Creativity, Spirituality

Depression, journaling and your soul

Depression and your soul

A friend of mine – who is also a coach and healer – recently said to me that depression is simply when we become disconnected from our soul.

My first response to this was to feel a little angry. As someone who has experienced depression on and off for nearly two decades and isn’t afraid to get help in the form of medication and therapy when necessary, I felt that comment was a little unfair.

I know I’m not alone in experiencing depression – I’ve watched family members and many friends experience it too, and I know all too well how painful it can be when we are in the midst of it.

I nodded along with her comment, unwilling to rock the boat. In my graduate diploma in psychology we looked at various causes for depression, primarily chemical and behavioural – but not once did ‘disconnection from soul’ come up. Unsurprising, really.

A few days of letting that comment sink in and I began to wonder – what if it could be true? Western Medicine has many chemical, mechanical, logical, scientific and rational explanations for depression (although there still exists debate within the scientific community around what causes depression). But what our Westernised culture fails to take into account is spiritual explanations.

In fact, our culture in general keeps the spiritual at a distance, because it can’t be ‘proven’.

And we are more depressed than ever. Could it be that connection with spirit – in whatever form – is the missing puzzle piece?

Here’s my experience: the more I listen to my soul, through journaling, meditation, being in nature and just turning inward more often that I turn outward, the less I experience depression. The more I act on what my soul guides me to do – that is, moving towards my purpose by sharing more of my true self with the world, expressing my creativity and letting go of what no longer serves me, the more I begin to forget what depression even felt like.

For me, this always starts in my journal. On the page I can let out all my worries, concerns, fears, hopes and dreams – and my soul responds with wisdom, guidance and support. I’ve been doing this steadily for two years now and I have never felt more on purpose, in alignment and Divinely supported in my life.

For two years I have not had a depressive episode and I attribute this to regularly connecting with my soul and letting it guide me in living my life ‘on purpose’.

I’m not saying that a disconnection from our soul is what causes depression – I’m no expert. Even the experts can’t agree on what causes it. I’ve also not ruled out other more conventional forms of treatment for depression – namely medication and therapy.

But of all the things I’ve done in the past, this feels like the ultimate remedy, for me at least: daily connection with my soul in my journal.

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Creativity

What are your words hiding?

When you establish a regular journaling habit, and you have been at it for a while, you will start to notice something.

There will be certain words or phrases that are repeated, maybe unconsciously, throughout your entries.

You may even notice as you’re journaling that you’re repeating something you’ve already said that day, or a few days earlier. Or you may only notice when looking back through entries that you have a habit of repeating certain words or phrases.

When I’m journaling, words that come up time and time again are exhausted, fear, creative, inspired.

I almost always realise when I’m writing ‘I’m just so exhausted’ again, but I didn’t realise quite how much I used this word. Looking back through past journals, it’s in almost every second entry. I also tend to use ‘creative’ and ‘inspired’ in most entries – which is hopefully a little more positive than ‘exhausted’!

Our tics are a road map to our most hidden and sensitive wounds.

Shapiro says, ‘If we are interested in delving deeply, if we are students of the observed life, we’d best take a good hard look at these easy fallbacks. Repeated words. Familiar phrases. Consider them clues. When you discover them, slow down. In fact, stop. Become willing to press against the bruise – it’s there anyway – and see what it yields.’

That makes me wonder, why do I feel the need to constantly state that I’m exhausted in my journal entries? Is it because I am usually journaling first thing in the morning (6am) when I haven’t quite woken up and, quite literally, feel tired? Or is it easy to use a blanket term like ‘exhaustion’ to cover all the different negative emotions I feel – particularly in my job – like boredom, apathy, frustration or anger?

When my life isn’t going how I want it to go it’s easy to say I feel exhausted. But I think in many cases if I were to look closer, there would be more to it than that.

It’s not until I can be truly honest and confront these difficult emotions that I will make progress. The next time I go to write ‘I’m just so exhausted…’ I will pause and ask myself, is that what I am really feeling?

Have a look back through any journals you have and see if there are any patterns – any phrases or words that you tend to repeat. What might they be covering? Press against the bruise.

Creativity, Self Empowerment

The problem with numbing (and how journaling can help)

I watch a lot of TV. Not on my television – I don’t actually have one – but online. I love comedies – Community, Big Bang Theory, The Office, Seinfeld, Friends, New Girl… I guess that seems pretty harmless, right? Who doesn’t love to have a laugh?

Except that I don’t always watch the show to have a laugh. And sometimes, I’m watching an episode for the second, third… fifth time.

So why is this a problem?

A lot of the time, I’m watching the show to numb.

What is numbing?

Brené Brown defines numbing as something we do to avoid feeling the feelings we don’t want to feel.

Numbing can take many different forms – watching too much TV, over eating, over sleeping, shopping, gambling, drinking, drugs, sex… some of these things are obviously more socially accepted than others. Things like watching a little too much TV, or comfort eating after a bad day, or buying yourself something nice when you’re feeling down don’t seem to be particularly dangerous.

When it comes to watching my shows, if I’m being totally honest, it can be a variety of feelings I’m trying to numb: boredom, emptiness, fear, fatigue.

This might not seem like too much of a problem – I mean, we all do things to comfort ourselves when we are feeling vulnerable, bored or just not great.

Why is numbing a problem?

The real problem with numbing is that we can’t just numb the bad feelings. When we numb ourselves to the negative feelings, we also numb the positive feelings. Brown says:

We cannot selectively numb emotions: when we numb the painful emotions, we also numb the positive emotions.

So while it’s all fine and dandy to take the pain of the moment away with a little retail therapy or a pint of icecream, if you do this often enough you’ll also notice a lack of joy in your life.

The other thing about numbing is that is that it can look a lot like self care. It can even start out as a gentle act of self care.

Having a some chocolate and snuggling under a blanket to watch a movie when PMS hits certainly can be self care. But usually this is one act that is part of a bigger self care approach. 

The key thing is how it leaves you feeling afterwards. If it leaves you feeling nourished and comforted, then it’s self care. If it leaves you feeling empty and craving more, then it’s numbing.

And there’s something else I’ve been thinking about, in between episodes of Parks and Rec: we can be numbing ourselves without even realising it. It’s not always a conscious decision – ‘oh what a lousy day, I don’t want to feel crappy so I’m going to drink a bottle of wine instead’ – sometimes we don’t realise we are doing it.

Like my TV shows – I don’t sit down to watch one thinking I feel crappy – oftentimes I don’t actually feel crappy to begin with. I might put on a TV show as something in the background while I potter around in my art journal. This in and of itself is not bad; it can be a lovely way to spend an evening. But if I do it too often, it starts to have a numbing effect, whether I mean it to or not.

And this is the third danger with numbing:

When numbing behaviours become habitual, we often turn to them out of habit and they create a numbing effect without us even noticing.

Before long we can be feeling, well, nothing, without even noticing it has happened.

How can journaling help?

The antidote, for me at least, is journaling. Some people might meditate, go running, or really do any number of things. But journaling is simple, and I can do it in my pyjamas.

With journaling daily, I cultivate awareness. The more awareness, the more I notice if I’m not feeling the good feelings – usually a sign of too much numbing or numbing behaviours.

Everyday when I sit down to write, since I don’t use prompts in my love and couragejournal, I wait to see what I have to say. I’m a firm believer that most of the time, we have plenty of things to say. I don’t know about you, but I walk around all day with a million thoughts going back and forward in my brain. I feel like a browser with 1567 tabs open at all times.

Strangely though, sometimes when I sit down with my journal I find the words aren’t coming. I feel empty, like I’ve got nothing to say. This to me, is a sign that I’ve been numbing too much. A sign that a few too many episodes of Community or a few too many sugary carbs has interfered.

I guess this could seem helpful in a way – I mean, numbing has a function of sorts, or else we wouldn’t do it. But the problem is that I can’t tap into my creativity or inspiration in this state. I can’t feel joy or gratitide for my life.

So when I find this happening in my journal, I know it’s time to step back from the TV episodes for a few days and go for a walk, read a book, and spend more time diving deep in my journal. I know it’s time to cultivate a sense of awareness in my life again.

Journal prompts for dealing with numbing

If you find yourself showing up to your journal feeling unsure of what to write, and you suspect numbing might be the cause, the following prompts can help.

  • Lately I’ve been feeling…
  • I don’t want to feel this way because…
  • Sometimes I spend too much time (your numbing methods here) because…
  • If I were to stop (your numbing methods here) then I would feel…
  • It can also help to have a list of positive coping mechanisms when you have feelings you don’t want to face. Make a list of alternatives to numbing in your journal, for example writing in your journal, having a chat with a friend, taking a walk outside, playing with your pet, doing some yoga, speaking to a counsellor, listening to music, painting, etc. Instead of numbing, I could…

Remember to be gentle and kind with yourself.

Creativity, Self Empowerment

Journal prompts: Move your body

I’m going to come right out and say it: I don’t like to exercise.

I’m not exactly the fittest person in the world. I don’t enjoy running and I loathe going to the gym (I can’t think of anything more absurd than driving to the gym to walk on the treadmill).

But that doesn’t mean that I hate moving my body. I’ve found ways to do so that I enjoy.

move your bodyIt took me a while to get to this place, though. Because I used to be so focused on losing weight, I exercising solely for this purpose. It was all about burning the most calories, regardless of how much I might have hated every second of it. Exercise was simply a chore that needed to be ticked off the list to remove a little more guilt for being bigger.

Funnily enough, I’ve never really managed to maintain a regular exercise routine. I guess that’s because I kept forcing myself to do things I didn’t enjoy.

At around the same time I quit dieting, I also quit forcing myself to do exercise I didn’t enjoy. Now, I move my body only in ways that bring me joy.

Does that mean I’m not burning the most possible calories? Yep.

Does that mean I’m not the slimmest, fittest person ever? Uh, yeah.

But does that mean I enjoy the exercise I do? You bet!

So instead of pushing myself to go to the gym and run on the treadmill, I now go walking outside, in nature – with my pup. I do yoga using an app on my phone/computer. And when I have the time, I go cycling – outdoors. (Note – I have nothing against the gym. If you love the gym then that’s awesome. I just have something against forcing yourself to do exercise you don’t enjoy, which, for me, is the gym.)

How nice to finally give myself permission to enjoy exercise.

>>> Prompt:

What ways do you choose to move your body?

How do you exercise for pleasure, and how for other reasons?

Is exercise an enjoyable thing for you, or is it associated with negative feelings such as guilt or punishment?

What are some forms of exercise that you actually enjoy? What ways can you move your body that bring pleasure rather than pain? What would you like to do more of?

Note: this post was originally part of a series of 30 life lessons and journal prompts for my 30th birthday. You can access the rest of the lessons and prompts here.

Creativity

Journal prompts: Creativity and wellbeing

This post is featured as part of the Journal Chat Live Open House, hosted by Dawn Herring

I have had issues with depression for most of my life.

I’ve tried many different things to deal with this – counselling/psychotherapy, herbal supplements, exercise, medication, changing jobs/houses/partners etc.

However, last year when I began to consistently tap into my creative energy and express myself creatively on a regular basis, I noticed that the feelings of depression that tend to surface quite frequently with me didn’t visit so often.

In fact, if I keep tapping into mcreativity is essential for wellbeingy creativity on a daily basis, as well as doing a few others key things (exercise, rest, play, connecting with loved ones, eating well, etc), I tend to feel pretty damn good most of the time.

With all that other stuff I’m doing, how do I know it’s creativity that’s brought about this change? Because I tried all the other things before, and they didn’t work. At least, not without adding creative self-expression into the mix.

I’ve always been a creative person at heart – drawing, singing, writing since I was little, but once I hit adulthood most of that stuff sort of got forgotten about as I got ‘serious’ about life. Funnily enough, I have also spent a good portion of my adulthood dealing with depression.

I’m not suggesting that creativity is a cure-all for mental illness. But for me, personally, I have found creative self-exression to be essential to my mental, emotional and spiritual wellbeing. I can’t imagine my life without it now.

From my journal:

Ever since I’ve been exploring my creative side I’m a totally different person. I’m happier and more fulfilled. I feel like I know myself, what makes me happy. I feel a greater connection to the divine, to my own inner resources of strength, courage, wisdom and faith. I know that through developing a creative practice, I have a routine that supports me in daily life.

Creativity comes in many different forms. It doesn’t have to be artistic, it can be anything – cooking, building, the way you organise your furniture, or dress.

I believe that everyone is really a creative person at heart, and those that don’t think they are creative simply haven’t found the kind of creative expression that works for them yet.

>>> Prompt:

What does the word ‘creativity’ mean to you?

In what ways would you consider yourself to be creative?

In what ways would you like to be more creative?

What does creativity bring to your life? Why is it worth making time to be creative?

What are the obstacles to creativity in your life? They might be time, the opinions of others, resistance, fear, money, etc. What could you do to overcome these obstacles?

Note: this post was originally part of a series of 30 life lessons and journal prompts for my 30th birthday. You can access the rest of the lessons and prompts here.

Creativity

Journal prompt: I don’t want to write about…

What do you avoid writing about? Why?

Now that I’ve gotten back into the swing of simple written journaling, I’m finding myself gradually peeling back the layers behind my words. I’m also on a break from work, so I have more time to really delve deep.

The other day, on my weekend getaway to the beach, I found myself carefully dancing around a few issues in my journal. Actually, no, I was flat-out avoiding them.

I wanted to write. I picked up my journal and jotted down a few straightforward lines, but I kept hovering at the surface.

Eventually, I wrote: There are some things I am avoiding talking about right now. Then, to maintain momentum, I listed them off quickly, one after the other.

dont-want-to-write

And just seeing them on the page in front of me was a relief. Why I had I been so scared to write these things down? And besides, what was my journal for if not to explore and resolve problems I’m having?

I decided to be brave and venture further. It was a conscious choice – I decided I wanted to face and explore these things, even though that might feel uncomfortable.

Well, it was a good idea, because it led me to several solutions. And for those issues I didn’t manage to resolve, I certainly felt a sense of relief. There’s something about putting the scary things in our heads down in words that takes away their power.

>>> Prompt:

Take some time out when you won’t be disturbed and make sure you are somewhere you feel safe.

Write at the top of the page: I don’t want to write about/I am avoiding talking about…

Take a deep breath and remind yourself that whatever emotions you feel, you can handle them. Then, let the words flow out of your pen. *

If it feels a bit daunting, you could set a timer and write only for say, 10 minutes. However, I felt the best after letting my issues reach a natural resolution in my journal. This doesn’t mean they were solved, but it means that I felt like I had naturally finished saying what I wanted to at that point. I think if I had set a timer it may have felt unresolved.

If it feels like nothing is coming, or you feel too afraid to face whatever the issue is, that is ok. You could wait for a bit, or simply leave the exercise for another day. Be kind to yourself, go gently.

I suggest you only do this exercise when you feel like you are prepared to deal with whatever comes up. For example, I wrote about my difficult things when I was away somewhere that I always feel safe, a place I go to rest and relax. I also had my best friend in the next room if I felt I needed someone further to talk to.

*Note: obviously a journal, as wonderful as it is, cannot be a replacement for a qualified mental health professional. If you are dealing with some serious trauma then please seek the appropriate professional help. Journaling can be a wonderful tool to use along with therapy but certainly cannot be a replacement for it if your situation calls for it.

Self Empowerment

Take all the time you need

The universe has a way of slowing us down if we are going too fast. So often we feel reluctant to stop and rest when we can be busy and productive.

Our society prizes busy-ness over rest.

Today I had a hard time just resting, just doing nothing. But, my body was screaming at me to stop, so I curled up on the couch with a blanket, my laptop, some lemon tea and watched Friends re-runs (I would have chosen The Office but I watched that not long ago).

It was great. I will probably have to do the same thing tomorrow.

I felt myself wanting to go to my desk, to paint or play with my new stamp-carving supplies (yay!) or do a load of laundry (not so yay, but still has to be done!), but I forced myself to stay under the covers. I even had to cancel dinner with friends, which I had been looking forward to all week.

I talk a lot about rest. I don’t think it can be overemphasized in today’s world.

As a highly sensitive person (HSP) I tend to feel more easily overwhelmed, tired and just plain run-down than the average person. Add to that a stressful teaching job, and I’m basically constantly tired. Approximately 15-20% of the population is HSP (see here).

I do my best to stay as productive as the next person – I do my creative projects, spend time with family and friends, walk the dog, work on my creative business – but sometimes life just steps in and says ‘Enough for now! Time to rest!’

The key is being able to notice the signs, then having the courage to say no – to cancel appointments, to turn down invitations, to risk letting people down.

I’m sick with a cold at the moment, but you don’t need to have an illness to need time to rest. Sometimes it’s just feeling tired, overwhelmed, tearful, crabby or like you just want everyone to leave you alone.

So take the time to rest. Take all the time you need.