We label these “mental health issues” and are lulled into the belief that these disorders are just all in the head and therefore can be solved by positive thinking and affirmations.
To those people who say such nonsense, my reply is...
Your mind is kinda attached to the rest of your body...right?
As someone who has gone through both chronic anxiety and moderate-severe depression, I can tell you there is no “off-switch” for run-on thoughts (at least not in the female brain), nor a “happy button” for when you are feeling very very off …
...and no, chocolate isn't helping because everything has lost its taste.
* sigh *
In fact, if you have been graced with the experience of either “disorder” you will know it feels like you have absolutely NO control over your body or your mood.
It's like your body has hijacked your brain and you are along for the ride, whether you are sitting down with family at home or in the office....your body has a bone to pick with you...and it doesn't care that you had plans.
Unfortunately, going along with it is kinda your only option as long as you are in your body so....yeah...
But before we go, let's think....
….before your body decided that you are no longer fit to steer it...what happened?
I have long pondered over this question for myself, because anxiety and depression sometimes seem to come on “all of a sudden” and we are left curled up in a ball in the corner, not knowing what in the world happened or how to undo it.
To explain, let me first set forth a story...
There are two women who live out in the country, far away from any stores or gas stations. Neither of them has a car, so they get around by horse and carriage.
Everyday, the women load up the carriage for the day with the kids, packed-lunches (for her and the horse) and some goods to take into town....and on the way they have some stops that add a few more things to the carriage.
In the evening, there is the return journey ; some of the load has been delivered into town, but groceries and children and a few last-minute “must-haves” are in the carriage to return home.
One woman has developed an awesome relationship with her horse over its lifespan. She knows the subtitles of how her horse acts; when it needs a break from pulling, when it needs a drink . The woman has noticed that her horse does very well on a special diet of oats and hay (and the occasional carrot for morale). In the evening, she removes the bit and bridle from the horse and lets it frolic in the evening light before she bathes and brushes it, and put it to rest for the evening.
The second woman tries to take care of her horse, but she is busy. She runs around after the kids, trying to be efficient in filling the carriage . When the horse is feeling the weight of the burden of the carriage, it gives her signs but she is always too busy to notice or to tend to its needs. The horse gets slow because of its exhaustion, and she cracks her whip to push the horse to keep a steady pace.
Her horse tends to make her late pretty often.
She feeds the horse whatever she can find around and in the evening, she shuts the horse away in its stall.
Sometimes if the horse is particularly unruly, she will let it run around a bit...but not too long!
Soon it must be called back in because -of course- the next day will be busy.
One weekend, both women were invited to a wedding in their small rural community.
The first woman loaded up the carriage with her family and rode to the wedding. The venue was busy, and she notice her horse was unsettled because of the crowd, so she gives it a moment to get its barrings, and then guides it to a suitable parking place.
They enjoy their evening, and then retire home.
As the second woman and her family get close to the venue, the horse starts to buck at the site of the crowd. The second woman cracks her whip and pushes the horse forward, rather embarassed by its behavior.
Immediately after the woman gets down from the ride, the horse turns and runs with the carriage (still filled with some of the kids) into the forest.
She assumes the horse was spooked by the crowd. Instead of enjoying the wedding, the family spends the better half of the evening trying to catch the horse and coax it back to the venue.
Having not been able to enjoy the wedding, the second woman gathers her family and pushes the horse and carriage on home.
As soon as the family gets home, the horse collapses. The woman figures a good nights rest will make the horse feel better, so she removes the bit and bridle and puts it up for the night.
The next day, the horse is still lying down. It refuses to get up. No one knows what is going on or why it wont get up and perform its duties.
The horse refuses to get up for 3 weeks. All it can do is nibble a bit of oats here and there...and it doesn't even want carrots (which is pretty odd because that is a treat!).
When the horse finally gets up, it is emaciated and tired. The family wonders if the horse will ever be back to normal. They try to get the horse to do what it used to be capable of, but each attempt sends the horse back into a period of illness.
The horse cannot seem to recover.
The family decides to take the horse to the vet, who quickly prescribes the horse anti-depressant drugs.
Ok....ok....you get it, right?
Most of us can clearly see the second horse is being neglected aka “unintentionally” abused. It is being required to do more than it is enabled to do by the care that is given to it.
Funny thing is, when it comes to our health most of us are the second woman, and our bodies suffer like her horse.
We do not have a responsive or attentive relationship with our bodies and its needs.
We feed ourselves “whatever” while we are giving and giving our all.
We fuel ourselves with stimulants to keep us going at a “normal” pace.
Our definition of “normal” and “productive” are defined by what we see other women doing, by what society tells us we should be capable of doing and by the whipping guilt of not being able to keep up with those expectations.
Our nutritional deficiencies, fatigue and lack of “freedom to frolic” adds up until we either:
A) Have chronic anxiety that culminates in a panic attack(s) (the body's cry for help) --- think the horse at the party.
B) Breakdown into a Depression (because our body just can't take it anymore and breaks down) ---think the horse at home after the party
Then we go to the doctor and are told we have a Mental Health Disorder. Social anxiety or chronic depression or something to that effect....
Would you like me to write this up for you or call the prescription into your pharmacy?
Don't get me wrong. I am not trying to down play the significance of Anxiety and Depression...I am trying to push the point....
.... we were neglecting our bodies for a while before we got to this point, right?
That is good news! Because if we caused it, we can fix it!
You may be thinking “But I am health conscious! I eat organic, local, home-grown, home-cooked food! I exercise! My mental health is still crazy, what's going on?!”
Yes, I can understand that confusion. That was me, too!
Eating well and exercising and all that good stuff is important, BUT when trying to be healthy is a cause of stress, and we spend our time stretching ourselves thin trying to do EVERYTHING “right” , that constant emotional stress takes a toll on our bodies physically.
Not to mention all the chronic physical stress if you've been on hormonal meds like "the pill", have been pregnant, are breastfeeding, or are a caffeine addict....
We can't even benefit from all that good nutrition because we are too physicall wound up to absorb any of it!
I am not calling for us to not care about food and exercise. I am calling for us to become attuned to what WE as INDIVIDUALS need, when we need it and in the amount we need it in. And you are the best judge of that.
The reason I used the horse analogy (as opposed to a car or something mechanical) is because horses are living things. Their needs are dynamic as ours are. Their biological needs are in constant ebb and flow, just as ours are. They are seasonal. Rhythmic.
And in order to know an animal's needs, you have to develop a relationship and notice changes and responses....
Our bodies are of the earth. We too are seasonal, rhythmic and in ebb-and-flow constantly. Getting to know ourselves is a process, especially since this kind of self-awareness is not taught by society or even in our families.
That's okay though.
It will takes time.
We SHOULD take care and time to develop a relationship with our live-in vehicles-- our bodies.
So here is an Anxiety/Depression prevention check-in list:
Take time to check in with yourself, whenever you are tired or feeling off. Be responsive!
Your body will thank you for it.