge the author threw at her? How would he become the hero in his story, however reluctantly and falteringly? Because take my word for it: we are all the heroes in our stories. And the good stories are the ones in which challenges are overcome. We have such immense worth that we are never written into boring stories! Of course we are going to face challenges! Lift yourself out of this immediate experience and look down onto your life as a compassionate observer. Lovingly, always lovingly. And curious, always curious. Whispering to yourself, ‘Oh, how fascinating! I do wonder what is going to happen next?’
  6. The therapist rule: Healing from depression might be as straightforward as finding a good therapist and talking things out. I have immense respect for my therapist – because she knows what questions to ask. And I don’t always know. People say they can figure out their own minds; they don’t need to pay hundreds or thousands of dollars for someone else to peer into their lives. And that might be so, but only if you know what questions to ask. Only if you stand back far enough to see the patterns. And it doesn’t happen easily or automatically. You have to search. It took me hitting two blanks before I was the third time lucky and came to someone who just opened up my mind like a flower. Words can’t describe my gratitude for how much she has helped me this past year, how much she has empowered me.
  7. The inner therapist rule: And then there is this almost opposite approach: be your own therapist. If you were your own patient and in need of help, what advice would you give you in this situation? We carry an amazing treasury of wisdom within. If only we will become still and ask and listen. It can be a small thing, an inner knowing that what you really need right now to get out of this hole is simply the security of a dependable bedtime, as if you are a child that is loved and put to bed at 21:00 every night by parents that know she will be less cranky in the morning if she sleeps enough. Or your inner therapist can tell you to this week go do one thing that will make you feel treated, that will remind you that you are cherished. What advice would you give yourself? What homework for inner healing? What support?
  8. The purpose rule: When you accept that nothing happens without a purpose, life starts to make more sense. And as Viktor Frankl and many others point out, knowing this gives meaning to suffering. If you know that – no matter how senseless this suffering feels right now – a day will come when you will see the purpose in it, and will use it for good, then you can get through it. Imagine how you can one day help someone else who wrestles with the black dog. Or how your example may save a life one day. Imagine what rock solid tested-by-experience advice you can one day give to a fellow human being in need, because you went through something similar. And you may very well be the only person who can help them because of your unique experience. Why is this strategy so powerful? Because it changes us from victims into leaders. It empowers us. And I believe when we realize that we are leaders and that we have something to give, it imparts a true sense of nobility to us that enables us to move mountains.
  9. The wheel rule: This is the first bit of advice that ever helped me navigate depression. I read it as Burt Reynolds quoting Clint Eastwood, who said: ‘The wheel always turns again.’ Meaning that sooner or later, the wheel will turn you out of darkness into light, out of misery into joy. And after that, it will turn you out of light back into darkness again. And once more back into the light. All you have to do is trust the process. Stay on the wheel. Whatever this is, it will pass. Depression can pass through you. You can pass through depression. There is always something greater up ahead. If only you will stay the course. Knowing this helps me navigate through the challenges of life a lot more evenly because it diminishes the darkness (which, let’s face it, can be quite egotistical in its belief that it is absolute – a lie!) and it expands the light. What a comfort!
  10. The true name rule: The word is powerful. Name it like it is. In Ursula K. Le Guin’s Earthsea novels, to know the true name of a thing or a person is to have power over it or them. That is how magic works in that fictional realm, but it is not far-fetched even in real life. Our words have power. These days ‘depression’ has become such a huge blanket-word that even children use it (!) But often it does not serve us well. When I say I am depressed, it brings with it an immediate and overpowering sense of helplessness. I suspect in you, too. But what if we are wrong? What if we could be more specific in identifying what ails us? Test this for yourself and see if it does not make a world of a difference! Change ‘I am depressed,’ into ‘I am sad,’ ‘I am too tired,’ ‘I am disappointed,’ ‘I feel insecure.’ Finding the true name of what we’re dealing with empowers us! I can deal with sadness, with disappointment, with not knowing what to do in a difficult situation … far, far better than with depression! Don’t let the darkness fool you into using that word unless it is the absolute truth. I would even go as far as to say that you have the power to not use that word at all – that there is always a better, healthier choice!

In time, those bouts of blackness lose their grip on you. They cease to be the nightmarish monsters that completely paralyze you with fear. Because you know from experience that they are not as big and scary as they make themselves out to be. They are simply a natural part of this life for those of us who are sensitive to light and dark. They are real, yes, but the light is real, too! And that is the perspective that empowers you.

Art by Silver Saaremäel

Art by Silver Saaremäel

it is ALWAYS there

You feel there is no hope, no hope at all.

No light to beckon you back out of darkness.

And so you despair.

But when you experience this hopelessness long enough and often enough, you learn the real truth: Hope is ALWAYS there.

You just can’t always perceive it.

And knowing this makes all the difference. Because you can deal with simply not being able to perceive hope – that is a temporary affliction. As long as there is hope out there somewhere – always hope – you can deal with the blindness that comes over you from time to time.

Because the blind can grasp at hope too, grab hold of it, even in their darkness.

More importantly, HOPE always pursues us, knowing full well that we are not able to find it every time. It reaches out and finds us. All we have to do is to quit flailing about in panic and become aware.

It may trickle in small, in the way you notice the beauty of the sunlight caressing the lawn in the late afternoon, or how amazing it is that you can draw in breath that keeps your body running from moment to moment. It may be as simple as becoming aware of how your sweater hugs you so warmly, or the fact that you can still smile just for yourself. Don’t be fooled by how small these pin pricks of light are. They are far from trivial, because they build on each other to lift the blindness from you. They grow and let more light flood in, until finally, you can see hope in all its vastness and glory again.

If you feel hopeless, take this advice from a veteran warrior in the fight against depression:

  1. Hope is always there. 
  2. Trust in that.
  3. Breathe.
  4. Become still enough to let it find you. 
  5. That’s all you have to do for now.
  6. Everything is going to be all right.

Surely goodness and mercy will pursue me all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. – Psalm 23:6

light

learning to walk the shore*

* Or: Learning to live without antidepressants

RipplesThe slow tide of darkness can creep up your shore so surreptitiously that it can leave you flailing for breath before you know it.

And you are forever a shore dweller, walking between darkness and light … between fluid and solid … forever sensitive to its intertwining play … so you learn to live with an eye to the tide. Always.

There are times you cannot outrun the tide and you need help. So the doctors give you life preservers. To help you rise on the flowing tide instead of sinking. To tide you over.

You take them every day, little pills that buoy you up, and you are grateful for them. But no shore dweller can forever fully live with life preservers around waist and neck and arms and legs. Sooner or later you have to grow stronger and let them go, learn to negotiate the sweet, sly shore on your own again. Learn to find that magical inbetween place where the darkness of the tide and the light of the land create evanescent sparkles.

The doctors say you will never be able to live without help again, that you are forever a shore dweller who will run the risk of being overrun by the sea. But He, your Beloved, says differently. He says it is time to lean on Him alone, to His glory. And so you cast off the life preservers and let them drift out to sea. Not slowly like you should really do, testing your strength, but all at once, with complete abandon. Even though the tide is rising.

And so you learn what coming off citalopram hard does to you. It is not just your emotions that skitter all over the place; it is your body, too. The withdrawal disorients you, leaving you dizzy and seasick and exhausted. Your mind sparks, as if short-circuiting. You can hear the sparks, feel them. Some days they spark one-two … pause … one-two. And some days they spark one-two-three-four-five. Over and over again. There is a constant, dizzy buzzing in your head. Tinnitus with the crescendos of short-circuits added. You cannot turn your head quickly, or some days, even your gaze.

You learn what helps:

  • Lying down when it gets bad
  • Drinking lots of water
  • Taking as much vitamin C as you can before bowel tolerance sets in
  • Taking vitamin D3 to help you sleep and function better
  • Taking St. John’s Wort and 5-HTP alternately to help your body deal with the sudden serotonin imbalance
  • Taking anti-emetics when you need to
  • Avoiding exertion that will make the seasickness worse
  • Listening to music to focus you, to drown out the tinnitus and confusion and siren call of the tide
  • Finding ways to see the light and not the darkness, as your emotions fight to stabilize
  • And always, ALWAYS, trusting your body and leaning on your Beloved

Those are the things which definitely work.

You know once your sea legs have returned, you will start getting more active. The best way to keep the dark tide at bay is to exercise.

And you learn to have immense patience with yourself. Even three and a half weeks later you still experience long spells of feeling disoriented and sick. Who knew that these life preservers could carry such poison in them? Frustration doesn’t help. Acceptance does.

Who knew that you could be this strong?

Casting off the floats slowly, one by one, is the more prudent way. Even returning to them if the tide rises too high and you are not ready. The sudden withdrawal can bend you badly, scare you into grasping for help again. Far better to be kind to yourself and grant yourself the time to ease into this new, unfettered life.

But if you can only do it cold-turkey, and the time is right, simply trust yourself. Be strong and resolute. Lean on Him. Know there will be bad days, but they ultimately lead to good: freedom and strength!

There is light on the shore, the sparkles of sunlight where water has touched the land. And the bioluminescent glow at night of magic happening in the inbetween places. Only the shore offers this magic.

And you will learn to see it on your own.

Because you are fearfully and wonderfully made!

it is the bliss

The difference is so real.

Despair travels like a tsunami – you only have time enough to see it rise before it overwhelms you. And all is chaos, darkness, wrongness.

But the bliss – oh, the bliss! – it comes in gently like the dew. You hardly notice it until everything is sparkly … wet … quenched. And you suddenly realize it’s been there just waiting for you to grow aware.

We see the tsunamis better because their drama demands, demands, demands. But the dew … it never demands. It simply is. It simply gives.

And it is the dew – the bliss! – that reminds me most of You. Never demanding, simply being. Freely giving all that is sacred and infinitely precious. Quenching.

There is a rightness to how it simply IS.

The way You simply ARE.

After the rain...

Oh Beloved! Teach us to better see the dew!

Because it is in the bliss where we find You.

 

the alchemy of the light

This is the second morning it happens, perhaps the third.

I sit in traffic, waiting for the light to change from red to green. But it is not that kind of light which captures my attention. I lift my hand to brush away my hair …

… and sunlight streams through and around my fingers, everything aglow. Such a beautiful sight!

To think that this wondrous thing of beauty is right here, right in rush hour traffic, in the all-too-often grayness of the city! I stare at the five fingers, all pinkish golden, bathed in sunlight. And in more than that, because surely the light of this world cannot be enough to transform mere flesh and blood into such uplifting wonder. Not when it touches the heart so!

The snake of cars moves up a few paces and I follow. Then comes another turn to wait for green. But it is the gold I want to see. I lift my other hand away from the steering wheel as well, cup both hands in front of my face … cupping light between fingers, golden sunlight pooling in palms.

It is as if the light does more than simply flow around palms and thin, cold fingers. More than flowing through. It is as if it settles within. My hands glow.

I breathe deeply, the morning’s stresses transformed into joy. Lead transformed into gold. Exhaustion transformed into energy. Where once was darkness, suddenly: LIGHT!

For you were formerly darkness, but now you are Light in the Lord.
Walk as children of Light! ~ Ephesians 5:8

It only lasts a few short moments, the energy-created-by-light-pouring-and-pooling, but it makes the moment complete. And even when the demands of a hard day on a too-tired body let the grayness flow in again later, I find strength in the golden memory, reaching back into my mind often for its comfort …

… and every time coming to a standstill for a few breaths, transformed by the alchemy of the Light.

*

The next time you sit in traffic … forget about the grayness, the rush, the hurrying-but-waiting. Lift up your hands. Look.

Drink in the light.

Be transformed into joy! 

Wish I could have captured the light in the car, but this comes close. And it's safer!